Silly Fairy Tale
Part the First
Not wanting to do another actual blog post, and having completed my Hebrew studies for the night, I find myself still wanting to write. To write something. And so I am remembered of a game Charlotte and I used to play. The game goes like this. Charlotte asks me to tell her a story. Whereupon do I proceed to invent a fairy tale out of thin air. What follows is the sort of story which I’d usually make for her. In fact, I think it’s probably based on one I’ve already told. But it’s also different. I made this up, just now. For fun. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it…
The Story So Far…
Once upon a time, there was a woodsman, who lived in…well, he lived in the woods, obviously. His job, basically, was to chop wood for the king. You see, the king lived in a big old palace. And in the winter, it would get very cold inside those drafty stone walls. So the king always need firewood. And so it was that he contracted with several of the local woodsmen to provide the royal kindling.
I say “contracted,” but this was really a feudal sort of arrangement. Because fairy tales almost always take place in feudal times. And this might sound romantic, because fairy tales are always romantic. But it was not romantic. It was a raw deal, not to put too fine a point on it. See, the woodsman worked the king’s land, but most of his labor-product wound up in the castle. He had very little left to himself at the end of the day.
And the woodsman was, perhaps, peripherally aware of all this. But he was not an educated man. Neither was he a revolutionary. He was just a guy that chopped wood for a living. And it wasn’t a very good living. Still though, at least he had a little cabin in the woods. So it was better than working in the salt mines.
Of course the salt mines were in Africa. Salt was brought into the kingdom by Arab traders. So really, the salt mines were an abstraction. But there were rumors. And the rumors made the salt mines sound pretty terrible. All this to say, the woodsman was not entirely chagrined by his lot in life.
And anyway, he had a daughter. Now, the woodsman loved his daughter very much. She was the apple of his eye. Or, at least, she would have been, if he’d ever seen an apple. But all fresh fruit went directly to the castle. So he probably had some other metaphor that he used to describe his daughter. Something lumberjacky. But if he did, it does not come down to us.
The point is, he loved his daughter very much. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to make her happy. You see, it was just the two of them. I know what you’re thinking. The mother died, right? Maybe even in childbirth? Because that’s how it goes in fairy tales. Well, not this time. This time, the girl’s mother was this weird hippy chick that lived in the woods. She was really into prancing around the forest naked, but it was all PG because her hair was so long, you couldn’t see anything anyway.
Well, years back, the woodsman and the hippy girl shacked up for a bit. Neither of them were really happy. See, she was all “Why do you break your back for The Man, maaaan?” And he was all, “Why can’t you settle down and get a job?” So they didn’t really have a lot in common. It was more just that they were the only two people within miles, and they did what people do in those situations.
It was only a matter of time before the hippy girl got preggers. But of course, she was all “I refuse to be pigeon-holed by gender stereotypes. Just because I’m a woman, how come I have to be the mother?” And he was all, “Ugh, fine, but coat-hangers haven’t even been invented yet, so what do you want to do about it?” And she was all, “What’s a coat-hanger?” And he was all, “I literally have no idea.”
Anyway, what happened was, she carried the baby to term. Somehow, in that age before medicine and real doctors, she even managed to survive childbirth. But once that baby was out, so was she. That very night she was splitsville, never to be seen again. Although even now, there are rumors of a crazy hippy lady dancing naked in those very same woods. The police even tried to find her a few years back, but all they came up with were a couple of teenagers smoking pot. But never mind about that.
So she had the baby, and it was a little girl. And the woodsman couldn’t be happier. He’d always wanted a daughter, and now he’d got one. He named her Sylvana because she was a child of the woods. But she never liked this name, and so she took to calling herself Cinderella. Unfortunately, she soon received an anachronistic cease-and-desist letter from the not yet incorporated Walt Disney Corporation, whereupon will she have had to let it go. So she took to calling herself Winter, because she was sad in her heart. Sad that she would’snt be allowed to go by Cinderella, and also sad because she never knew her mother. Needless to say, the woodsman thought this was all ridiculous teenage melodrama and so continued to call her Sylvana.
But enough of this. One day, a knight-errant, on a mission from the king, came to see the woodsman. “Stout yeoman,” said the knight, “the king requires your services in the castle. Wherefore must you pack your things and come with me.”
“But what about my daughter?” asked the woodsman. “Surely I can bring her with me?”
“I’m afraid not,” said the knight. “Tax revenues this year were pretty low, to be honest, and the king can’t afford to put up whole families. You’ll have to come alone.”
“Well what am I supposed to do with her, then?” asked the woodsman.
“Not my problem,” said the knight.
And so the woodsman explained the situation to his daughter. He was worried that she’d start crying, but she actually took it quite well.
“Why are you taking this so well?” he asked.
“Because while you’ve been out chopping wood, father, I’ve been studying. The squirrels have taught me how to gather nuts. The bears have taught me how to take apart a deer carcass and how to fish. And the owls have taught me how to catch mice, though now that I say that last part out loud, it doesn’t sound so useful.”
“And what will you do for clothing?” he pressed. “You know nothing of tanning leather or weaving wool. Not there are any sheep in the woods, so I guess that’s a moot point. Still, though.”
“Who needs clothes?” she guffawed. “I’m going to be like my mother now. I’ll dance naked in the woods under the starlight.”
“I never should have told you about that,” said the woodsman, rolling his eyes.
“Honestly, father, I’ll be fine. Go serve the king. Make me proud.” And she smiled the sort of wild-eyed smile her hippy mother used to smile. Whereupon did the woodsman kiss her tenderly upon the forehead before departing with the knight.
So. Whose life do you want to hear about first? The woodsman or the girl? Let’s do the woodsman. Right, so the king – or rather the Royal Department of Human Resources – set him up in a small flat. It wasn’t in the best neighborhood, but at least it was within the city walls. It was a tiny little two-bedroom, and he shared it with an upwardly mobile emancipated slave, who had been captured during the last war with the neighboring province. His name was Madison.
“What kind of hipster name is that?” asked the woodsman when he moved in.
“It’s not a hipster name,” said the ex-slave. “I’ll have you know, James Madison will be the father of the American constitution one day. It’s a very noble name.”
“Father of the what?” The woodsman was confused.
“The American constitution. You know, as in America? As in, the New World?”
“New World?” asked the woodsman. “What are you talking about? There’s just the world.”
“Yeah, here there’s just the world. But what do you think is on the other side of Ocean?”
“I never thought about it,” said the woodsman slowly. “I guess I just always assumed that when you get to the end of Ocean, you fall off the edge of the world.”
“You know, in my country, I have a PhD,” said the ex-slave, facepalming himself.
“Why do immigrants always have to say in my country?” retorted the woodsman.
So no, they weren’t off to the best start. But they figured it out, after a while. Anyway, the woodsman soon found that his new gig wasn’t so bad after all. Instead of simply chopping firewood, as he’d done in the forest, he was now apprenticed to the master carpenter. And soon, he was turning out work of expert craftsmanship. Indeed, it is said that the king’s very favorite chair was made by the woodsman in those days.
Also, the pay was a little better. He actually had spending money in his pocket. He could buy his own bread and cheese and wine now, so he was feeling pretty good. He could even afford a ticket to the yearly jousting tournament. And the jousting tournament was the highlight of the year. Not because of the sport. No, the woodsman viewed that as barbaric. But the tournament attracted food vendors from all over the world. His favorite was the chinaman, who made these things called ‘dumplings.’ They were like pierogies, but more savory. They were like knishes, but lighter, and also untainted by Jew-hands, polluted with the blood of Christian babies. Yeah, I know how that sounds. But fairy tales always take place in the middle ages, and you know what they were like back then.
Anyway, the woodsman was living a pretty good life, there in the city. Except for one thing. He missed his daughter. Terribly. Every day, he woke up thinking about her and every night, he went to sleep thinking about her. And she was all he thought about as he toiled away in the carpenter’s shop. Hell, he even kept an empty picture frame next to his bed. “As soon as they invent photography,” he’d say to himself, “I’m going to put a picture of her in there.”
But what about the girl herself? Well, in the beginning, she was pretty happy. You know how teenage girls are when it comes to their independence. She’d spend her days gathering nuts with the squirrels or fishing with the bears. At night, owls would bring her dead mice, but that got old fast. And in between her hunter-gatherer routine, she’d dance naked in the woods, like nobody was watching.
Only somebody was watching. Not in a creepy, pervy way, mind you. More in the, you can’t really ignore the naked girl dancing in the woods kind of way. But it wasn’t just anybody who was watching her. It was the king’s son. The bloody prince, he was. He was 22 and she was 16. And by today’s standards, this gets all kinds of wrong in a hurry. But back then, it was all kosher. Though they didn’t use the word kosher, because anti-Semitism. And anyway, she’d grown her hair out, just like her mom, so you couldn’t see anything anyway.
Well, one day, he rides up to her on his white shining horse. And he gives her the whole fairy tale prince routine. You’ve heard it before. “You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. Come live with me in the castle. Come be my bride. Yadda yadda.”
And she thought about this offer. As she saw it, this whole woodsy-hippy thing was getting old. And winter was coming. She didn’t know how to chop wood to make a fire. She didn’t have any clothes. She’d always supposed she’d just hibernate like her bear friends. But really, she’d never thought it through. Anyway, this was a better offer. Of course, between the age difference and the royal-v-peasant dynamic, it wasn’t really a fair offer. Not that the prince was some kind of medieval Roger Ailes, of course. Far from it. It’s just, well, they weren’t really on level ground.
But this is where she differed from her mother, whom she never knew, but about whom she’d heard an awful lot. Her mom was the sort of feminist that would reject the proposed arrangement on the grounds that she didn’t need any man to make her happy. The girl, on the other hand, viewed herself as being rather empowered, and had no qualms about marrying a freaking prince to advance her station in life.
Also, she really missed her father. Every day, she woke up thinking about him and every night, she went to sleep thinking about him. She would have kept an empty picture frame next to her bed, but she lacked the perspicacity to envision the invention of photography. And anyway, she didn’t have the carpentry skills to make a picture frame. So instead, she’d gotten into the habit of carving the word father into tree trunks. Only, she didn’t know how to write, so it was always just an odd assemblage of random angular scratch marks. But it said father to her, and that was all that mattered.
In any event, she agreed to go with the young (albeit older than her) prince, and to be his wife. Also, she reasoned secretly with herself, if she moved to the castle, she might get to see her father again. But she didn’t mention this part to the prince, whom she suspected was possessed of a certain degree of class-bias and might frown upon her familial relations.
So they moved into the castle. And life was, well, it was boring. It was a whole lot of sitting at court. She had all these ladies-in-waiting, but all they ever wanted to to do was gossip and bathe her. And having grown up in the woods, she was not a really a big fan of baths. The prince, it should be noted, was a perfect gentleman. He never once laid a hand on her, as they were not yet married.
If anything, he was kind of boring. He’d read her love poetry or show off for her in archery. Which sounds nice, except the Prince had this awful lisp, and so she had a helluva time trying not to laugh at his recitations. And as for archery, well, he was pretty second rate. What I’m trying to say is, nice guy though he was, the prince was not exactly a winning argument for hereditary monarchy.
Anyway, one day, the prince was out hunting. By which I mean, the prince was out riding with professional hunters whose job it was to make the prince look like he knew how to hunt. Never one to waste an opportunity, the girl decided to use this alone-time to try and find her father. And so it was that she gave her ladies-in-waiting the slip, and made her way to the Royal Department of Human Resources.
“Can I help you?” asked the large, disinterested black lady behind the desk.
“Wait a second,” said the girl, with a hint of confusion. “Aren’t you a bit early for this trope?”
“Girl, who you callin’ a trope?” said the large black lady sassily.
“I’m sorry,” said the girl hastily. “I didn’t mean anything by that.”
“Mmmhmm,” hummed the black lady. “Typical. White girl walks in here like she own the place, throwin’ around fancy white people words like ‘trope.’ Meanwhile, I’m stuck behind this desk, butsin’ my ass for the man, sunrise to sunset. Shiiiit.”
“Look, I said I was sorry,” pleaded the girl. “But, I mean, I am engaged to the prince.”
“Uh-huh, and I’m Malcolm X.”
“Never mind, child.” And the sassy black lady smiled a half-sweet, half-condescending smile. “Now what can I do for her royal highness.”
“Well, I’m not a royal highness yet. We’re only engaged.” The sassy black lady shook her head.
“Girl, there’s a nail shop down the street. Go buy a clou.”
“I’m sorry?” The girl was totally lost.
“Honey, that’s a bilingual pun. Didn’t they teach you French in fancy white people school?”
“I never went to school,” said the girl, blushing with shame.
“You know, I have a PhD back in my country,” mumbled the sassy black lady. “Fine, what can I do for you today?”
“I’m looking for my father,” said the girl proudly. “He’s a woodsman, in the king’s service.”
“Oh, well you’re in luck! We only have one of those in the whole kingdom! Why, that must be your father!”
“What a relief!” cried the girl. “Where can I find him?”
“Honey,” said SBL, shaking her head, “were you born yesterday?”
“I’m sixteen, going on seventeen,” said the girl proudly. SBL facepalmed.
“Look, child, there’s a great many woodsmen in the king’s service. If you want me to find your father, you’re gonna have to give me some information. For starters, what’s his name?” The girl thought about this for a moment.
“Father,” she said confidently. “His name is father.”
“So lemme get this straight,” moaned SBL. “You’re looking for a woodsman in the king’s service, by the name of father?”
“That’s right,” said the girl. “Can you tell me where to find him?”
“Lemme ask you something, child. You gotta name?”
“Sylvana,” said Sylvana.
“Right. So, in other words, your name ain’t daughter. What I’m sayin’ to you is, your father probably has his own name too. And it probably ain’t father. You feel me?”
“I haven’t even touched you,” said the girl, slightly horrified.
“It’s a figure of – oh, never mind.” And the sassy black lady looked out the window. Or rather, where the window would have been, if there had been a window. The Royal Department of Human Resources was underfunded, so windows simply weren’t in the budget.
“Look, can you help me or not?” asked the girl, unable to hide her frustration.
“Oh, sure. Tell you what, how about I just print out a list of all the woodsmen in the king’s service. And you can just go down the list until you find your daddy. How does that sound?”
“That would be amazing!” cried the girl. “Thank you so much!”
“OK, so I’m just gonna ask you to have a seat and wait patiently until they invent moveable type. I mean, it’s first come-first serve, so you’ll have to wait while we then knock out a couple thousand Gutenberg Bibles. But you’re next in line after that. You should have your list in time for the Reformation.”
“But I don’t care about the Reformation, whatever that is – “
“Whatever that will be, you mean – “
“Whatever whatever!” cried the girl. I just want to find my father. And as she said this, she slumped down into a chair and started to sob. This, it seems, melted the sassiness of the token black lady’s heart. Whereupon did she take pity on the girl. And so it was that she wrote out, by hand, a list of all the woodsmen in the king’s service. And when she’d finished, she handed it to the girl.
“Here you go, child,” she said sweetly. “Now, will there be anything else?”
“Yeah, one thing, actually,” said the girl under a furrowed brow.
“And what’s that?” asked SBL.
“Can you teach me how to read?
End Part I. Tune in next time for the conclusion of this very silly fairy tale.