Friday, January 27, 2012

Fables Three

Here are three short stories which have basically nothing in common. The first two are stories you probably remember from your youth, though I have rewritten both for laughs. The third has the unique distinction of being the story I have altered the least from its original version, as you will see:


This classic American story is a version of an older Norwegian tale called “The Pancake.” Since the original story is pointless and a little depressing, I’ve played it up for laughs. Sometimes people don’t look back because they can’t face the fact that no one’s chasing them.

Once upon a time and long ago there lived a little old woman who was very sad because she was all alone. Not wanting to wallow in self-pity, which seldom makes for an interesting fairy tale, she decided to keep her mind and her hands busy with some baking. In fact, she would make a gingerbread man. She mixed the flour and sugar and cinnamon and everything in a big bowl then lay the dough out on a tray in the shape of a little man, which she stuck in the oven to bake.

When it was out of the oven and had cooled slightly, she decorated it with icing, giving him an icing face and icing buttons on his icing shirt. Then she sprinkled shaved walnuts on his head for hair. Then she looked at him and thought he was a very fine looking gingerbread man.

“Ha ha!” said the gingerbread man, coming inexplicably to life and jumping up off the tray. “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” So rhyming, the Gingerbread Man jumped down off the counter and ran for the door. Of course, he didn’t have to run so fast, because the old lady had fainted by this time. Had she read her cookbook more carefully, she might have noticed the disclaimer at the bottom of the page: “WARNING: Using eggs that are not very, very fresh, adding too much ginger and cooking in a gas oven can cause the finished cookie to come to life.”

The moral of this part of the story is “always read warning labels.”

Meanwhile, the Gingerbread Man was running down the country lane toward the village where the first person he saw was a woodcutter. “Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!”

“Er…what?” said the woodcutter.

“I ran away from a little old lady, and I can run away from you too, I can!” But, as before, the woodcutter showed little to no interest in chasing the Gingerbread Man. Indeed, he headed straight home, took a cold shower and after a few days was able to convince himself that he had imagined the whole thing.

The Gingerbread Man next met two small children on their way home from school. “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man! I ran away from a little old lady and a woodcutter, and I can run away from you too, I can!”

Under the circumstances, the children reacted pretty well to the encounter: They stared at the Gingerbread Man…looked at each other…then both shouted “MOMMY!!” and ran straight home.

The Gingerbread Man ran into the woods where he came to the bank of a wide river, much too wide to cross. Especially for a cookie. So, for the first time since he came to life, he stopped running.

“Need a lift?” said a voice behind him. He turned around and there was a hungry fox, grinning at him.

“I gotta keep running!” said the delusional cookie. “I’m running away from an old lady and a woodcutter and two small children, but I can’t run away with this river here!”

“Why don’t you climb on my back while I swim across?”

“Okay, sure!” The Gingerbread Man hopped on the wiley fox’s back and they plunged into the water. Unfortunately, the fox’s back was too close to the water, and the Gingerbread Man was still getting pretty wet. “I’m gonna crumble away at this rate!”

“Here, climb up my neck and ride on my nose.”

“Okay,” said the Gingerbread Man and a  moment later he was sitting on the fox’s nose. Of course, this was the fox’s plan all along. Now all he had to do was toss the little man in the air, grab him in his teeth and gobble him down. But before he could do any of that, something happened that the fox hadn’t planned on. His throat suddenly felt very dry and he started to wheeze.

“Wait,” said the fox, sniffing his passenger. “Do you contain…nuts?”

“Well, yes. Just a few for my hair. Why do you ask?”

The answer to that question came quickly as the fox found himeslf unable to breathe. Luckily he was close enough to shore to avoid drowning. The Gingerbread Man hopped off the fox’s nose as soon as he could. “I guess I’d better go,” he said to the gasping fox. “Sorry.” And with that he took off. Of course, he didn’t get far before he met another animal without a nut allergy, and that was the end of the Gingerbread Man. But, then, that’s as it should be; after all, he was a cookie and what’s the point of a cookie that doesn’t get eaten?

The fox, however, once he had recovered from this attack, found he had learned a valuable lesson and changed his evil ways from that day on. He also learned to be careful with what he eats, which is good advice for anyone.

The little old lady from the beginning started buying her cookies premade at the store so that this wouldn’t happen again. And, getting out of the house more often (even if it was just to buy cookies) was enough to make her feel less lonely.

The woodcutter, certain the cookie had been a hallucination, cut back on his drinking and, as a result, lived a much longer healthier life than he would’ve done otherwise.

As for the two children, it was difficult for their parents to convince them that they hadn’t seen a walking, talking (indeed, running and rhyming) gingerbread man and he was the subject of many conversations with many, many therapists. They are both living perfectly healthy, happy lives now, but there is a nagging doubt in their minds whether they saw it or not. Neither has eaten a cookie of any kind since that day.

But, all things considered, everyone in the story who didn’t get eaten lived happily ever after.



I didn’t do this story for a long time. I just thought it might be too simple (after all, most of us first heard this story in the form of a Golden Book when we were about five years old). But I kept circling around to it because of one of my all-time favorite movie stars: Donald Duck! His first appearance was in a Silly Symphony based on this story. 

The hen lived in a very nice home on the edge of the forest. She got along very well with her neighbors, the cat, the dog, the duck and the pig, and enjoyed her life very much. Well, one day, this hen I was just telling you about found something: A grain of wheat. Now, most of us wouldn’t be too terribly concerned about a grain of wheat, but, let’s face it: most of us aren’t chickens.

“I know what I’ll do,” said the Hen. “I’ll plant this grain of wheat! But it would be easier if I had some help.” So she went to see her neighbors and asked them if they would help.

“Not me,” said the Cat. “I’m going to lay in the sun and nap.”

“Not me,” said the Dog. “I’m going to play with the farmer’s son in the fields.”

“Not me,” said the Duck. “I’m going for a swim.”

“Not me,” said the Pig. “I’m reformatting my hard drive.”

So the little red hen…wait, reformatting your hard drive? What?

“Hey, these stories are too old-fashioned. I’m just trying to make them more relevant!”

Hmm. I usually don’t have this kind of trouble with characters in my stories. Well, never mind.

In any case, nobody would agree to help the little red hen, so she just did it herself. She dug a hole in her yard, dropped in the wheat, covered it with earth and poured some water over it. For a long time, the little hen took care of the wheat as it grew taller and taller until it was ready to be harvested. Once again, the Hen thought she’d need some help.

“Not me,” said the Cat. “I’m going to climb a tree and take a nap.”

“Not me,” said the Dog. “I’m going to chsae rabbits in the countryside.”

“Not me,” said the Duck. “I’m going for another swim.”

“Not me,” said the Pig. “I’m updating my firmware.”

Really? This again?

“Oh, what? You’d prefer it if I was wallowing in the mud or something?”

Well, to tell you the truth—

“Just tell your story, smart aleck!”

Is it too late to make the fourth neighbor a turkey or something?

Well, once again, the Hen had to do all the work herself. She cut down the wheat and took all the grain down to the mill, where it was ground into flour, which the Hen took back to her home. “Now that I have all this flour,” she said. “I can make bread. I wonder if…”

“Not me,” said the Cat. “I’m taking a nap.”

“Not me,” said the Dog. “I’m playing.”

“Not me,” said the Duck. “I’m swimming.”

“Not me,” said the Pig. “My guild is on an important quest and I’m the best warrior.”

Well, at least an RPG is fantasy-related.

“I thought you’d appreciate that.”

With no one to help her, the Hen used the flour from the wheat she had grown to bake a nice, hot, fresh loaf of bread. And when her neighbors smelled the umistakable smell of homemade bread they all rushed over to the Hen’s house and asked if they could help her eat it.

“Not you,” said the Hen to the Cat. “Don’t you have a nap to take?”

“Not you,” she said to the Dog. “Don’t you have to play today?”

“Not you,” she said to the Duck. “I know you’d rather be out swimming.”

“Not you,” she said to the Pig. “You…actually, I’m not really sure what it is you do.”

He’s an on-line gamer. He’s surprisingly computer savvy for a pig. Later on we can have a discussion about how he's able to type with hooves.

“Oh, okay," resumed the hen. "Anyway, I know how busy you all are with your own things, so I guess I’ll just have to eat this delicious bread all by myself!” And she did just that.



By now you folks probably know that I like to take traditional stories and make them my own by retelling them in my own inimitable style (then again, maybe it is imitable. Someone try to imit it). This time, however, I present this old British story basically the same way it would appear if you looked it up in a proper book of fairy tales. I think you’ll see why there wasn’t much room for me to change anything. Ordinarily, in that case, I wouldn’t even bother, but this one is too silly not to be part of this collection

There was once a young girl who decided to get a job as a servant in a good home. Being clever and industrious, she had no trouble finding work in the home of a funny-looking old gentleman. Now, this gentleman was a little eccentric and told the girl that, in his house, he had his own names for things.

“For instance,” he said, “what would you call me?”

“Master or mister, or whatever you please, sir,” said the girl.

“No. You must call me ‘Master of All Masters.’ And what would you call this?” he said, pointing to his bed.

“Bed or cot, or whatever you please, sir.” said the girl.

“No, that’s my ‘Barnacle.’ And what about these?” he said, pointing to his pants.

“Trousers or pantaloons, or whatever you please, sir,” said the girl.

“You must call them ‘Squibs and Crackers.’ Now how about her?" he said, pointing to the cat.

“Cat or kitten, or whatever you please, sir.”

“She is ‘White-Faced Simminy.’ And this,” he said, pointing to the fire. “What would you call this?”

“Fire or flame, or whatever you please, sir.”

“You will call this ‘Hot Cockalorum.” And what’s this?” he said, pointing to a pail of water.

“Water, wet, or whatever you please, sir.”

“Pondalorum,” he said, then asked what she would call his entire house.

“House or corrage, or whatever you please, sir.”

“You must call it ‘High Topper Mountain.’”

Later that same night, the girl woke up her master and, in a terrible fright, said, “Master of All Masters! Get out of your Barnacle and put on your Squibs and Crackers, for White-Faced Simminy has got a spark of Hot Cockalorum on her tail, and unless you get some Pondalorum, High Topper Mountain will be all on Hot Cockalorum!”

And that's all!


If You Liked My Stories, You Might Enjoy:
  • “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” by Jon Sciezscka and Lane Smith. The story the book is named for features a man made not out of gingerbread but of stinky cheese, which is why nobody wants to chase him and why the fox does, in fact, sink when the man gets close enough to his nose. The Little Red Hen also appears throughout the book, complaining, shouting, and interrupting other people's stories so she can get her own story told.
  • The Wise Little Hen (1934) As I said before, this is the cartoon that introduced the world to Donald. Walt heard comic Clarence Nash reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in this funny voice (which, says Nash, he got from a goat on his parents’ farm) and immediately decided to hire him as a voice actor. Donald was such a hit in this cartoon, that he was written into a Mickey Mouse cartoon reciting the same poem, and within a few short years had become the biggest cartoon star in the world (even surpassing Mickey).
  • Shrek (2001) For the record, I actually hate the Shrek movie franchise. But, I guess it would be pretty irresponsible of me to talk about fairy tales without bringing up this enormously overhyped movie which was so not better than Monsters, Inc. which deserved to win the first ever Oscar for an animated feature, by the way. Anyway, the Gingerbread Man is actually pretty cute in this movie which, even though it had a good story, chose to ignore the fact in favor of making outdated pop culture references and thinly-veiled jabs at Disney in general and Michael “Farquad” Eisner in particular. Now you see why I haven’t mentioned Shrek before now.
  • “Tiny Toon Adventures” (TV) An episode designed to encourage reading features the perpetually hungry Dizzy Devil becoming engrossed in this story because it’s about food.
  • Danny Kaye Tells Six Stories From Faraway Lands. I have mentioned this record in the past, and likely will again in the future, but "Master of All Masters" is on this record, which is appropriate as it seems oddly tailored to Danny's peculiar talents.


"The Story of Chanticleer"

No comments:

Post a Comment