April 27, 2011

The Peril of Stories, By Amanda C. Davis

Hush, my petal. Hush, my gem. I'll tell you a bedtime story.

Once upon a time there were two people, and they were married to one another, and they had a little daughter. And they were all terrible thieves.

One day the thieves saw a golden mansion deep in an enchanted wood, and they decided to rob it. But the mansion was owned by a beautiful wise woman, and she caught them. They begged to be set free. The beautiful wise woman was going to punish them, but then she saw their tiny daughter. So she said:

"I will set you free if you give me your daughter to raise. She will be rich and well-taught, and will want for nothing. I would give up a little justice to save this girl from the immoral lives her parents lead."

The thieves agreed without a second thought. They ran off and left their daughter. The beautiful wise woman fed the little girl, and gave her a dress of blue silk, and taught her letters, and made her toys, and built her a lavish bedroom in the mansion's highest tower. And the two of them lived happily ever after.

Of course it's true, my darling.

Sleep tight.

#

Hush, my jewel. I can't tell that story again. It's ended.

A man?

Precious, why would you want a man in the story? The girl and the woman are happy. A man would ruin everything. We don't want --

Very well.


Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in a lovely tower with her beautiful and wise mother. She had all she could want of food and finery and education and conversation. But she had a restless streak, inherited from the criminal parents who abandoned her. She began to ignore her books and her mother to stare out the tower window.

One day she saw a man below the tower. From that distance he seemed handsome. She called to him. He called back. Recklessly, she took her bedsheets and tied them together to make a long, long rope that reached to the ground. The man climbed up to meet her.

But oh, he was not the way she expected! He used her in all the ways men use a woman. He hurt her. And then he dared to kiss her cheek and call her beloved, and climbed down the sheets and left her.

The girl wept on her pillow for a day and a night before she admitted to her beautiful and wise mother what she had done. Her mother comforted her. Together they devised a plan.

The next day the girl saw the man again, and again she called to him. She tossed out the bed-sheet ladder so that he could climb up. But oh! What a surprise he had! Just as he reached the tower, the beautiful and wise mother, who had been holding the other end of the sheets, let go. The man fell far, far down to the forest floor.

No, he didn't die! That would be too little punishment for such a wicked man. He fell into a briar patch where the thorns scratched out his eyes. He crawled away hurt and blind, weeping blood just as the girl in the tower had wept tears.

The girl thanked her mother with love in her eyes, remembering always that she could trust her to take care of her. And they lived happily ever after.

Goodnight, petal.

#

Hush, my angel. Of course I'll tell you the story again. Should we punish the man more tonight? We could break his bones when he falls.

No, darling, he was evil.

She loved him?

The girl would never love him. Could never love him. She would never miss him or weep for his wounds. Don't you see? He only came to hurt her. And she --

Fine. I'll tell that story. What if she did love him? The beautiful and wise woman would be very badly betrayed. She would take away all the nice things she'd given the girl over the years, that's what she would do. Yes, that's what happened. The girl wouldn't stop crying over her blinded trespasser, so the woman took all her things and put her out into the forest alone, for being so silly and ungrateful.

And after seven days cold and hungry in the wood, the girl realized what a wonderful life she had lost. She went to the door of the mansion and begged the beautiful and wise woman to let her back in, and be her mother again, and of course the wise woman had mercy and welcomed her back with great joy.

And they live happily --

No, petal. She comes back to her mother! She doesn't find the man. He's long gone. He's probably dead. She comes back and ...

She heals him with her tears? That's ridiculous! And he's a prince? No prince would ever ... They have twins together? And you say they go away together, and live in a castle far away from the wise woman!

No, that wouldn't happen!

No, that can't happen!

Hush, my petal. Forgive me. I'm sorry I shouted. There, there. Come here, my gem, my delight. Join me at the tower window. Look out over the wood. How lovely the view, with just the two of us at the top of the tower. How high we are. How very high.

Let me know if you find a prince at the bottom.

Amanda C. Davis doesn't like radishes. You can find more of her work at http://www.amandacdavis.com.

10 comments

  1. Oh, I love this. I like how you leave it ambiguous if the witch telling the story is right or wrong about it. I vote for "she's right", but...

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  2. Great tale! There are always alternate endings to stories, yes?

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  3. What a wonderful tale! The play between the two characters is perfect.

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  4. Excellent...I enjoy the push and pull between the narrator and her listener. Her pet names for the girl: petal, gem, and darling... provide a creepy contrast to the control she exerts upon her. As she unfolds the different versions of the tale, she unfolds the unhappy truth about her relationship with her listener--a tale within the telling of a tale! Neat.

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  5. What a great story! It’s telling how the little girl keeps waiting for a man to show up in the story and hoping for a prince to come so that they can live happily ever after. So many Disney fairy tales are like that and it’s refreshing to hear one that doesn’t end that way. It shows that you don’t need to have a man to make you happy. All the ways in which they tried to get rid of the man were very entertaining. I liked how there was a story within a story and it seems like she is teaching her daughter a very simple lesson by making a fairy tale out of their own lives. She is showing her that they have everything they need and they have each other and that they can live a happy and fulfilling life with just the two of them. It is a good lesson for little girls.

    Allison R.

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  6. This version of Rapunzel is really neat. I love that it is a story within a story. Rapunzel’s “mother” tells her a story about how a young girl came to live in a tower. This story give one the impression that she is telling Rapunzel her own story, but I am not sure if Rapunzel realizes that the story is about her life. The “mother” makes Rapunzel’s birth parents out to be horrible people and herself to be a perfect angel. The “mother” seems very controlling and overly protective. She does not want to let her daughter branch out and learn things on her own. Her story warns her daughter that if she doesn’t listen to her, bad things will befall her. This reminded me a lot of Disney’s new version of Rapunzel “Tangled”. There is a song in the movie, “Mother Knows Best”. This song is about how Rapunzel needs to listen to her mother because she is the only one who knows best.

    Abbey Ward

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  7. It reminded me of the musical "Into the Woods" when the Witch asks Rapunzel why she would want to go out into the real world. When Rapunzel leaves her, however, she is unable to cope with what the world has to offer!

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  8. “The Peril of Stories” was by far one of my favorite stories we read in class because the narration build was fairly unique. The narrator is definitely Frau Gothel. The narrator seems to be telling the story multiple times, changing the ending as Rapunzel gets older. When Rapunzel is younger, there is not much of a story to tell. As she ages though, and starts to think about men, Gothel wants to warn her against it. Of course we know Rapunzel does not listen, but that does not stop Gothel from keeping her “overprotective” parent role. At the end of the story, the narrator says, “Let me know if you find a prince at the bottom.” For such an overprotective parent, you would think the last thing she would want to do is push her daughter out of the tower? Perhaps, it is a shot at her pride in parenting to see her daughter become pregnant or fall for a man. Letting go of her child, and giving Rapunzel to someone else seems to be more unbearable than Rapunzel dying. The narrator is the ultimate control freak.

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