September 30, 2011

The Fairy Godmother's Trial, By Judy DaPolito

Editor's Note: Judy DaPolito writes fiction for children and adults and reviews children's books for  She's also on the board of the Antioch Writers' Workshop and a member of a writing group that's lasted for twenty years.

stepped onto the white-railed platform at the front of the pavilion and turned to face the chief fairy godmother.  Azalea sat at a table draped in creamy silk and bordered with purple orchids. Her usual friendly smile had disappeared.

“Abra,” she began, “you are accused of making a laughing-stock of fairy godmothers everywhere.”

I lowered my eyes, but I couldn’t shut out her voice. 

“You made Cinderella’s coach from a pumpkin.”  At her words, the clatter of teacups in the audience receded.

“You made her horses from mice and her footmen from lizards.”  Subdued whispers began to rise.

“Then you stooped so low as to make her coachman from a rat.”  When Azalea stressed that last word, the clatter of teacups began again and louder whispers skittered from godmother to godmother.

But they worked, I thought.  Her coach was magnificent.

“Worst of all,” Azalea continued, “you let the whole spell dissolve at midnight, ensuring its being gossiped about all through fairyland.”

And that was why I was here.  All that laughter was about to get me banished.

I stood straight and lifted my chin, pressing my hands against the sides of my gown to hide their trembling.  I knew what she would ask.  And I knew what I would have to answer.

“Do you deny having done these things, Abra?”

“No,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady.  “I cannot deny it.”  I literally dared not.  Azalea had cast a spell over the pavilion that would turn any liar’s skin purple as the orchids for a month.

I looked out at the hundred faces before me.  Sunlight streamed through the trees above and glittered off gold and silver wands.  My whole future was at stake, and there they sat in their white wicker chairs, sipping tea and nibbling on frosted cakes.  Only my mother, seated at the back of the crowd, looked as worried as I felt.

Azalea raised her wand and Regula, the examiner, rose from her seat. 

She came forward to stand directly in front of me.  “Abra,” she said in the unyielding voice I knew only too well from my schooldays, “three of your fellow godmothers will tell us what they know of your past behavior.  Then, before Azalea and I determine your punishment, you may speak briefly in your own defense.”

I looked at the godmothers in the closest chairs.  The three Regula would call on would surely be among them.  Some had been my teachers.  Two or three had been fellow students.  Some were friends and some were not.  I tried to smile at them all, but the curve of my lips felt as counterfeit as it truly was.

Marigold came forward first, her yellow gown brushing against the white floor.  I gave a real smile this time.  She had been one of my favorite teachers.

“Marigold,” Regula said, “please tell us what Abra was like as a student.”

“She was always polite,” she said.  “She got along well with the others as far as I could see.  And she made very insightful comments in class.”  She smiled kindly at me and started to return to her seat.

I could have hugged her.  "Insightful comments" had to count for something.  But of course Regula called her back.

“She had no faults?”

“I’m afraid her assignments were often late or unfinished.  And she did appear to daydream quite a bit.”

I hated knowing I’d disappointed her.  But I wasn’t exactly daydreaming.  I was making up stories that I’d write down as soon as I got back to my room.

“And in the lab?”

“Abra was very good in the lab when she had studied the spells she needed to perform.”

“Had she always studied them?”

Marigold sighed. “No.  She was often unprepared.”

She was right, of course.  The textbooks didn’t usually interest me.  I was in trouble.  I could see it in my mother’s face.

“Thank you,” Regula said.  “Zephyr, come forward, please.”

I relaxed a little. Zephyr was one of my dearest friends.

“What were Abra’s strengths as a student?” Regula began.

“She had a wonderful imagination.  She wrote papers that made me see everything around me with new eyes.  And she was completely loyal and kind to her friends.”

“Loyalty and kindness are laudatory traits,” Regula said.

But.  I could hear the word coming before she spoke it.

“But I also want to hear about her weaknesses.”

“I guess she was distracted sometimes.  She didn’t always read her assignments if she was spinning a tale.”  She clasped her hands against her silvery gown and took a deep breath.  “She cared more for tale-spinning than casting spells.”

She wouldn’t look at me, just turned and hurried back to her chair.  I wanted to tell her it was all right, that it was my own fault the evidence was going against me.  But I wasn’t permitted to speak yet.  Regula would have silenced me in a heartbeat.

And she had cleverly saved the worst witness for last.  Bluebell stood in front of me now, a smirk on her face.  I knew I was sunk. 

“What can you tell us about Abra’s time as a student?”

“She should never have been awarded her wand.  She read story books instead of spell books, and she told her own tales in the dormitory instead of working on her assignments.”  She smiled sweetly at me.  “They weren’t even interesting tales.  I couldn’t bear to listen to them.”

Bluebell’s skin began turning a sickly shade of lavender.  I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t hold it in.

“Silence, Abra,” Azalea broke in.  “Bluebell, would you like to modify your last answer?”

She shook her head. “Why?”

“You might just glance at your hands.”

The look of horror on her face was gratifying.  I knew she’d listened to my tales even though she always swore she didn’t.

“If you tell the truth now, I’m willing to leave your skin lavender for two months instead of deep purple for one,” Azalea said.  “But hurry.  The shade is darkening as we speak.”

“I loved her stories,” Bluebell said as fast as she could.  The color stayed where it was.

“You may sit down, Bluebell,” Regula said.  “I think we have enough evidence.”

“Abra” she said, “I have a few questions.”

I waited.

“Of all the professions open to you, why did you choose to become a fairy godmother?”

I hadn’t seen that one coming, and I’d have given anything not to have to answer it with my mother in the room.  “Because of my mother,” I finally said.

“Your mother is a dream-gatherer, isn’t she?”

“Yes.”  But Regula was waiting for more.

“She always admired fairy godmother, loved their power to make things happen,” I said.  “And from the time I was the tiniest of sprites, she urged me in that direction.  I just couldn’t disappoint her.”  I broke off, half sick inside.  “And now I’ve disappointed her beyond all measure.”

The full force of my failure hit me then, and I felt my tears coming.  I concentrated every ounce of energy on holding them back, but I knew I would dissolve if Regula forced me to say any more.  And there was no way I could look at my mother’s face.

“So,” she said, “on the night of the prince’s ball, when Cinderella wept in the ashes, you came to her aid.”

I nodded, relieved that the questioning had moved away from my mother.   

“And, fine as your intentions may have been, you botched your task from start to finish”

I nodded again.

As she spoke those last words, I heard what sounded like booted feet at the back of the pavilion and everyone began to talk at the same time.  I looked up and saw Cinderella herself, hand in hand with the prince.

 He spoke first. “Lady Regula, I expected a misdirection spell, but I didn’t expect you to use it on our horses.  We could see the pavilion, but they kept trying to go east instead of south.”

Regula actually laughed.  “I wanted to make sure you were serious about giving us your thoughts.”

Cinderella smiled at me as they came forward.  “We are very serious,” she said.  “Abra gave us a gift no other could have given.”

That confused me. Any fairy godmother worth her keep could have done what I did much more elegantly.  I was the one who wasn’t worth her keep.

“If the whole spell hadn’t come undone at midnight,” the prince said, “I might have thought of Ella as only one more lovely lady.  But when she vanished, I had to find her.”  He looked a little embarrassed.  “Being a prince,” he said, “I’m hardly ever thwarted. Having to search for her made me value her as I should.”

Now Cinderella blushed.  “Letting the glass slipper remain was a stroke of genius,”she said.  “I was the only one it could fit.”

I beamed at them both. ‘Stroke of genius,’ I thought. Who would ever have guessed? Certainly not me. 

I finally dared to look at my mother.  She was smiling.

“And we’ve had such good laughs over the rat and the lizards,” the prince went on.  “Considering her penchant for creativity, we were hoping Abra could become the palace tale-spinner.  She’d keep us enthralled forever.”

“And our children, too, when they come,” Cinderella said.

Regula looked at me and then at Azalea.  “It would solve our problem, I suppose.”  She looked at me again.“Though you certainly don’t deserve it.”

I looked as meek as I could.  Behind Regula’s back, Cinderella winked at me.

My fingers itched for my pen and my vellum.  What a great tale this was going to make!


Melinda Brasher said...

Fantastic! Love the tone, the world-building, the solution, the commentary about valuing most what you work everything!

Teresa Robeson said...

This was darling! Making the fairy-godmother a flighty, dreamy younger thing who didn't want to disappoint her mother is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

This story was a really interesting take on the fairy godmother in Cinderella. I have never thought much about the fairy godmother who helped Cinderella the night of the ball. The fairy godmother is not regarded highly by her peers. She had fairies that loved her and others who did not. In Disney’s version of Cinderella, the fairy godmother is portrayed as an older more motherly figure. Whereas, in this version the fairy godmother is depicted as a young girl who makes a lot of mistakes but in the long run just wants to please her mother. The original Cinderella did not give much information about the fairy godmother so it was really neat to read a story that gives more information about her. I love that Cinderella and the Prince save her from her fate in the end and that she gets to join them in their ‘happily ever after’ as the palace tale-spinner.

Abbey Ward

Kim B said...

I've always loved reading alternative points of view in the Cinderella story. I loved this version especially, because Cinderella stories never really talk about the fairy godmother, and when they do, they rarely think about the fact that she might have been using unconventional means. I mean, doesn't everyone think of magic in stories ending at a certain time and making the people in the stories work for it as well? The way the other fairies are portrayed is also very interesting to me. It makes the fairy godmothers seem less like women who are happy and bumbly and always working for happiness into a strict organization with rules and training. Again, though, I love the way the fairy godmother is treated as a horrible student and follower of the rules, but in the end, it just shows that everyone loves a true rebel story. Even Cinderella, as we all know she was a bit of a rebel in her time.

Anonymous said...

Molly G.
When I began to read this tale I was not too interested. I thought the idea of a fairy godmother's trial seemed a bit exaggerated, but as I read on I began to enjoy it. I like that the story ended up developing a bit more. I presumed the tale would only have to do with the decision of punishment, but it ended up including more of a relatable plot which is surprising since it is about fairy godmothers. When the tale began to discuss the mother and daughter's relationship I could truly think of my own experience and how it feels to want to do something for someone else when it is not what you want. I always love a happy ending and this story did not disappoint. I love that the young fairy godmother was able to change her profession and live happily with Cinderella and the Prince although she was originally going to be punished for helping them find each other.

Anonymous said...

I found the story to be very interesting on the attitudes that the two different types of people took in this story. It seems that the Fairies, particularly Azalea, always seemed to focus on the negatives. No matter what anyone said about Abra, it was never good enough. This is a symbol of the society that they live in. They have the power to change things if they do not like them just by saying a spell. The humans (Prince and Cinderella) however do not have this power, therefore they had a more positive attitude towards everything. The prince commented that he even found the fact that Ella was not perfect and disappeared, more attractive. They seemed to have such a positive attitude probably because no matter what they did, they knew that they could not be perfect. It is interesting that Abra almost switched roles and tried to bridge the gap between perfect and imperfect by making such beautiful items for the Prince and Cinderalla out of such mediocre and negative items.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this! I always liked the idea of Cinderella’s carriage being made from a pumpkin. It seems fitting, in a way, for an ersatz carriage to take an ersatz princess to the ball. Cinderella might not be who she presented herself as, but she was a good match for the prince. In the same way, pumpkin pie is delicious, if not an oft-used mode of transportation.

I love this world built around the fairies. If their whole existence is based on secrecy and efficiency, I can see how Abra may not have been the best choice to win Cinderella her happy ending. Abra is such a fascinating character, and I like how it’s revealed through character witnesses. She seems good-hearted, with the best of intentions, but prone to cutting corners or using that ample creativity for shortcuts.

I very much enjoy that Cinderella and her Prince are invested in repaying Abra for her work. It’s great that they all get to stay together, since I don’t think Abra could top what she accomplished here.

Danielle L.

Anonymous said...

I love backstories, and this one in particular caught my attention. First things first, I could not stop reading; so I read it twice. What great characterization and world building! Giving normally unnamed characters names, backstories, and personalities only adds an irresistible amount of depth to the fairy tale universe as a whole. The names were fun, and the environment was so beautifully described – I felt like I was there. I imagine a warm greenhouse-like pavilion dotted with pure white and smooth pastels, from the chairs and tables, to the desserts and dresses worn by the fairies. The imagery is the best part of the story! Even the minor characters had such rich characterization. I have to say, my favorite fairy was Regula. Even her name is rigid and almost judgmental. I have always been interested in snide, rule following characters that seem to lust after dismay. Anyhow, great tale and fun backstory!