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Even before there was a story, there were archetypes and symbols. Stories were called forth to explain them. They’re still being called forth to explain them. It’s all one story. (Well, that’s one theory.)

Over green tea and cookies, the Simpletons were discussing the role fairy tales play in theater.

Simplia continued: “If a play has anything like broad public appeal, I think it owes that appeal to archetypes and themes you’ll encounter in fairy tales. If it is truly a non-derivative ‘original,’ it’s probably too obscure for more than a handful of literati to appreciate. And even then, I wonder how much they actually enjoy not being able to predict what’s going to happen. When I’m at the theater, I need to be able to establish my bearings.”

Right away, Sagacia picked up on what her friend was driving at. “Like the hero’s journey?” And since Simplia was chowing down on gluten free oreos and couldn’t interrupt, Sagacia was free to continue her train of though uninterrupted. “It’s a meme and maybe the meme is a cliche, but cliches were once fresh new ideas. It’s because the truth within them resonated so broadly when they were fresh and new that they became commonplace and, as people accept them without examining the truth they contain, they turn to cliches.”

“Bingo!” said Simplia. “Who was the first hero to embark on The Hero’s Journey? I give up! There have always been heroes and they’ve always been leaving their comfort zones to test their mettle in risky situations. Do fairy tales get the credit for giving us the Story Arc, or is that infrastructure even older?”

Sagacia’s phone started signalling incoming text messages, all from Magical Friends, all (How did they manage…every single time!?) on topic:

The first was from Barra the Bard:

…(T)hought on Fairy Tale Theatre: the first playwright (other than Will) who springs to mind is Sir James M. Barrie, who was well-known for his plays and novels before Peter Pan. In “The Twelve Pound Look,” an MP hires a typewriter (as women typists were called 100 yrs ago) to come while he’s out and type up material for a book. All goes well until one day his wife lets slip the woman’s full name–they’ve been chatting–and to his shock/horror, he realizes it’s his former wife, who vanished many years before. He manages to be home so he can talk to her—it IS her–and he can finally find out why she left. Basically, she hated his being so controlling and was bored out of her mind,so she secretly took a correspondence typing class, and once she earned 12 pounds, proof to her that she could support herself, she was gone. The play ends with her commenting that his current wife has much the same look….
(“Hero’s journey,” muttered Simplia. “Never gets old.”)
In another play, “Mary Rose,” a child visiting a remote Scottish island vanishes for 3 weeks and appears to remember nothing of that missing period. Years later, she talks her husband in returning–and vanishes again, this time for decades, returning again, with her son now physically older than she is. It was praised as an elegant ghost story by reviewers who clearly didn’t know any changeling tales…Hitchcock wanted to film it, but Universal felt it was “too disquieting” and had little commercial appeal.
In “The Old Lady Shows her Medals,” a London charwoman is a sort of Cinderella character who gains her deepest wish.
I think A.A. Milne also wrote some plays with a fairy tale flavoring, aside from his adaptation of Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows” into “Toad of Toad Hall.”

And Norris Spencer wrote:

Just watched a movie based on King Lear with Patrick Stewart. He is a rancher in Texas. I really got to see the person of King Lear – what a tyrant. (“King of Texas.”)

“Meat Loves Salt goes to Hollywood,” Sagacia remarked.

“And speaking of Hollywood…remember ‘Pretty Woman’? And that creepy Little Red Riding Hood movie we just watched on Netflix?”

“‘Freeway’?” Sagacia shuddered. “Sick.”

“Yeah, but hilarious, too. It embraces fairy tale memes and at the same time totally blasts societal stereotypes about women as victims.”

For a moment, neither Simpleton said anything. And then Sagacia concluded the conversation: “I don’t think Wondering in Wooloomooloo is going to get a tidy list of Fairy Tales that appear in Shakespeare’s plays. Any of his memorable characters, any unforgettable plot twists, any themes…she’ll find their antecedents recurring in stories from all over the world, and she’ll find them many times over.”

Simplia hauled herself out of her chair and said, “So let’s bundle this month’s responses up and take a stroll to the post office.”

“Little Red Riding Hood And The Big Bad Wolf”
Richard Hermann Eschke (1859-)
Oil on canvas, Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center.