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photo by Jason Eppick. Thank you Flickr and Creative Commons Copyright licenses!

Simplia shut Thurber’s Fables for Our Time with a loud clap! and declared, “Ergo…those disguises in fairy tales were more about enchantment than about wardrobe and good makeup artists.”

At the librarian’s approach, Sagacia braced herself for a genteel shushing. Sometimes Simplia forgot all about library deportment and using her indoor voice.

“Say that again, would you?” said the librarian. “Please excuse me for eavesdropping, but I’m doing some research on gender roles and cross dressing in fairy tales. It sounds as though we’re mining similar veins.”

Sagacia said, “We’re responding to a query about fairy tale characters who assume disguises that their nearest and dearest don’t see through until the end of the story. Our correspondent wondered whether the guise was effective because the disguise was really good or because the parties involved were under an enchantment.”

The librarian pulled up a chair and said, “That reminds me of the story about my good friend Vasilisa, back when she was daughter of Pope Vasili. She dressed and rode a horse and shot a gun and drank vodka like a man. The Tsar had his suspicions but couldn’t manage to verify her gender — even after suggesting a trip to the sauna together.”

Sagacia said, “You know Vasilisa, too?! Small world. The woman gets around, doesn’t she? So in that story, it’s all about a good disguise and not breaking character. But that’s a folk tale. There’s no magic mentioned.”

“True,” the librarian agreed.

Simplia continued, “But as soon as magic starts moving the plot along, it seems the actual disguise is secondary to the enchantment working on both the impersonator and the … the ‘impersonatee.'”

“I see,” said the librarian. “As when Uther Pendragon assumed the visage of his mortal enemy and lay with Ygraine.”

“Yep,” said Sagacia. “Nine months later — King Arthur! And before the dawn of time, Heracles was conceived by the same ruse.”

Simplia wanted to get back to the origin of her epiphany. “And what James Thurber said… Fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood had to have been under an enchantment to believe for an instant that that knobby, furry, toothy thing in her granny’s nightclothes was really her granny. A couple of props, dim lighting, the power of suggestion — she’ll won’t question it. But a post-Cartesian Red Riding Hood isn’t buying the disguise for an instant.”

Sagacia didn’t want to be distracted from looking at actual fairy tales and considering a realm where Descartes would doubtless have found himself at sea. Her train of thought was saved by the bell.


It was a electronic notification being delivered to her phone.

Oh sweet!” she said. “Tarkabarka has a new story up on her blog today, and it’s got — guess what — a young woman in full male regalia. Let’s check it out!”