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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lil (a fairy tale rewrite)

I recently saw "Sugar Bones," a presentation of a classic fairy tale adapted into a modern setting by poet and playwright Kait Burrier. Her dramatization has stuck with me, but it reminded me that I had never been satisfied with any version of that fairy tale that I had heard as a child. So I decided to rewrite it.

On the edge of the woods you'll find a path. Follow this path and you'll come to a branch, and another, and another. Some of these paths don't lead anywhere in particular. One leads to Grandma's house.

Nobody really knows who she is or how old she is or whose Grandma in particular she might be, but almost everyone calls her Grandma and she doesn't seem to mind. Many people have decided to leave her alone. Others take it upon themselves to visit her and take her the things she might need. She never comes in to town so it seems like she might need quite a few things. But this appears to not be the case.

Lil is a girl from the town. Not yet a woman, but no longer a child, she learned long ago the things she needs to do to live her life the way she wants to live. Some of those things she learned from in town. Some of them she learned from her visits to Grandma.

One fine day Lil had set out with a basket to take to Grandma's house. She rode out to the edge of the forest, but as always, her pony refused to go any further. She dismounted, unfastened her basket from the saddle, and sent the pony home. It would find its way there. It always did.

Finding her way to Grandma's would be more difficult for Lil. The forest was dense and full of shadows, and the branches in the paths were tricky. Sometimes, it seemed, you had to go this way to get to Grandma's, and sometimes you had to go that way. But in the end, Lil always found a way to get there.

Lil had followed the path for some ways when she became aware that something was ahead of her, something hidden in the shadows. She stopped and shouted a challenge. "Who is there? Show yourself!"

The thing in the shadows stirred, and then said in a growling voice, "What have you got in your basket, little girl?"

"That is none of your concern!" shouted Lil. "If you must know, it is a gift for Grandma. I am going to her house to deliver it to her. You would be unwise to hinder me!"

"Yessss," hissed the voice. "Is it something to eat? For I am very hungry."

"It is not for you," Lil stated, calmly. "It is for Grandma."

"Then perhaps Grandma will be more willing to share with me than you are," said the voice. There was a stirring in the shadows, and then it was gone.

Lil was unnerved by this. Brave though she was, she did not like being challenged by unknown voices that growled and hissed from the shadows. She pulled her red hooded cloak about herself and continued on her way to Grandma's, a bit more cautiously.

When she got to Grandma's house at last she saw that something was amiss. The front door was partially open in a way that Grandma would have never left it. One of the kitchen chairs was slightly out of place. And a fork was on the floor. No, Grandma would never leave her house like this.

Lil entered and moved warily through the house. She clutched her basket tightly and approached Grandma's bedroom.

"Grandma?" she called.

"Come in, my dear, come in," said a voice that was nothing like Grandma's.

Grandma's room was full of shadows. The curtains were tightly drawn, and the only light that entered the room came from behind Lil as she pushed the door open.

The thing in Grandma's bed was not Grandma.

"Come in, my dear, and show Grandma what you have brought."

Lil knew what would come next. She knew the words by heart, as if they were a ritual.

"My, Grandma," Lil said, "what big eyes you have."

The eyes stared at Lil out of the darkness, glowing dimly in the reflected light. "All the better to see you with, my dear."

Lil's own eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and she was able to pick out more details of the thing that was not Grandma.

"My, Grandma," she said, "what big ears you have." For indeed, the thing in the bed had big ears, long and pointed and sticking up at the sides of its head.

"All the better to hear you with, child." The thing on the bed moved its head slightly, and Lil got a glimpse of it from the side.

"My, Grandma," she said, her voice growing darker, "what a big nose you have."

"All the better to smell you with, love." The creature's voice was almost growing playful. Lil saw a tongue and a flash of teeth.

"My, Grandma," said Lil, knowing the ritual was at an end, "what big teeth you have."

The creature practically howled in triumph. "All the better to eat you with, my dear!"

It leaped out of the bed and knocked Lil to the ground. It was a wolf, big and strong and lean and hairy with four feet tipped with claws. The wolf pinned her to the ground and brought its face up very close to Lil's.

"Did you eat Grandma?" Lil asked.

"Not yet," replied the wolf.  "Old women are tough and stringy. I am very hungry, but I wanted to first enjoy something sweeter and more tender." It licked her cheek. "But before we begin the main course, why don't you tell me what is in the basket?"

"I already told you in the woods," Lil said. "It is not for you. It is for Grandma."

"Show me, child," growled the wolf. "Show me now, or I may do something rash."

"Very well," said Lil. "Grandma has been teaching me things. She has taught me how to bake." She removed a towel from the basket, and another, and another. "I have made a pie, and have brought it to Grandma so she may judge how well it was made."

The room filled with the aroma of savory meats baked into the pie. Steam rose from the basket as Lil removed the last towel.

"I believe it was made very well," said the wolf. "Give it to me!" it howled. "Give it to me now!!!"

And so Lil did.

********

On the edge of the woods you'll find a path. Follow this path and you'll come to a branch, and another, and another. Some of these paths don't lead anywhere in particular. One leads to Grandma's house.

Nobody really knows who she is or how old she is or whose Grandma in particular she might be, but almost everyone calls her Grandma and she doesn't seem to mind. Many people have decided to leave her alone. Others take it upon themselves to visit her and take her the things she might need. She never comes in to town so it seems like she might need quite a few things. But this appears to not be the case.

She does not live alone. In her house lives a young woman named Lil. She has learned many things from Grandma. She has learned how to bake. She has learned how to defend herself.

And they do not live alone, either. Their house is guarded by a shadowy creature. Some say it is a dog. Some say it is not. But whatever it is, it has a burn on its face, and a fondness for meat pies.  And you would be unwise to approach with ill intentions that might interfere with its supply.

As a child, the only grandma I identified with was my own, so it terrified me that she was eaten (or placed in danger of being eaten) in the story. And I felt bad for the wolf: he was just doing what came naturally to him to satisfy his hunger. Why should he be killed?

I've tried to imbue this story with a touch of the supernatural: Grandma is a proto-Blair Witch, feared and shunned by most of society, supported or at least appeased by others. Lil is her apprentice. And the wolf becomes a creature of the shadows, much like the time I saw a bear at night in the forest on the side of the road, illuminated by car headlights: my friend and I didn't see the bear so much as two emerald lights - its eyes - and a bear-shaped hole in space where we couldn't see the trees behind it. It was surreal.

Grandma is powerful - could this have all been a test for Lil? Lil, as her apprentice and student, is powerful, too, and not just in a supernatural sense - either of these women (well, I'm seeing Lil as about twelve or so) could kick your ass from one side of the room to the other. Did Grandma allow herself to be subdued, or did the wolf get the drop on her somehow? In the end I resort to a Vaudevillian slapstick solution to the danger posed by the wolf: a pie in the face. In this case a piping-hot meat pie, kept warm on the trip to Grandma's with layers of towels...well, magic towels or something.

And the wolf is not killed. It is broken, tamed, enslaved perhaps - kept subdued with meat pies, and the promise of more meat pies. Even villains have their use in the world. And sometimes the big bad wolf is just ravenously hungry.


UPDATE, 2/21/2012: Here's another take on this story:
To Grandmother's House by Cecil Castellucci

1 comment:

Katie said...

Love this Harold!!