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walter crane illustration from tempest

One of Walter Crane’s 8 illustrations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, another work of literature which is “lousy” with bits and pieces of wonder tales. (We love you, Project Gutenberg!)

“Lousy with what, dear?” asked Sagacia, not even looking up from her knitting. She was inured to her friend’s fits of flapping, and she was focused on counting rows to the next cable.

“Fairy tale bits!” Simplia declared. “Themes, motifs, structure, references. All the responses our magical friends tossed out for Mario in Maryland…well, that’s only barely a beginning. Look. Here’s a text from Janice Del Negro that just popped up on my phone…”

I love Eleanor Farjeon’s Martin Pippin; also Barbara Leonie Picard :) You should come and visit, I have lots of these…

“…and what I find most distressing about it is that I’ve missed out totally on both of these authors.”

Sagacia shifted her eyes to read the message, and then she sighed, “I’m distressed that we overlooked the fact that Professor Del Negro has made her own significant contributions in this vein.”

Simplia gaped, stricken. “You’re right! Lucy Dove, Willa and the Wind, Passion and Poison. I’ve read two out of three of those. Why didn’t I think of them?”

“Maybe because examples of fairy tales leaving footprints in modern and contemporary writing are ubiquitous,” said Sagacia. “Too many to count. After awhile they turn into background, until you dive in after them and sort them out.”

“You’re saying it’s not just a trend, then?” asked Simplia. “I wonder how long it’s been going on. Since literacy became more universal? With the rise of novels? Maybe since childhood was recognized as something more than the years when people were no more than messy, unripe adults? …Oh! There’s the doorbell.”

She jumped up and opened the front door, but no one was there. Murzik sauntered over, rubbing against her legs, purring to be let out. From somewhere about ankle height she heard a shrill voice saying, “I’ll file a report, lady, if you release that predator! And that’ll be the end of home delivery for your mail.”

Simplia looked down to see the Mailmouse pull himself up to his full height — three inches — and hold out a letter with strange stamps and postage due. She dug some change out of her apron pocket, nudged Murzik aside with her foot (“I did not kick you,” she said, “so you can quit looking injured right now.”), and took the letter from the mouse.

“How do you suppose he carries three quarters and a nickel?” she wondered.

Sagacia said, “Same way he carries all the mail for his route. He must have bought his mail bag in Diagon Alley, like the one Hermoine used to stow two weeks worth of camping gear and supplies in Harry Potter.”

“Ah. That makes sense.” Simplia examined the postmark and stamps. “Australia! Vasilisa has received a letter from Australia.”

She ripped into it and read:

Dear Vasilisa —

So good to see you, even briefly, in Antwerp last month. On my way to the east coast (New South Wales), I stopped in to visit friends in Perth and found myself in conversation with a young woman at the university there, Dr. Ciara Rawnsley, who is writing a book about Shakespeare’s use of fairy tale themes, plotlines, character types in his plays. She contends that one under-studied explanation for the Bard’s enduring popularity in popular culture is that he has tapped wells of imagery and emotion that people of all walks of life, in all eras respond to. Scholars study his literary influences, but not the influence of folklore on his work. I assume the “people” she refers to are those of us acculturated into Western Civilization, but who knows? Maybe his work resonates as enduringly with those whose paradigm is Oriental as well. At any rate…I’m too impatient to wait for her book. I want to know now: In which plays of Shakespeare have fairy tales made their mark? And which fairy tales might those be?

I’m hoping you can help me come up with a good, solid list — of plays and tales.

Thanks in advance, sweetie!

Wondering  in Wooloomooloo
(You know who)

“There’s a short answer to your question,” said Sagacia. “Let’s take this letter up to the Fairy Tale Lobby to see if our Magical Friends can shed any light on the matter. Oh. And we’ll stop at the post office to post that reply to Mario in Maryland.”

Simplia said, “I don’t want to have to address another envelope and waste the stamp. Would Vasilisa think it’s tawdry of me to just write those new titles and authors on the outside of the envelope?”

Sagacia smiled a smile of resignation. “She’d think it was typical,” she said, “But not tawdry.”