The Giant and the Dwarf

Beldor the Giant and Nolo the Dwarf were best friends, and that was a mixed blessing for Nolo. It is true that when he went apple picking, it was awfully nice to have someone who could reach the high branches. It is also true that when the terrible flood caused by the Ichi Dragon threatened to sweep away Nolo’s house, his friend Beldor lifted up the entire thing and held it in the air until the water receded. Unfortunately, it is also true that when Beldor put the house back down, he slipped on the muddy ground and crashed into the side of the dwelling he had just helped save. It was not crushed but it does now lean decidedly to the left.

The most trying thing for Nolo, however, wasn’t his friend’s clumsiness but his words. Giants have a well-known tendency to say exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time, and Beldor was no exception. Being a giant also meant that everything that he said came out in a booming voice, so that Nolo was never the only one who got to listen to the untimely remarks.

“Why do you have that toy sword in a bag?” rumbled Beldor when Nolo was trying to wrap a present for his nephew’s birthday. “What are you going to do with a toy sword?”

Nolo’s nephew, who lived several blocks away, squealed with joy because his mother would never get him a toy sword. Unfortunately, his mother also heard the announcement and was quite upset. Nolo was forced to return the sword and buy a game of Yahtzee instead.

“She’s very pretty! You should ask her to the dance,” boomed Beldor as the two friends walked past a lovely girl dwarf on the street. Nolo ducked his head but not before everyone nearby turned their heads to stare.

“It’s okay. It was just a puppy,” whispered Beldor when Nolo’s little hound Gerald died. “I’ll get you a new one for Christmas.” Nolo didn’t think anyone heard that one, but he couldn’t help wishing he hadn’t heard it either.

After these experiences and more, Nolo was quite worried the day that Melly said yes to marrying him. It was, of course, the happiest day of his life. Melly was perfect in every way. She had lovely curly hair, could bake the world’s best apple strudel, and wasn’t the least bit bothered about living in a crooked house. Still, the thought of what Beldor would say when he was told made Nolo cringe.

To minimize the embarrassment, Nolo took Beldor way up into the mountains to tell him the good news. When he was quite sure they were out of earshot of anyone else, Nolo made his announcement.

“Congratulations!” said Beldor in a voice that echoed off the mountainsides.

Nolo blinked and waited for the rest. What would it be? An inappropriate joke about his bride-to-be? A question about when the babies would be coming? Something that started with “it’s a good thing she doesn’t know about that time…”?

“When’s the wedding?” blared Beldor.

“Next month,” Nolo answered, bracing himself for joking questions about his hurry.

“That doesn’t give me much time, but I’ll make it work,” Beldor said.

“Make what work?” asked Nolo. He hoped Beldor wasn’t planning something terribly embarrassing, but if he was, he would be sure to blurt the secret, so there would at least be time to talk him out of it before things went to far.

“Time to finish your new house. You can’t take Melly to live in that tippy old house. But don’t worry, I’ve already started on a new one.”

Nolo just stared. Beldor was building him a new house? He felt suddenly ashamed of the way he had been thinking about his friend. All this worry about the things Beldor said when he should have been happy about the things Beldor did.

Nolo smiled up at his friend. “Maybe if I help we can get it done in time.”

Beldor laughed so hard the mountains shook. “You’d just make it slower, friend Nolo. You’re too small to do much, and I’d be sure to trip over you every time I turned around.”

Nolo thought he should be offended but he chuckled instead. What Beldor said was true. The last time they tried to make something together (a boat for those stranded by the flood) Nolo had dropped the heavy boards he was lifting and Beldor had tripped over them and smashed the whole boat to splinters. Nolo considered how many times the uncomfortable things Beldor said were also true.

“Come on, friend,” he said. “Let’s go tell Melly there’s more good news.”

Beldor and Nolo headed down the mountain together, each happy to have such a good friend.

“And I guess we’d better add on a few extra rooms to the house,” Beldor belted out as they approached the village. “You’re going to need space for all those babies coming.”

Nolo just sighed.

Mother Hugglemore (part 1 of 2)

Once a good girl named Ella had the impossible burden of being nice to her cousin Charlie.  Charlie was not the nice sort of cousin (not like your own).  He was the sort of cousin who spied on you writing in your diary and then went around making up songs about all your secrets.  He was the sort of cousin who pinched you under the dinner table and pulled your hair when no one was looking and then cried when you accused him as if his feelings were hurt.  In short, he was mean and nasty, and unfortunately for Ella, he was staying in her house for six long weeks while his parents went on a business trip.

Ella’s only escape was the woods.  Whenever she couldn’t bear Charlie any more, she would escape through the back fence and out into the wild woods behind her house, wandering among the trees and gathering interesting twigs and leaves or finding a curved tree branch to settle in with a book.  Charlie was from the city, and he was a little afraid of the woods, so while she was there, Ella felt safe.

One day, though, Charlie was especially bored, which meant that he was especially mean and nasty.  At the breakfast table, he knocked Ella’s cereal into her lap on purpose and then laughed while she tried to clean it up.  He made up an irritating little song about this event, which he spent the whole morning singing in a whispered voice that the adults wouldn’t hear.  He also ripped several pages out of Ella’s favorite book and wrote a poem about how ugly her hair was, which he taped to the bathroom mirror.  This last one made Ella burst into tears.  She ran out of the house and through the gate as fast as she could, but she was so upset that she didn’t latch the gate behind her or make sure to take winding paths that couldn’t be followed.

Unfortunately, Charlie was also bored enough on this particular day to follow her into the woods.  He was still a little frightened, but he also felt meanly proud of how he had made Ella cry, so he kept after her, hoping there would be a chance to repeat the nasty poem when she stopped running.

Ella ran a long way, crying.  She had always been a little worried about the color of her hair, and Charlie’s poem hit her where it hurt.  She was so busy worrying about it now that she didn’t pay any attention to where she was going.  When she finally came to herself and looked around, leaning against a tree to catch her breath, she saw that she was in a part of the forest she had never been in before.  The trees were tall and draped with vines, but not the scary dark tangly sort of vines.  These vines had flowers all along them, and the sun was shining brightly through the leaves, making it feel like an immense wild garden.  It was so beautiful, that Ella forgot all about the horrible poem and felt happier at once.

She was wandering around picking flowers when she spotted the sweetest little house she had ever seen.  It was long and low, with a steep pointed roof and it was covered from foundation to peak with blooming red flowers.  Flowering vines even curled around the windows and the spotless white door.  It looked like it had just grown right up out of the ground fully formed, and only a little smoke curling up from the flower-covered chimney showed Ella that a real person lived inside.

Ella was normally a little bit shy, but something about this wonderful house drew her in, and she walked straight up to the door and knocked.  A warm, friendly woman’s voice told her to come in, so Ella did.

When she stepped through the door she found herself in a sunny kitchen, with a clean white table in the middle and an old-fashioned stove against one wall.  Wonderful smells were coming from that stove.  Standing next to the stove was the most unusual person that Ella had ever seen.

She was a bear.  A big, furry brown bear, with a mouth full of teeth and paws full of claws.  But she was wearing a flowery dress, covered with a clean pink apron, and a sweet little cap on her head.  In her hands, she had a tray full of cookies that she had just taken from the oven, and which she now set down on top of the stove.

Ella felt that she should be frightened, but she was not.  She knew that bears in the wild woods sometimes eat little girls, but she did not know that they wore dresses or baked cookies that smelled like heaven, so she thought maybe she had been misinformed about bears.  (As it happens, she was not misinformed.  Most bears in the wild woods DO eat little girls.  This bear was something special, as you will see.)

The friendly bear introduced herself as Mother Hugglemore and invited Ella to have some tea and cookies, which Ella was happy to do.  She soon found herself seated at the cozy kitchen table with her stomach pleasantly full of sugary goodness, telling Mother Hugglemore (who was a delightful listener) all of her troubles.

Charlie was not having nearly such a good time.  He had followed Ella until she stopped, but not being nearly as used to running as she was, he felt hot and breathless and he had a pain in his side.  He flopped to the ground behind some bushes while she leaned against the tree.  He thought he would wait until he felt a bit better before popping out and taunting her some more.

It took him quite a while to feel better.  When he did feel ready, he leaped from behind the bushes only to find that Ella had gone.  Charlie was not at all comfortable being alone in the wild woods.  For the first time, he looked around him.  The trees were impossibly tall and tangled with vines everywhere.  To Charlie, it was like some kind of jungles scene from a movie.  He wondered if these plants were all poisonous.

Charlie told himself that Ella couldn’t have gone far (she must be so tired from running herself), so he walked a few steps, looking around carefully for snakes and other dangerous creatures.  He saw nothing, no creatures and no Ella, just more and more trees and ominous evil vines.  Charlie forced himself to walk a bit further.  He was just about to call Ella’s name when he saw the house.

Now, Charlie wasn’t one to notice things like flowers.  All he saw was an overgrown old shack, but the smoke coming from the chimney made him feel slightly better.  Smoke mean fire, which meant people, and Charlie felt much better about people than he did about trees.  He hurried forward and opened the door without knocking.

Imagine his shock when he saw Ella, sitting at an old table, right across from a terrifying grizzly bear.  He let out a scream and turned to run (leaving Ella to her fate), but he tripped on the door sill and fell sprawling onto the ground outside.

“This must be Charlie,” said Mother Hugglemore.

Ella was surprised and sad and a little angry, too, which was a combination that made it very hard to speak.  She just nodded instead.

“Come in, Charlie,” said Mother Hugglemore, helping him to his feet and showing him to the table.  “Have some tea.”

Charlie (who, like most people, only heard what he expected to hear) felt the bear lift him in her terrifying claws and growl angrily as she threw him toward the table.  He landed, miraculously unhurt, in the chair next to Ella, where he sat trembling and trying to remember everything he had ever been told about bears.  It wasn’t much.  He thought he had read once, though, that with some wild animals you must hold perfectly still until they forget about you and go away. As he was trembling too hard to get up and run, he decided to try this approach.

Ella was trying not to look at Charlie.  She felt that she should have known that he would come along to ruin things just when she had found someplace safe and wonderful.  She felt that she was doomed to a life of Charlie forever, and she tried not to be angry when Mother Hugglemore poured him his own cup of tea.

“Now, Ella,” said Mother Hugglemore.  “I think I have the solution to your problem.”

Ella looked up, surprised.

“I sometimes take in children for short periods of time.  I think Charlie would be just the sort who could benefit from a stay in my house.  That would give you a break from having him at home.”

Ella was upset.  It seemed completely unfair that Charlie should get to stay here in the charming little cabin in the woods and eat delicious cookies and have Mother Hugglemore all to himself.

“Look at Charlie, Ella,” said Mother Hugglemore calmly.

Ella turned and looked.  Now she saw that he was trembling from head to foot and his face was white as chalk.

“He doesn’t see what you see,” said Mrs. Hugglemore.  “Don’t you think that it would help him very much to have his eyes opened?”

Ella wasn’t sure that she wanted to help Charlie, but she did want to be rid of him.  And a small and not very nice part of her was happy to see him so afraid.  Maybe this was what he deserved.

“My parents will worry,” she said at last.

“I will write them a letter asking if Charlie may stay,” said Mother Hugglemore.  “The parents around here know me quite well, even if they do not tell their children.  Charlie will not be my first guest.”

Ella nodded and stood up.  She felt sorry to be leaving the wonderful cottage, but happy to know that Charlie would not be at home when she got there.  She felt even happier when Mother Hugglemore handed her a plate of cookies to take along with the letter to her parents.

With a final hug for Mother Hugglemore, Ella went out, leaving Charlie alone with the bear.


The Red-headed Step-sister

After looking at all those fables yesterday, I’m inspired to be more concise. So, as an experiment, I’m holding myself to a two hundred word limit today.

Once a woman with a flame-haired daughter married a man with two raven-haired daughters. Wishing to unite their new family, the parents made a rule that the three girls could never leave the house unless they were all together. The raven-haired daughters bitterly hated this rule because everywhere they went, no one looked at them but only at their flame-haired step-sister. Many suitors came to ask the flame-haired daughter’s hand in marriage, but none sought after the raven-haired daughters. Full of jealous rage, the raven-haired daughters swore a vow to never leave their house again and so confine their step-sister with them. When the parents asked why they never went out any more, the daughters sweetly said that they were so happy with their family that they had no need of others. In this way time passed, the suitors dwindled to none, and the daughters were left to age in bitter solitude.

Moral: You cannot force a friendship.

Yes, I know, I twisted around the meaning of this phrase. I’m red-headed, what can I say? BTW, does anyone know where this phrase came from? I’ve been trying to dig it up, but I can’t. Just a reference to Anastasia from Cinderella? I’m all curious now.

Time out Tuesday – My Take on Aesop

I know, time out from what, right? I’d have to actually be writing to take a time out from it. But it’s Tuesday, and I love to stick with my routines…you know, when I feel like it. So instead of coming up with something new of my own, I’m going to be unbelievably arrogant and give my opinions about stories that have endured thousands of years. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Aesop, born a slave, died being thrown off a cliff. Who wouldn’t want to be as storyteller?

Even better, everything we know about him is probably made up. I can’t think of anything I’d like more than to have people make up crazy dramatic things about my life someday. I’m totally going to stick with this blog. And also start reading more fables.

Aesop was a genius.

The Lion’s Share
The lion and the donkey go hunting together and the lion kills the donkey because he thinks he deserves more. The moral: Partnership with the mighty is never trustworthy.
It’s pretty obvious why this one is awesome. The cynicism. The violence. The gritty reality. And could there be a better moral? This one is high on my rewrite list.

The Bear and the Travelers
Two guys in the woods run into a bear. The one in front quickly grabs a branch and swings into a tree, leaving his friend alone. The friend plays dead and the bear sniffs at his ear before walking away. When the first guy gets down he asks what the bear said. “Never trust a friend who deserts you at a pinch,” says his friend.
1. Stories with bears are almost always awesome. 2. The moral is solid, but even better is the snarky way that it comes out from the abandoned friend. This isn’t as well known as some, but it should be.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf
I don’t think I really need to summarize this one, do I? You can read about it here if for some reason you’ve managed to never hear it. This one gets repeated and redone a hundred times, but it never gets old. I learned from it when I was a kid, and I only had kids for about two years before I already wanted to tell them the story because OH MY GOODNESS KIDS REALLY NEED TO LEARN TO NOT CRY WOLF. I can only imagine that every parent since ancient Greece felt the same. And stories that draw on how we all feel are what it’s all about.

The North Wind and the Sun
The two great forces of nature make a bet to see who’s stronger. The idea is to get the cloak off of a traveler. The North Wind blows with all his might, but instead of blowing the cloak off, it only makes the traveler wrap it around tighter. Then the sun beats down, and the traveler takes off the cloak of his own accord. The moral: Persuasion is better than force.
This one just intrigues me. I love that the characters are forces of nature. And it’s such an astute evaluation of human nature. Forces of nature commenting on human nature? Everything a fable should be.

Are you kidding me, Aesop?

The Ant and the Grasshopper
The ant works hard all summer and the grasshopper goofs off. Then in the winter, the grasshopper has no food to eat and is starving. The ant refuses to share with him. The moral: Idleness brings want.
This is a very good lesson to learn, no doubt about it. But ever since I was a kid I’ve had the same problem with it. The stupid, selfish, hard-working ant. Seriously, he can’t share a little food with a starving grasshopper? Is he trying to teach him a lesson? Because dead grasshoppers don’t learn lessons. I’m just saying. There really needs to be a fable that shows what happens to smug, greedy ants. I’m sorry, but this one just bugs me. Definitely no pun intended.

The Tortoise and the Hare
I don’t think I need a summary of this one either.  And I think I’ve already explained why it irks me.   I get that the hare was overconfident and/or lazy, depending on the version.  I get what’s wrong with him.  But that whole moral about how plodding wins the race just sits wrong with me.  I just…oh just go click that link and see what I already wrote.

The Milkmaid and her Pail
Basically, this is the source of the phrase “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” She’s bringing her milk home and starts imagining what she’s going to do with the money it earns her. When she flounces around imagining herself in her new dress for the dance, she spills the milk.
There’s no arguing with the excellent moral of this one. I just feel so drawn to the poor milkmaid who is working hard to earn her money. I don’t begrudge her a moment of getting lost in a daydream. Yes, life is tough. Yes, her mistake cost her, and there’s no changing that. But it’s not like she sat around doing nothing but imagining a better life. She was hard at work and got a little carried away with her imagination. Could we not write a story about someone who never looked ahead, never planned for what was coming? Would that not also have a sad ending?

Obviously there are hundreds of fables attributed to Aesop, so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. Besides, most of them are little innocuous things that don’t deserve much love or hate. I’ve not come close to reading them all. I’d love to hear which are your favorites and which drive you crazy. I’d love to hear you argue my opinions. Oh, who am I kidding? I’d love any kind of comments at all.