A Better Kind of Princess

Obviously, the best kind of princess is the gun-toting, plain-speaking Princess Leia kind of princess, with her hair tucked out of her way in buns that are practical and eye-catching. If she turns out to have Jedi powers, so much the better. 

This isn’t quite that, but it’s a step in the right direction.

  
The Princess in Black (by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale) falls short of its amazing potential, but it at least pokes a bit of fun at the foofy pink princess and gives her a rather more exciting purpose than pouring tea, and for my six-year-old, who isn’t quite ready to take on Ghanima of Dune, a monster-whipping royal with daring fashion choices is a good first step. Plus it’s at the perfect level for her emerging reading skills, and the illustrations by LeUyen Pham are cute as a button. 

I’ll take it. 

And if I wasn’t quite sold on the overemphasis on black as an inappropriate color for princesses or the oddly dense goat herder, It was all made up for when they named the unicorn Frimplepants.

  
A fun and simple chapter book AND a new nickname for my daughter? Yes, please.

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Nefarious 

On Tuesday, my baby turned six. I wrote about that here. Today, a story in her honor. Because if anyone were ever going to turn cuteness into an evil superpower, it would be her, but I’m still hopeful she’ll take a different path.  

  

Once upon a time there was a little cotton-tail bunny with soft white fur, sweet pink paws, and big brilliant blue eyes. Blue-eyes bunnies are the rarest of all bunnies, so everyone who saw her stopped short and gasped at her beauty. And, of course, they called her Bluette.

It didn’t take long for Bluette to discover the power of her extreme cuteness.  Her power worked on her family, who gave her the snuggliest spot in the bunny pile each night. It worked on her friends, who only needed one blink of her big blue eyes to give in on any argument and let her have her way. It even worked on humans, who shouted when they saw her in their garden but then gasped when she looked up at them and let her hop away with extra lettuce in her mouth.

There was only one rabbit who was not susceptible to Bluette’s power, her best friend Ralph. Ralph was born on the same day at Bluette, and they grew up together, but he could not have been more different. Ralph was plain, dull brown. His tail was scraggly. His paws were always muddy. His eyes were so dark they were almost black. No one ever looked into them and felt like doing him extra favors. 

 Maybe this was why Ralph didn’t always give Bluette her way. Or maybe it was because he had known her from the beginning. Maybe it was because he was secretly against her. Or maybe it was because he was her truest friend.

In any case, Ralph would always say to Bluette, “You could do anything you wanted with your powers of cuteness.” And then he always followed it up by saying, “Be careful.” And he would often mention all the great things she could influence people to do: dig deeper and safer tunnels, be kinder to the weakest bunnies, plant more lettuce.  

Bluette would always mention to Ralph that he was terribly boring.  

Then she would follow that up with a powerful blink of her big blue eyes, but Ralph just turned away. 

Bluette knew the power of her cuteness and she did not want to be careful. She wanted to have fun. She wanted to be loved. She wanted to be obeyed. She wanted all the lettuce.

As she grew into an adult, Bluette did not use her power to influence people to great things.  She used it to get compliments. She used it to get the best rooms in the warren. She used it to get the greenest lettuce. 

Then subtly she began to use it for more and more. She used it to take over a human’s back yard. Then she used it to gather an army of rabbits. Then she used it to take over a town. 

Before long, Bluette the Bunny was the cold-hearted Blue Diamond, ruler of three states, with rank upon rank of bunny soldiers who fought and died at her command but were so quickly replaced that none could conquer them.  

Those blue, blue eyes that once melted hearts now froze them. Everyone obeyed, either because they were enchanted by her or afraid of her. 

Everyone, that is, except one.

Ralph still lived within the rule of the Blue Diamond, but he did not stop speaking his mind to her and he did not stop turning away when she fixed her piercing stare on him.  Bluette often threatened to banish him or even to have him killed, but she never did. 

Maybe it was because she liked a challenge. Maybe it was because she had known him from the beginning. Maybe it was because she was waiting for the right time to make an example of him. Or maybe it was because somewhere in her nefarious heart she wanted to believe him when he said it wasn’t too late to change, to begin using her powers for the good of others.

But change is hard. And the Blue Diamond was not used to doing hard things. Instead she conquered more land and piled up more vegetables in her hoard and brought more rabbits under her dominion. And as always happens with tyrants, eventually some bunnies began to rise up against her and she began to be afraid and then she began to be paranoid about losing her power. 

Then her sister had a baby bunny. It was a girl bunny, white as snow with tiny pink paws and blue, blue eyes. The Blue Diamond saw instantly that this bunny was a threat to her own power. She was paralyzed with fear. 

As she sat in her throne room, deep in the warren, worrying over this adorable new baby, Ralph came in to see her. He congratulated her on her new niece and watched the fear in her eyes. He began to be worried for the bunny’s safety. So Ralph proposed a plan. He would take the baby and her mother far away from Bluette’s kingdom. He would take good care of them and keep them from being a threat to Bluette (and, though he didn’t say it, keep her from being a threat to them). The Blue Diamond leaped at this chance to be rid of her problem.

So Ralph went away, sad to be leaving his friend, whom he had never quite given up on, but happy to be able to save something from the mess that Bluette had made. He helped raise the baby (Blanche) far away from other rabbits and even humans who might be influenced by her great beauty. He did not want her to suffer the same fate as Bluette.

Blanche grew up knowing that she was loved, but never imagining that her white fur or blue eyes could be used to gain her own way. It certainly never worked on the rabbit she called father.  She was a sassy bunny, full of life and energy, and she brought light into the life of everyone she met, few though those people were. And if from time to time she heard stories of The Blue Diamond, they were only as cautionary tales.

Ralph followed the news from a distance. He heard of the uprisings that the Blue Diamond ruthlessly quelled. He heard of the day when the humans decided they had had enough of this upstart rabbit and solved the problem once and for all. He heard of Bluette’s death, and he mourned for his friend. Then he put all his energy into teaching Blanche about the power of beauty and how it could be used to do great things and help many people. 

 And one day, when Blanche was old enough, he sat her down and told her the story of her aunt, how once upon a time there had been a cotton-tail bunny with soft white fur who had become a hard diamond and who could never find her way back again but who had never quite let go of her friend and so had given her neice the chance to take a different path.

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I Told You I Would

ID-10072634For E and A, because I promised.

A walrus would make a terrible spy
You don’t have to think hard to figure out why
Can you picture one casually walk down the street?
He would totally stand out. He doesn’t have feet!

Or what if “spy walrus” had cause to attend
A fancy dress party, where he’d have to pretend
To fit in order to find the torpedo?
There’s no way that a walrus could pull off a tuxedo!

If timing was critical, a bomb needed disarmed
A spy with no fingers would be cause for alarm
Or imagine the bad guy is getting away
Could a walrus give chase? More like waddle and sway.

Yes, perhaps underwater he could be of some use
And those tusks are quite sharp, I’m not being obtuse
But honestly, we have submarines that don’t need to eat
And a tusk-wound is not…let’s say…very discreet

So thank you for thinking outside of the box
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy these fun talks
But out here in the real world, where road’s met by rubber
We need secret agents with somewhat less blubber

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Hiraeth

hiraeth

James Hadar was nine years old, but he could only remember six of them.

James had his father’s brown hair and tanned skin, but somehow his father’s hair lay straight and did not curl up when the full moon came out as James’s hair did.

James had his mother’s blue eyes, but hers did not have the same trick of twinkling secret messages.

James lived at 414 Heartsbane Dr., and so far as he knew, he had lived there his whole life, but every once in a while he would start up out of a deep sleep and look around his bedroom with eyes that found everything strange and unknown.

After a while, his heart would stop pounding and he would recognize his row of hats and his bookshelf and his little league trophy, but though he knew them, he still felt that they somehow didn’t belong to him.

Those were the days when James would stop on his usual route home from school and cock his head to the side, listening to the faint tinkling of music that floated on the breeze.  He would hum the familiar notes of a tune he had never heard before, but before he could follow the sound to its source, it would gently fade, leaving him with a sense of loss he could not explain.

Or perhaps on those days, it would be a scent that stopped him in tracks, a whiff of baking food that made his mouth water and his body yearn, even while he couldn’t quite place what meal awaited.  He would breath deeply and step off the path, but then always, always, the fragrance disappeared, floating away on the wind and leaving him without even a memory to satisfy his craving.

James asked his father about these sounds and smells, but his father told him it was only his imagination.  James didn’t think so.  He could never imagine music that beautiful or food that delicious.

James asked his mother, and she just hugged him close and rumpled his hair.  “Nothing to worry you,” she said, “just someone else’s music and someone else’s dinner.”  James was not worried, and he didn’t know how to tell her that it was his music in some way that he could not explain or that he was sure that dinner was meant for him.

When James’s grandmother came to visit, she did not tell him it was his imagination or that he should not worry.  When he told her about it, she nodded her head and looked straight in his eyes.  “You know,” she said.

And James felt sure that he did know, though he could not remember. He tried with all his might to remember what he already knew, but memory doesn’t work that way.

The way memory works is this.  One day in late summer, James was coming home from a friend’s house and he crossed through an empty field.  A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and suddenly James’s eye fell on a spotted mushroom, or rather, a whole row of spotted mushrooms, or really a ring of spotted mushrooms, for that was how they grew: in a perfect circle.  In a flash, James saw in his mind another ring of mushrooms and he felt the cold, cold wind that blew on them and he saw the little boy who had fallen asleep, his fevered skin making him oblivious to the icy air.  James saw the boy and he knew exactly what would happen and exactly what he could do to prevent it, and James heard the music of his village and smelled the aroma of the nectar for the festival and knew exactly what he would be giving up.  And then a woman called out in the distance, and her call was a name, and the name was James, and the boy didn’t move, and James stepped a little closer and a little closer and then he was in the ring of mushrooms, too.

The woman’s voice called out again. “James!” It was his mother, and she was calling him in to supper.

James looked up from the ring of spotted mushrooms and stepped away from his memory and into the back yard of 414 Heartsbane Dr., which was home.  And he sat down to supper with his dark-haired father and his blue-eyed mother and they gave him a smile which exactly matched his own.

James Hadar was nine years old, but if you looked into his eyes, there was just a little something that made you doubt it and that made you want to look again and when you looked again it would be gone.

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Um, There’s a Walrus in My Backyard

ID-10072634

“Oh, no! The Walrus got out of his cage! Where is he going?”

I was hauling a carload of kids (my girls and their friends) to church last Sunday.  The five-year-old had found the magnetic zoo I recently picked up at the Goodwill and stuck in the car for just such a time as this.  She was happily placing the animal magnets in their places on the metal pages.  And out of their places, apparently.

The ten-year-olds picked up the conversation.

“How could a walrus escape the zoo?”

“It would be pretty hard for them to run away. Can you imagine a walrus waddling down the street?”

“What would you do if you found a walrus in your backyard?”

So it began.  The what-if game.

“What if you woke up and a walrus was in your yard, Mom?”

“I’d seriously wonder how it got there.”

“It waddled away from the zoo!”

“It fell out of an airplane!”

“It swam through interconnecting canals!”

“Where exactly do I live? Venice?”

“What would you do, though?”

“Take lots of pictures.  Pour water on it.  It would probably be hot. Call animal control.”

“Would animal control know what to do with a walrus?”

“Probably not, but I’m guessing they would know who to call.”

“What if it was a lion that escaped from the zoo?  What would you do?”

“Scream. Run inside.  Lock all the doors and windows. Scream some more. Call 911.”

“What if it was a tiger?” “What if it was a hippo?” “What if it was a kangaroo?”

“Why do all your answers involve locking yourself in the house and calling animal control?”

“What if it was an elephant? Locking yourself inside wouldn’t be enough! I would crush your whole yard!”

“What if it was a cheetah? Would you race it?”

“Why are you locked inside the house again?”

This conversation lasted the entire twenty minute drive and then was picked up the minute we got in the car to go home and lasted all the way back.  We laughed. We mocked. We debated the wisdom of calling police versus animal control versus the zoo itself.  We speculated on how animals could get away.  We imagined which ones we would fear and which we wouldn’t.  We projected how they would act if they found themselves in an urban neighborhood.  We agreed that it would be best not to keep bananas or raw meat in our house, in  case it encouraged them to try to break through the windows.

Escaped zoo animals are always hungry, obviously.

You could have written about forty hilarious short stories about the scenarios from that one “what if” game.

In fact, I promised them I would a poem about walruses and how they aren’t very good at sneaking around.  It’s to be called “Walruses Don’t Make Good Spies.”

Kids’ lives are an endless “what if?”  “What will happen if I walk barefoot on this hot sand?” “What will happen if I swing this bat near my brother’s head?” “What will happen if I feed the dog chili peppers?” “What will it taste like if I put pickles on my peanut butter sandwich?” “Exactly how mad will Mom be if I eat fourteen cookies?” “What if we build a treehouse out of cardboard?” “What if my birthday party includes water balloons and pinatas?” “What if whoever loses the race has to jump up and down and shout that they are a monkey?”

When was the last time we got in on the fun?  When was the last time we just let ourselves run free in the realm of ridiculous possibilities?

It’s just another form of storytelling, really.  The ‘What if” story.   Kids supply the situation. You supply the action.

And it’s all imagination, so you can run inside and call animal control, or you can make a whip out of your leather belt and go crazy, if you prefer.

Either way, there’ll be a rhino in your backyard, so you’ve already won.

(Though your garden, I’m sad to say, has lost.  We all agreed on that point.)

(Photo above by Hal Brindley, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)
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What Kind of Reader Are You?

I’m a huge fan of personality profiles.  You could call me a Myers-Briggs nerd, even. Chances are, from the moment I meet you, I’m trying to guess your type.  Sorry about that.  I find it endlessly fascinating to understand the ins and outs of how people think and how they process the world.  And since I’m not terribly empathetic (ENTP here!), it really helps me to intellectually think through what other people feel and why they act the way they do.  So I can be more understanding!  So I can remember all the reasons I love them, even when they drive me crazy.

All this to say, it was really easy for me to fall down the rabbit hole the other day when I started researching “Types of Readers.”  So many quizzes!  So many categories!  And all about books!

A lot of what I found, though fun, was fairly useless.  But this one was my favorite, so I thought I ‘d share it with you all.  It was created by Laura E. Kelly, and it’s so detailed that I got lost in it for a while.  Check it out:

Reader-Species-Infographic1

I’m without a doubt a book-lover of the compulsive variety.  I probably fall under the Genus of Book Abuser.  I have sad tendencies to be a Book Buster, with lots of leanings towards Re-reader.

How about you?  What kind of reader are you?

And while we’re on the subject…what’s your personality profile?  Just curious…

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Ineffable

ineffable Your hair in the sunlight is…
[smile-sighing with eyes closed]
Your shoulders so strong are my…
[shivery nod]

When you smile my direction, I…
[hums an old lullaby]
Your laugh is perfection. It’s…
[lips quirking, tight-jawed]

When you tell a joke, it’s all…
[head-shaking and snorting]
When you’re into some new thing…
[intense, tingling stare]

Your intelligence strikes me as…
[leans forward, spreads fingers]
And your soul is just…
Well, it’s just…

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On Giving Advice and Blue Velour

advice-2My five-year-old (almost 6!) has this little routine when she’s picking out her clothes.  First, she sorts through drawers and closets and pulls out the prettiest items she can find.  It doesn’t matter at all if these items go together as long as each one is flowery, pink, sparkly, ruffly, colorful, and/or fancy.  Some days (many days) when I haven’t put all the laundry away, she is left with one very beautiful (if uncoordinated) outfit.  On the other days, the ones in which there are choices to be made, she calls in backup.

“Mommy!”

When I arrive on the scene, she holds up two shirts and asks, “Which one do you think I should wear?”

I discreetly eye the pants that are going to go with them and try to pick the shirt that will clash the least.  “That one,” I point.

“I think I’d rather wear the other one,” she says, serenely doing the exact opposite of what I advised.

Every. Time.

Of all the many things humans ask for but don’t really want (patience, anyone?) advice tops the list.

I mean, we feel overwhelmed by life sometimes.  We face difficult choices or worse, we don’t see any choices at all.  We feel stuck.  We feel worried.  We feel afraid.  It’s reassuring at those times to know that we aren’t alone.  It feels wise to ask for good counsel in tough times.  It IS wise.  But can we be honest? Under all our worry/fear/uncertainty/confusion/paralysis there is almost always something we WANT to do.  Sometimes our indecision comes because we can’t quite lay our finger on it.  Sometimes it comes because we don’t want to admit, because we know it’s the wrong thing to want.  Sometimes it comes because we carry unnecessary guilt about what we want. Sometimes we just worry what others will think about what we want.  But under there somewhere, we already have a course in mind. And nine times out of ten, no matter what advice we may receive, we’re going to follow that course.

My daughter knows which shirt she wants to wear.  She just sometimes enjoys the added thrill of casting off her mother’s vision and being her own person.

So why do we ever bother giving advice to anyone? I’m not a huge fan of being ignored.  Are you?  What’s even the point of it all?  When my little girl asks me which shirt to wear, all I want to do is say, “Whichever.  Just do what you want. You will anyway.” But is that missing the point somehow?

This weekend, I finished reading Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. If you haven’t read it, it’s a compilation of a bunch of Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar columns.  (You saw Wild?  You read it, maybe? Same woman.)  This isn’t a book review really, and my point isn’t to get into whether or not I agree with all of the advice in the book.  (For the record, I don’t. We have some world view differences. But I loved the book anyway. See below.)

I really enjoyed the book.  Her writing is lovely.  Her life is real.  She has a way of getting at the heart of what her readers are really asking.

Her column is wildly popular.  People write her for advice about all sorts of things.  Hundreds of them.  Writing to a total stranger.  What’s the deal with that?

Here’s the deal.  To almost every letter, Sugar responds by telling a story.  Usually, it’s a story about her own life.  Sometimes about someone she knows personally.  The stories aren’t always about times she was in the exact same situation (though she’s been through enough that they often are), but they are always about times she felt the same as the letter writer is feeling.  Any direct advice she gives springs out of these stories.

And there it is.  Not just the key to giving advice, but the reason why we bother giving advice at all.

Because advice isn’t about telling people what to do.  It’s about connecting with them.  It’s about them feeling less alone as they decide for themselves what to do.

It all comes back to stories.  People who will never listen to instructions will listen to your stories.  Not weird fables you made up for the purpose of instruction, but your stories.  I’ve mentioned this before with regards to my kids.  If you want people to listen, just tell them a story.

If you have no stories, just shut your mouth.  Until you’ve lived enough life to have stories, you’re better off being a supportive listener.  Cry with people.  Hug them.  Ask them questions.  But don’t presume to know. If you have no stories, you aren’t feeling what they feel.

If you do have stories, don’t keep them to yourself, no matter how small, no matter how awful.  Your story is exactly what the people around you need.  To feel connected. To feel understood.  To feel less alone.

The next time my daughter asks me to help with a wardrobe decision, I’m all ready for her.  It wont’ matter what the options are.  I actually love that she has her own sense of style and doesn’t worry a bit about the opinions of others. I love that beauty is paramount in her world.  So I have a story all picked out.

When I was 6, my favorite thing to wear was an old velour v-neck.  It was fuzzy and  royal blue.  It had a butterfly imprinted over my heart, and I was pretty sure it was velvet.  I wore it as often as I could.  I remember a day when my mom wanted to take my picture out by the rose bush in the back yard. It had just bloomed, and my beauty-loving mother saw a chance for a great photo.  I don’t know what she wanted me to wear, but it wasn’t the blue velour shirt.  I’m sure her choice was much prettier.  But I wanted to wear that shirt.  I just knew I would look exactly like a princess in my velvet garment surrounded by flowers.

I still have the picture of me at 6, a scrawny red-head in a blue velour v-neck sitting by a rose bush with a self-satisfied smirk.

It’s one of my favorites.

bluevelour

Posted in The Storytelling Life | 2 Comments

Mellifluous

mellifluous

Melanie was special from the very beginning. You couldn’t tell it to look at her. She lay in her crib like an ordinary infant, only a tiny covering of fuzz on her head. But when she cried, you knew immediately that something was different. Normally, crying babies make you want to plug your ears or run away or possibly tear your hair out if you can’t do either of the first things. Not Melanie’s cry. Her little face scrunched up and her mouth opened up in a wide, angry frown, but the noise that came out was so smooth and sweet that anyone who heard it felt better about their life immediately. It made you want to cuddle her and feed her and be near her forever.

Needless to say, Melanie was a well loved child.

As she grew, the whole village came to recognize the power of her voice. It didn’t matter if she was talking, laughing, or crying, anyone who heard her felt instantly at peace. And when she sang…well, no one in the village got any work done when Melanie sang. Those who were particular strong would stop what they were doing and listen and have pleasant day dreams. Those who weren’t particularly strong would generally fall asleep.

It was her singing which eventually drew the notice of the queen. It just so happened that one day as Melanie was walking home from school, the queen was passing through the village in her carriage on her way home from visiting her old grandmother. The queen was feeling very sad about her sick grandmother and very worried about going home to the king until the sound of a little girl singing suddenly soothed all her cares away and caused her to drift into the first real sleep she had slept in weeks.

As soon as her carriage left town and the queen was out of earshot of that voice, she started awake. She immediately insisted that her driver turn the carriage around, and she went into the village to search for the sound of that powerful music. The townspeople knew immediately it must have been Melanie, and so it was that just as Melanie’s mother was putting dinner on the table, the queen knocked on the door of their cottage!

We can skip over the long and boring conversations that ensued. The end result was that the next morning, the queen set off for the palace, taking eight-year-old Melanie with her and leaving behind her very worried parents with no sweet voice to soothe their cares.

In the palace, Melanie was treated like a princess. In fact, the queen treated her even better than her own two daughters, the actual princesses. This was because she had never had any use for her daughters, while Melanie was someone she needed desperately.

You see, the king in this country was a very bad man. He was bitter and angry and thought of no one but himself. He made unfair laws and never listened to any complaints. He gave huge parties for people who flattered him and exiled anyone who dared to criticize him. He had fits of temper in which he would break dishes and throw shoes at innocent people who happened to be in the way.

It was for this last reason that the queen wanted Melanie. The queen was tired of her dishes being broken, and more than once she herself had been on the receiving end of a shoe. But she knew that if she sent Melanie in to talk to the king when he was in a bad mood, he would calm down quickly, and if that didn’t work, the girl could just sing and put him to sleep.

This plan worked perfectly, and from the day Melanie moved into the palace, it became a much more peaceful place. The servants, who had been treated horribly before, were grateful for the break. The queen was happy to be safe from flying shoes, and even the two princesses weren’t as jealous as they might have been, probably because they had lots of late night conversations with Melanie, and her voice soothed them to sleep so happily.

This might have been a happily ever after for everyone (for even Melanie benefited from the finest food and access to beautiful gardens and a first rate education) if the king hadn’t accidentally made a discovery of his own.

One day, just after Melanie turned 16, she was in the throne room reading out loud to the king and soothing his frazzled nerves, when two lords entered the room, both demanding that the king take back his new law that everyone in the kingdom had to pay money to build a statue of the king in the town square. The lords were quite irate about it, but the minute they charged into the room and heard Melanie reading, they both stopped. Suddenly they couldn’t remember why they had been so upset. Something about the new law being too much for the poor workers? The king, of course, though he was feeling peaceful, was still quite selfish, so he refused to change his law. The two lords smiled and nodded and left without another word.

Outside the palace and back on their horses, they suddenly remembered their anger, but by then, of course, it was too late to go back and say anything. They had already agreed to the law.

The king saw a new way to always have what he wanted. From that day on, he made any law he chose, but instead of having his heralds read out the laws, he sent Melanie around from village to village, reading it all in her soothing voice. If anyone came later to complain, he sent them to Melanie for an hour, and they left without another word.

Oh, the laws the king could make now that no one objected to anything. He made a law that no one could travel without asking him first. He made a law that half of everything everyone owned would be his. He made a law that anytime anyone tasted something they especially loved, they had to stop eating it immediately and send it to the palace for him to try. He made a law that every citizen had to send him a birthday present each year.

Of course, Melanie was very young when she began reading out these laws, but even so, they seemed strange to her and more than a little unfair. Still, she had been trained to be obedient, so she went along until the day she met the orphan.

Melanie was riding back to the palace after delivering the news of yet another ridiculous law when she heard someone crying. She followed the sound to a little shrub by the side of the road, and under its leaves, she found a little boy, dirty, scrawny, and sobbing his heart out.

Of course, the second she asked what was the matter, he stopped crying. He told her that his parents had been forced to give half of their food to the king, and since they were very poor, that only left two loaves of bread and a piece of cheese for the whole family to eat. The next week was the king’s birthday, and they had no present to send. They had already eaten the last of the food. When the king found out they sent nothing, his soldiers came and took the boys’ parents away to the dungeons. The boy had been wandering the streets ever since, looking for something to eat, but had found nothing. No one but the king had any extra these days.

When Melanie heard this, her heart was broken. She saw immediately that her voice had helped to make pitiful slaves of these people, and she felt like the worst tyrant on earth. She wanted to find a way to make it right, but she didn’t know how.

Singing the loveliest song, she knew, Melanie put all the soldiers who guarded her to sleep and carried the sleeping orphan on her own horse, galloping away toward the only place she could think to find wisdom.

The old abbey at the top of the hill was already a peaceful place. The monks who lived there stayed out of most of the evils of the world, and so were not touched by the events of late. They kindly fed the orphan and listened to Melanie’s story. When she had finished, they pondered for a long time.

Finally, they recommended that the safest course of action was for Melanie to come live with them. She could take a vow of silence and then no one would ever misuse her gift again.

Melanie thought they must be right. She felt sad and lonely at the thought of living up here so far away from other people and never singing again, but she didn’t want to hurt anyone again. She knew she was dangerous. She opened her mouth to agree to this solution.

Before she could speak, the orphan boy raised his head from his soup and frowned. How would a vow of silence help his parents? he asked. And what about all those people who were starving? Was she just going to abandon them?

Melanie burst into tears, which made all the monks and the orphan feel that life was truly beautiful in its sadness. Even as she cried, Melanie watched their sympathetic faces, and for the first time since she was eight years old, considered that she might be able to use her voice as she chose, and not as someone else wanted her to.

Leaving the orphan with the monks to be fed and cared for until his parents were released, Melanie made her way down off the mountain.
The king, of course, was very angry that Melanie had put her guards to sleep and disappeared like that, but she spoke quietly to him, and he settled down. She knew from experience that her voice alone would not be enough to overcome the king’s selfishness, so instead, she offered to sing him his favorite lullaby.

Once he was asleep, Melanie went down to the guardroom and had a chat with all the guards. Soon all the prisoners in the dungeons were gathered outside the gates, rubbing their wrists and looking around in confusion. Melanie calmed their fears and sent them home.

Then Melanie went to the keeper of the storeroom and told him a long story. When it was finished, he got his keys and instructed his helpers to begin distributing all the extra food in the pantries.

Finally, Melanie went to the guest rooms, where several prominent lords and ladies were sleeping. She woke them gently and had a few words with them as a group.

Then Melanie left the palace on her favorite horse and never looked back.

When the king woke in the morning, all the lords and ladies were standing around his bed, and more than one had a sword in hand. The lords and ladies explained a few things to the king, and as they did not have Melanie’s voice, he did not take it very well, but in the end, with all those swords so close to his nose, he had no choice but to agree. From then on, things were quite different in the kingdom.

No one from the palace was quite sure where Melanie had gone, but it was definitely true that if you went up into the mountains on a spring or summer day, you would hear the wind singing such a soothing song that you would come home feeling refreshed and rested like you had never felt before.

Posted in Fairy Tales | Leave a comment

9 (Over and Over Again)

typewriter

They say there’s nothing new
The freshest thoughts just tweak the old
They say nine basic plots
Form every story that’s ever told

  1. Good Sam must face a beast
    That’s come to crush his farm and kin
    He somehow finds a way
    To overcome all odds and win
  2. Poor Sam has not a dime
    Until he finds a hidden chest
    The gold will make him rich
    To keep it, he must be his best
  3. To spare his dying town
    Sam has to travel far away
    To find the magic dust
    And bring it home to save the day
  4. Sam’s friend from out of town
    Will soon be dead without Sam’s aid
    Sam goes and helps his friend
    He comes home wiser, less afraid
  5. Sam is just a normal guy
    He meets a girl. They fall in love.
    Will his mother ruin it?
    No! All ends well. They rise above.
  6. Sam had a special gift
    He used it for his evil gain
    He ruled with iron fist
    ‘Til heroes rose and he was slain
  7. Sam’s life was hard and cruel
    He was the rudest man you’d find
    Until he met the girl
    Who helped him change and be more kind
  8. Sam is helpless to resist
    The evil power that rules o’er all
    He tries to break away
    But no one can, Sam’s left to fall
  9. Sam goes on holiday
    There’s a been a murder at the inn!
    He tries to solve the case
    Though it has zilch to do with him.

The same old stories flow
Through all the tales we tell these days
But still we feel the need
To find our own words, our own ways

For true art doesn’t lie
In the invention of the wheel
But in who’s allowed to steer
And how its turning makes you feel

Posted in Poetry, The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment