Friday, July 27, 2012


I got about halfway through writing up this particular Greek myth when I came to an important realization: This story is friggin’ nuts! I mean, as Greek myths go, it’s actually pretty tame, but it’s still pretty ridiculous. I hope to Zeus these things made more sense in Ancient Greek and we just think they’re insane cuz something was lost in translation. In any case, English is what we’re dealing with here, so I had to go over the story again and add jokes. I like the story, in spite of its ludicrous twists and turns, so I didn’t just want to throw it out, but I thought if I played it for laughs a bit more, it might work better.

There are, of course, several different versions of the myth, and, as per usual, mine takes elements from a handful of tellings. So you might not see your favorite part of the story here.

Once upon a really quite very long time ago, there was a king called Acrissius who, like many narrow-minded kings, very much wanted to have a son. Instead, he got a daughter, whom he named Danae…wait, whom? Is that right? Who he named…he named…no, whom. Whom is right. What? Oh, sorry. As I say, King Acrissius’ only child was his daughter Danae. Being of a naturally curious disposition, the king went to see the Oracle at Delphi (Ah-ah-AH! choir of small children singing) and asked it whether he would ever have a son. The Oracle said that not only would Acrissius not have a son, but his daughter would, and that son would one day, and this is a direct quote: “defeat the king and wear the crown.”

King Acrissius was horrified at the thought of being overthrown by his own hypothetical grandson. Desperate to avoid this fate, he locked Danae in a tower and refused to ever let her out, reasoning that if she never had a child, he had no reason to fear her offspring. But Zeus, the king of the gods of Greece, was not a particular fan of Acrissius, and he was especially mad at him for defying the Oracle at Delphi (Ah-ah-AH! slightly larger choir of small children singing this time), and so he did one of those things that gods get to do: He performed a miracle. He sent Danae a son, and she named him Perseus since he was “from Zeus.” For many years, Danae and Perseus lived secretly in the tower until the child’s laughter was heard by his wicked grandfather. When King Acrissius found out that Danae had, against all logic and the very laws of nature, borne a son, he was acrimonious…no, he was mad. I don’t know why I said that other word, excuse me.

Whatever word you like, Acrissius decided to get rid of the pair of them once and for all. Mother and child were sealed in a wooden box and the box was thrown into the sea. But, once again, Acrissius had not reckoned with the gods, and Zeus’s brother, Poseidon, carried the box across the ocean to a new land called Seriphos. The box washed up on shore where it was found and opened by a kindly man named Dictys. When he heard of Danae and Perseus’ plight, he took pity on them and asked them to come and live with him. So that is how Perseus grew to be a man with the love of his mother and the guiding hand of Dictys.

Now, it just so happened. that Dictys had a brother, named Polydectes (I know, the names in this one are kind of tricky). It also happened that Polydectes was the king of Seriphos. And the law of the land entiteld him to take any woman he wanted for his bride. As it further happened, he had his eye on Perseus’ mother, Danae. Perseus, however, knew the kind of man Polydectes was and knew that he would not be a good husband to his mother.

“You may be king,” said Perseus, defiantly, “but I will never call you father.”

“You will, boy,” said Polydectes. “I will have your mother for my bride or both of you will be put to death.”

The fear of death has, in the past, been referred to as “a helpful motivator.” Such was the case with Danae. Not for her own sake so much, but for her son. She agreed to marry Polydectes and asked her son to get on board with the whole thing. She asked him to go to his future stepfather and ask his forgiveness and offer his blessing. Eventually, Perseus agreed and did so the next morning. As a gesture of apology for his harsh words, Perseus asked Polydectes what gift he should bring to the wedding. “Anything under the sky is yours to request,” said Perseus, never dreaming that he’d soon live to regret it.

“Anything?” said the sinister king. “Very well: Bring me…the head of the Gorgon, Medusa!”

(GASP! Dramatic sting!!)

For those of you who aren’t from around here, the Gorgons were three horrible monsters. Of these, two were immortal. The one who was mortal was Medusa. Some said she was once a beautiful human woman who, years ago, had offended the goddess Athena who had turned her into a monster as punishment. And a monster she was! Her hair was actually live snakes, and one look in her eyes would turn a man to stone! But Perseus had (stupidly) promised to bring Polydectes any gift he asked for, so he set forth the very next day to seek out the Gorgons.

The night before his adventure was to begin, the gods appeared to him. They wanted to help him in his quest. Athena gave him a highly polished shield, the inside of which reflected like a mirror. Hermes lent Perseus his winged sandals to hasten his journey. Even Zeus himself gave him an adamani…admananium…adam…a magic sword with which to slice off Medusa’s head. Perseus was very grateful to the gods for their gifts and their advice:

“When you depart at tomorrow’s sun,” Athena said, “run to the other side of the world, where the sun has just set. There you will find the Graeae. They are cousins of the Gorgons and will help you to find your enemy.”

“Well, can’t you guys just tell me where they are?”

“No. No we can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Er…do not question the ways of the gods! Just go find the Gray Ladies, okay?”

So, the next morning as the first rays of the sun shone upon him, Perseus ran with Hermes’ winged sandals to the other side of the world. Here night had just begun to fall. And on the cold, dark rocks at the edge of the sea he found the Graeae. These three old hags had only one eye that they shared between them. One would remove it and pass it to the next and they would all get a turn…yes, I agree, it’s disgusting, but it’s just a story. Anyway, as one passed it to the next, Perseus took it and held it out of their reach.

“Where is our eye?” cried the Graeae. “Who has our eye?”

“I,” said Perseus.

“Yes. Eye. Where is our eye?”

“No, I mean I as in me.”

“You? What about you?”

“No, I—never mind. I have your stupid eye and I won’t return it until you tell me how to find your cousins, the Gorgons.”

The Graeae agreed and told Perseus where he would find the Gorgons. Perseus returned their eye (gratefully, cuz it was pretty gross) and followed their directions until he came to the outskirts of the nation of Ethiopia (not the one you’re thinking of, this is a different one). It was a dark, gray place where it looked like the sun had never shone. Here is where the Gorgons lived and here is where Perseus found Medusa.

“Who seeks Medusa?” she asked, her back to her foe.

“I am Perseus. Son of Zeus and the mortal Danae. The man I will one day call ‘father’ has demanded your head and I will not leave this place without it.”

See? That’s how heroes talk in stories like this. Nobody talks like that anymore. How cool is that?

Anyway: “Then you will never leave this place!” hissed Medusa (or it might have been her hair) and she rounded on her enemy. “Look into my eyes!”

“No!” replied Perseus and he at once spun around and held up his shield. With his back to Medusa, he saw her reflection in his shield and by looking, memorizing the terrain then shutting his eyes and quickly turning around he was able to fight Medusa without ever looking directly at her. The battle raged on for many hours, and it was almost daybreak when the final blow was struck. With a mighty swipe of Zeus’ sword, Perseus sliced through Medusa’s neck and her lifeless head fell to the ground…again, pretty gross, huh?

Exhausted from his battle, Perseus used the last of his strength to put the severed head in his knapsack (very carefully, because her eyes were still open) and then he did what pretty much any demigod would do in the same situation: He collapsed to the ground and lost consciousness.

He awoke several hours later in a soft bed with maids attending him. “Where am I?” he demanded of them.

“You are in the palace of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. The monarchs of Ethiopia.”

“How did I get here?” he asked. They explained how the sounds of the battle with Medusa had attracted the attention of some early-morning fishermen. They had seen Perseus behead Medusa and collapse on the rocks. They knew the other two Gorgons (the ones that didn’t die, remember) would soon discover him and tear him limb from limb for killing their sister, so they carried him into the city where news quickly spread of his defeat of the monster. The king and queen ordered him to be brought to their palace where, when he awoke, which was now, he would be their honored guest at a feast.

Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever beheaded a terrible monster after fighting for hours on end and then slept for more hours on more end (I don’t think that’s right, but let’s move on), but if you have you would know what Perseus knew, that what you’d really be in the mood for was a feast. He sat at the royal table between the king and queen and was called on to recount the story of his adventure which, when it was over, was met with cheers and applause the likes of which Perseus had never heard before. It was the greatest night of his life…until the end of the meal.

“Perseus,” said the King, hesitantly, “I should tell you, this feast is not just to celebrate your victory over Medusa.”

“It isn’t?”

“No,” said the Queen. “It is also to entice you to help us.”

“You see,” continued the King, “this very night, a terrible sea serpent is going to kill our daughter, Andromeda.”

“What?” said Perseus, understandably perplexed. “Why? How? Huh?”

The King explained that, some days ago, the Queen had said, only in jest, you understand, that she was more beautiful than the water nymphs of Poseidon. Poseidon (who only about ten years ago had saved Perseus and his mother, for those having a hard time keeping track) apparently took her boasts as blasphemy and said that he would send the serpent, Cetus, to destroy Ethiopia. When the King and Queen begged for mercy, Poseidon said “very well, I won’t destroy the entire city…only one…your daughter. Tie her to a stone on the edge of the city at sunset in three days’ time and I will spare the rest of your lives.”

“So you see,” the King implored, “what we really need right now is somebody who can kill a monster.”

“Please, Perseus,” begged the Queen. “You may be our only hope of saving our city and our child.”

Perseus agreed for some reason, and at sundown that very night, the princess Andromeda was brought forth. She was tied to a large stone at the very edge of the city and Perseus crouched down behind the stone, waiting for Cetus to attack. Sure enough, the tide rolled in and a huge, terrifying serpent slithered out of the sea. It was just about to attack Andromeda when…SLASH! Perseus leaped out from behind the stone and sliced off the serpent’s head. Poseidon was, of course, furious, but he had made a promise: If Andromeda was tied to the stone at sundown, he would not destroy the city. Andromeda was tied down, so, even though she wasn’t killed, he had to spare Ethiopia. In the end, however, he got his revenge on Cassiopeia: When she died, he used his power to hang her in the sky, upside down, for all eternity, as a mighty constellation of stars…but that comes later.

For now, Ethiopia was saved and the King and Queen were even more grateful to Perseus than they had been before and they asked if there was anything he wanted as a reward. And, as a matter of fact there was. To make a long story slightly less long, Perseus and Andromeda were married soon thereafter.

But, now was not the time for a honeymoon. Perseus had somewhere to be. He bid his new bride put her arms around him very, very tight. She did this and then, using Hermes’ winged sandals, he ran all the way back home to Seriphos, just in time for the wedding ceremony to begin. He entered the palace bearing the gifts from the gods, the knapsack over his shoulder and his new wife, Andromeda.

“Mom,” he said, “this is my wife, Andromeda. Andy, this is my mother.”

Danae was less than thrilled at finding out like this, but she embraced Andromeda anyway.

“Yes, yes, she seems lovely,” said Polydectes. “But I didn’t send you after a girl. Did you bring what I requested?”

“Yes, Father,” he said, possibly inventing sarcasm at that moment. “It’s right…here!” And with the kind of lightning fast reflexes that only a demigod could possess and which it would be pointless attempting if you’re not one, Perseus whipped the knapsack off his back reached in and pulled out Medusa’s head, pointing it straight at Polydectes. And the moment Polydectes eyes made contact with Medusa’s deathly gaze, he turned at once into solid stone.

So the Oracle at Delphi (The choir of small children thought they were done and left for the day) was right. Perseus grew up to defeat a king and wear his crown…just not the king Acrissius had expected. In case you’re interested, Acrissius lived a long and lonely life with no children and his very last thought before his death was sorrow at what he had done to his daughter and grandson. But why waste time worrying about that old jerk? Especially when Perseus was a hero, a husband and a king all at the same time. He had many more adventures and even founded his own kingdom, Mycenae, where he and his extended family lived very happily ever after…if you can believe that!


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Greek Myths” (1990; TV) Their version of Perseus’ story includes a cameo by Atlas who, contrary to popular belief, actually held up the sky, not the Earth. In this story, Perseus takes pity on the poor man and mercifully turns him to stone with Medusa’s head so he won’t feel the weight of the sky anymore.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians (books/movie) The title character of these modern day myths is actually named after Perseus and the first story, the Lightning Thief, features several references to his legend. Medusa (played by Uma Thurman in the movie) even makes an appearance.
  • Clash of the Titans (1981/2010) This is an epic story of Greek mythology based on the loose framework of Perseus' story. The original is famous for the excellent stop-motion animation of the late, great Ray Harryhausen and stars Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Burgess Meredith and Harry Hamlin as Perseus. The big budget remake features Sam Worthington as Perseus along with Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Jason Flemyng (who you’d recognize if you saw him)

NEXT WEEK: "The Return of Shelly Hobbes: Master Detective...Again!"

Friday, July 13, 2012


Before we go ahead with today’s story, I’d like to acknowledge a milestone: In three days’ time, "Once Upon a Time and Long Ago” celebrates its second anniversary. I remember when I started this pointless project two years ago with fifty fairy tales in a Word file and no idea what I was doing. Now, two years and an additional eighty stories later…well, I still have no idea what I’m doing. The truth is I never had any specific goal with this blog. Yeah, it would be nice if it picked up and became really popular. It would been great if a publisher comes across it and offers me a book deal. I wouldn’t be at all dissapointed if some of the girls who rejectd me in the past saw how clever and talented I was and regretted not giving me the time of day. As it is, none of that crap has, as of yet, happened. What did happen is I made a few people smile every now and then, kept myself actively writing at a time in my life when I had no other creative outlet, learned a lot about fairy tales and folklore, and maybe even made a few friends along the way. I guess the truth is that I’ve been writing this blog for myself all this time. I wanted to create something. A body of work I can point to and say “I made that.” As the years pass, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I will ever be a professional writer, and that doesn’t really bother me. Because if there’s every any doubt, I can click a link and see my words and pictures there on the internet for all the world to enjoy. And, honestly, I've loved every minute of it.

If, however, you were so inclined, you could aide my writing career by purchasing and downloading my sci-fi/fantasy novel 'Dragonfly' from the Amazon Kindle store (Remember, even if you don't have a kindle, you can download the free Kindle app for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Windows Phone, Mac or PC). Or by buying one of my original designs at I'm just sayin' is all!

Okay, now we come to the story itself: When people are talking about Shakespeare’s master works they are, almost without exception, talking about his great histories and tragedies like Richard III, Henry V, Hamlet, Othello and King Lear. But, to me, the real Shakespeare is to be found in the comedies. Here you find all the beautiful prose, the breathtaking poetry, and it has a happy ending. If I’ve made any point at all over the past two years, it’s that no writer in the history of language has ever been able to devise a better ending than “and they all lived happily ever after,” which is why I felt that this momentous occasion called for a good old-fashioned “Mega-Happy Ending.”

It’s worth noting that, according to many scholars who are pretty sure of themselves, most if not all of Shakespeare’s plays were based on older stories, so there could very easily be some ancient fairy tale, now, sadly, lost to us, about four lovers falling all over each other in the woods at night. Speaking of which, you’ll find no mention of Bottom or the “Crude Mechanicals” here. In the interest of simplicity, I have decided to relate only the story of the Athenian Lovers.

A wedding is supposed to be a happy occasion. It should be celebrated with loud music, cheap booze and people dancing up a storm who can’t actually dance even a little. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. It seems that in Athens (which is in Greece), there used to be this law that fathers got to choose who their daughters married. I know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me and we may never know whose idea it was to enact that silly law, but it was the law and that’s the point.

You see, there was this girl called Hermia who was in love with a boy called Lysander, and he, coincidentally enough, was in love with her. All things being equal, this would’ve been very good news, but for that silly law we mentioned earlier. See, Hermia’s father wanted her to marry this guy Demetrius who was, to be fair, a pretty nice guy, and probably would’ve treated Hermia pretty well, but she didn’t love him. It was beginning to look like Hermia would have to marry a man she didn’t love, or go away to a convent and never marry anyone ever for her whole life.

But Lysander was not the type to give up on true love (and, in fact, if you give up on it, it wasn’t really true love to begin with, now was it?). And he had an aunt who lived just outside of Athens. If he and Hermia fled there that night, they could get married outside of Athens where the law couldn’t touch them. Hermia didn’t like the idea of leaving her home and family forever…but it was preferable to leaving Lysander forever, so she consented.

And, again, we might have been just a hop, skip and a jump away from our happy ending, but Hermia couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to her bestest best friend, Helena. You see, Helena actually was in love with Demetrius, but he only had eyes for Hermia (brace yourselves, it’s actually gonna get a lot more confusing before we’re done here). So when Hermia told Helena that she and Lysander were eloping, hope dawned that maybe Demetrius would look her way. She wished her friends much luck and happiness and they were away and Helena went at once to talk to Demetrius…

“Do I lead you on?” said Demetrius, firmly. “Do I compliment you, give you false hope? Have I given you even the slightest indication that we will ever be together? No, I’m pretty sure I come right out and tell you, at every given opportunity, that I do not want you!

“Why not?” said an admittedly desperate Helena. “What’s Hermia got that I haven’t got?”

“Look, it doesn’t matter anyway. Tomorrow we’re getting married, so—”

“No you’re not! Tomorrow she’ll be married to…oops.” Hermia hadn’t counted on the fact that her bestest best friend couldn’t keep a secret to save her life. Needless to say, but apparently I’m going to, it took Demetrius all of forty-seven seconds to get Helena to spill the beans about the elopement. Knowing that the only way they could leave the city undetected was to go through the woods, Demetrius ran at once to catch them, with Helena following right behind.

Now, these particular woods, the ones just on the outskirts of Athens (what are outskirts, anyway? Are there inskirts?), were very unusual, as local legend had it that Oberon, King of the Fairies lived here with his band of magical fairies. And…he did! So, there ya go. Oberon didn’t usually get involved with human types, but every now and then when a suffering person swam into his purview, he was not above a little compassion. When, for example, two bickering young people in Athenian clothes came stomping through the forest, he took a moment to listen:

“It doesn’t matter what you do or say,” groveled Helena as she followed Demetrius closely. “Shout at me, insult me, reject me, push me away, it won’t do you any good. I’ll still love you.”

“You want me to insult you? Here: When I look at you, I feel phsically ill.”

“And I feel ill when I’m not looking at you. See how perfect we are for each other?”

“That doesn’t even make sense!”

I don’t care! I love you!”

Oberon saw this and thought it was…well, embarrassing, quite frankly. But, he could tell with that special sense of these things that only very magic creatures possess that this couple deserved a shot. So he sent for his righthand man, a mischevious fairy called Puck. “There’s a flower that grows on the very other side of the world,” he told his servant. “A drop of juice from this flower, when dripped into the eye of a sleeping mortal, will cause that mortal to fall hopelessly in love with the next person he sees. I want you to go get that flower, and drip it in the eyes of the young man who is traveling through our forest.”

“Yes, sir,” said Puck. “But how will I know this man?”

“He is traveling with a young woman and both are wearing the clothing of Athens. Now go!”

Puck obeyed and was back with the flower in forty minutes (which might seem like a long time, but remember he was literally going to the other side of the world). It took him less time to find two young Athenians sleeping on a grassy knoll. “Let’s see,” he said. “Man, woman, Athenian clothes. Yep! This must be them.” With that, he dripped a single drop from the flower into the eye of the young man and scampered away to help play a prank on his master’s wife and some actors…but that’s another story.

Now, I don’t want you to blame Puck for any of this. Neither he nor Oberon had any idea that there were two pairs of young Athenians wandering the forest at night. When Puck saw their Athenian clothes, he assumed they were Helena and Demetrius…but they were, in fact, Hermia and Lysander! And it was Lysander’s eyes into which Puck had dripped the love juice! Meanwhile, Demetrius had finally lost Helena and she was wandering through the forest alone. When she stumbled (literally) upon Lysander’s sleeping form, she was overjoyed at seeing a familiar face.

“Lysander? Oh, thank heavens! Have you seen…Lysander? Are you okay?”

Lysander was not okay, not really. He was looking at Helena very strangely. As though he was seeing her for the first time. The magic flower had done its job and Lysander was now, through no fault of his own, hopelessly and totally in love with Helena.

“Transparent Helena!” he said at last. “Nature shows art, That through thy bosom makes me see thy heart.” Turns out, being in love makes you talk funny. Who knew?

“Huh? Look, whatever, I need your help.”

“Of course. Anything. I’d do anything for you. I’d walk through fire, I’d swim the ocean, I’d slay a dragon and bring back its head to win your favor, fair Helena.”

“Fair Helena? What? Lysander, what are you talking about? I’m trying to find Demetrius.”

“Demetrius?” said Hermia. All this talk had woken her up. “Is Demetrius here? In the forest?”

“Yeah, I…I kinda let it slip that you guys were running away. I’m really sorry about that! And now he’s somewhere in the woods and I need to—”

“Demetrius?!?” cried Lysander. “Here? Then I shall duel him to the death for the hand of my beloved Helena.”

“Do what now?” said Hermia.

“Where is the swine who dares to claim my own sweet Helena’s heart?”

“What the heck are you talking about?” demanded Helena.

“How can I make it any clearer? I love you, Helena. You are my own heart’s desire. I will never be happy until I have won your heart and can call you my own.” Lysander was literally down on one knee as he said this. Hermia was speechless, as I’m sure you can imagine. Helena was very confused.

“What is this?” she said at last. “Some sort of joke? That’s it, isn’t it? ‘Oh, poor Helena! She’s in love with Demetrius but everyone’s in love with Hermia!’ Well it’s not funny!” So saying she stomped off into the woods to find Demetrius.

“Wait, my love!” said Lysander running after her.

“Your love? Wait, Lysander!” said Hermia running after the pair of them.

Well, Puck saw all this happen. And, while he personally thought it hilarious, he knew his master would be mad that he screwed up. So he searched the forest until he found Demetrius, sleeping on his own in another part of the forest. And, just as before, he dropped the juice of the flower into his eye and hid himself as who should come running up but everybody else in the story. Helena running away, Lysander chasing her, Hermia chasing him, all of them waking Demetrius who, the minute he saw Helena…well, you know.

“O Helena, goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!”

“Oh, not you too!” cried Helena. “It was annoying coming from Lysander, but this is too cruel.”

“Yes, Demetrius!” said Lysander suddenly. “Stay away from my Helena!”

Your Helena?” exclaimed Demetrius. “You love Hermia!”

“Love Hermia? No! I hate Hermia!”

“Excuse me?!?” said Hermia.

“I love Helena and we will be wed!”

“No, I love Helena, and we will be wed!”

Nobody loves Helena!” shouted Hermia, and then immediately regretted it. “I’m so sorry, Helena, I didn’t mean that. But…look, what is wrong with you two?” It was a little confusing for the ladies. Just a few hours ago, both men had been determined to marry Hermia, now they both seemed to be in love with Helena. Hermia thought they had gone mad, Helena still thought they were all playing a mean trick on her and the boys…well, they were so addled with that love potion they didn’t know what they were doing.

“I challenge you to a duel!” declared Lysander, and would probably have slapped him with a glove, except this was the middle of summer and it was too hot for gloves.

“I accept your challenge!” said Demetrius, who didn't let the lack of handwear stop him and slapped Lysander across the face with his bare hand.

It was about this point that Puck decided his little joke had run its course and he went to go tell Oberon. The Fairy King was, understandably, annoyed at Puck. “Did you screw this up on accident because you’re a fool, or on purpose because you’re making trouble again?”

"Er...whichever one will get me in the least amount of trouble?"

Oberon did not find this funny.

“I promise, King of Shadows,” said the contrite Puck. “It was an innocent mistake. You said to look for a man and a woman wearing Athenian clothing, and I did.”

“And when you dripped the juice into the second mortal’s eyes?”

“Yes, okay, that wasn’t great, I admit. Still, you have to admit, it’s a little funny, right?”

Oberon didn't find that funny either.

“I don’t want those two killing each other!" bellowed the Fairy King. "I know where I can find an herb that will set everything straight. But you have to stop them fighting until I come back. Can you handle that?”

Puck said he could and he went at once to where Lysander was sharpening his sword and preparing for battle, while Hermia stood by him, begging him to come to his senses.

“Come out, Lysander, you coward!” said Puck, but he said it in Demetrius’ voice (which is a thing fairies can do, you know).

“You dare call me a coward? Then show yourself!”

“Follow my voice and we shall do battle this very night!” Using his magic, Puck made it sound like Demetrius’ voice was coming from deep in the woods, so Lysander tore into the trees to fight his imaginary foe, Hermia right on his heels.

Meanwhile, in Demetrius’ corner, Helena was doing some pleading of her own, when:

“Enough waiting!” came Lysander’s voice, courtesy of Puck. “Come get me and we’ll settle this right now!” And, just as Lysander had done, Demetrius followed the magical voice with Helena close behind him. Now both men, and their respective ladies, were walking further and further away from each other, convinced that they were getting closer and closer. Once they were at a safe distance, Puck cast a spell which put all four Athenians to sleep instantly.

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” he said to himself as Oberon returned with the magic herb and worked one final spell before the dawn…

The next morning, Hermia was awakened by the bright sun shining on her face. She started to get up to draw her curtains, only to realize that she was not in her bed. She was lying on a grassy knoll in the forest. Memories of the night before came flooding back to her and her eyes quickly fell upon Lysander’s sleeping form a few feet away.

“Lysander? Lysander, wake up!” she said, shaking him gently.

“Hermia?” said Lysander, groggily. “I…I was having the strangest dream…or was it a dream?”

“I don’t know,” said Hermia. “But I think maybe we should get out of these woods.” They walked hand in hand, back the way they had come, in the hopes of finding their way to Lysander’s aunt’s home…but in retracing their steps, they found something they hadn’t expected: Another soft patch of earth in which Demetrius and Helena were asleep in each other’s arms.

“Demetrius? Helena?”

They both awoke at hearing their names and, like Hermia and Lysander, seemed to take a moment for their memories to return.

“How did…When did…Did we…Did I?” said Demetrius.

“Just what I was thinking,” said Lysander.

“I feel like I’ve been dreaming,” said Helena. “But I can’t for the life of me remember what I dreamed. Not clearly, anyway. Bits and pieces.”

“Same here,” said Hermia. “Maybe they’re right when they say these woods are enchanted.” They all agreed that it was possible. Had they seen the pair of eyes watching them and smiling before he went to sleep, they would’ve been certain.

A few hours later saw all four standing before Hermia’s father. Hermia and Lysander were hand-in-hand, as were Demetrius and Helena. They explained, as well as they could, the current state of affairs. Hermia’s father was confused, but even he had to admit that it was silly forcing two people to get married if neither one wanted to and gave his consent.

A wedding is supposed to be a happy occasion. It should be celebrated with loud music, cheap booze and people dancing up a storm who can’t actually dance even a little. And, if it’s a double wedding, there should be twice as much music, twice as much to drink, and twice as many terrible dancers taking up room on the floor from those who actually know what they’re doing. But the best part of a double wedding is that it means twice as many people are living happily ever after.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) In this adaptation, Mickey Rooney is Puck and James Cagney is Bottom. Also stars Olivia De Havilland, Dick Powell and Joe E. Brown.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999) This more lavish, colorful version stars Stanley Tucci as Puck, Rupert Everett as Oberon and the Athenian lovers are played by Christian Bale, Dominic West, Anna Friel and Calista Flockhart.
  • Disney's House of Mouse (TV) One episode featured a short version of the story which, like mine, focuses on the young lovers. Goofy's Puck is more absent-minded than mischevious and the couples are, of course, Mickey and Minnie, and Donald and Daisy (admittedly it was a little weird for this long-time Disney fan to hear Mickey shout "I'm yours, baby" to Daisy Duck, but otherwise pretty cute).

NEXT WEEK: Sasha and the Other

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Leroy In Time

Happy Independence Day, my American friends! And to my many readers outside of America...Happy Wednesday, I guess! Then again, some of you may be over the date line so...Happy Tuesday? Or is it Thursday? I don't know how it works, but I mainly want your day to be happy.

This is a time travel story starring Leroy the Penguin and his new friend, Peter the Lemur. He met Peter at a zoo somewhere in the western part of this country, though he says, for security reasons, he can’t tell me exactly where. But, he swears that this story is absolutely true…of course, this is the same guy who swore blind that he spoke to Santa Claus last Christmas, so…whatever. Draw your own conclusions.

I like zoos. It’s just nice to see so many different kinds of animals living together in such a peaceful, civilized society. I love to go to different zoos and meet all the different kinds of creatures who live there. I meet the most interesting folk that way. That’s how I met Peter, after all, and that’s how this story begins…

“Hi, I’m Leroy.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Peter.”

See? That’s how it begins. Now it’s begun. So next comes…what happened next!

“So, hows the whole lemur thing working out for you?”

Oh, did I not mention Peter is a lemur? Silly me, forgetting something like that. Oh! Also, he’s British.

“Oh, not bad. What about you? Life of a penguin working out okay?”

“Can’t complain. So what are you up to today?”

“Well, it’s funny you should ask. I do need a bit of help with this project I’m working on. Maybe you’d like to lend me a flipper?”

“Okay,” said me, always eager to help, so I followed Peter into his habitat where I saw what looked suspiciously like a cardboard box with the words “time machine” written on the side with a magic marker.

“This,” said Peter, dramatically, “is my time machine!”

“Really? Cuz it looks suspiciously like a cardboard box with the words ‘time machine’ written on the side with a magic marker.”

“Does it? Funny, I hadn’t noticed. At any rate, there it is and it’s almost finished. The trouble is, I can’t finish it on my own. I need someone to sit inside the machine and operate a few simple controls while I enter the final calculations on the large computer bank just to your right.”

To my surprise, I found that there was a large computer bank just to my right. Strange how I noticed the cardboard box before I noticed that. Anyway, as I said, I’m always eager to help so I climbed into the box and found the controls he was talking about (which also looked suspiciously like he had drawn them on with a magic marker). They were, as he said, quite simple. There was a large arrow pointing to the left which said “PAST,” another large arrow pointing to the right which said “FUTURE” and in between, a small square button that said “PRESENT.”

“I just need to calibrate the ‘Present’ setting,” Peter explained, “by linking it to the same thingie that automatically resets your cell phone clock when you cross time zones.”

Sorry for all the techno-babble. Hope you can keep up.

“So what do I do?” I asked.

“Just press and hold down the ‘Present’ button when I tell you and release it at the exact moment I say. Okay?”

I said okay and held my flipper eagerly over the button. Peter did a few weird things on his computer thing, while I started to think about time travel and what it could mean. I could go back into history and meet famous people. I could learn the answers to so many great mysteries about our world. I could go into the future and see the future progress of penguinkind. I could go back to that day last fall and warn myself not to eat a whole carton of ice cream in one sitting so that I wouldn’t be sick to my stomach when Mary Beth called to ask if I wanted to hang out.

Wow! That was stupid.

“All right…now!” said Peter and I held down the button. When I did, it behaved very much the way a button drawn on cardboard would behave, but the whole box started humming. Peter was monitoring the progress on his screen and I was waiting attentively for him to say to let go. The humming was getting louder and the whole box was vibrating. I was getting nervous. Finally, Peter cried, “Now! Now!” and I took my flipper off the button and everything calmed down.

“Did it work?” I asked.

“I think so,” said Peter, looking at his readouts. “If my calculations are correct, and they are 85.9% of the time, the time machine is calibrated correctly.”

“85.9% of the time?”

“Yes, I keep a record of my past calculations and worked out how often they are correct.”

“So there’s a 14.1% chance that that calculation is wrong?”

“Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that. Never mind. Now all that remains is the maiden voyage. You can come with me if you like, but step out of the time machine first so I can—wait! No! Stop!” But it was too late. While climbing out of the box, I had accidentally hit the button marked “Past.” I took my flipper off it right away, but it was too late. There had been a blinding flash of light and the next thing I knew…well…I was somewhere else.

Or, maybe that should be, somewhen else.

In fact, on close examination I concluded that I was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1776. The way I was able to reach this conclusion is that a man walked past me saying, “Nice day here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1776, wouldn’t you say?”

Looking back, I guess he was oddly informative.

Anyway, there I was in 1776. I couldn’t resist taking a look around. It looked just like it did in the movies, and that bit in Disney World with the Hall of Presidents. People had on knickers and tri-cornered hats and I was almost stepped on by three different horses, a personal record for me.

“Be careful, small one,” said a voice behind me. “You’d do well to watch where you’re going.”

I looked up and saw a tall, thin man with red hair smiling down at me. I knew enough about history to know who this was: Thomas Jefferson!

“Perhaps you should come with me. The streets of Philadelphia are not safe for one so small.”

So, taking me up in his arms, Mr. Jefferson carried me to his rooms at the inn where he was staying. I knew that his home was in Virginia, but he was here in Philadelphia as part of the Second Continental Congress which was in the process of debating the difficult question of independence.

“You see, small one,” said Mr. Jefferson, “many of us believe our relationship with Great Britain has grown intolerable and think we should break away and start a new nation.”

“That makes sense to me, Mr. Jefferson.”

“Yes, and to me, and Mr. Adams, and Dr. Franklin and many others. But there are some who disagree. These are the wealthy, conservative set who benefit from their association with the mother country and are concerned that a seperation will jeopardize their status and power. They would rather live comfortably in the past than face the challenge and promise of the future.”

“So, it’s nice to know that hasn’t changed,” I said, but too softly for Mr. Jefferson to hear me.

“That’s what I’m working on here, you see,” Mr. Jefferson continued, showing me to his writing desk. “I am on a committee whose purpose is to write out, in plain, simple terms, the reasons why this seperation is not only justified, but necessary.”

Again, my knowledge of history was enough to tell me that he was talking about the Declaration of Independence. I was pretty excited, I don’t mind telling you. Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence a few feet away from me! How cool is that?

“It hasn’t been easy,” he went on. “Every member of the congress seems to want their own interests represented in this document. They quibble over the slightest detail and ignore the purpose of the paper itself. Besides, the words have to be just right.”

“I understand, sir,” I said. “I happen to be good friends with a writer, and he’s always telling me how important it is to get the words just right.”

“I think I’m nearly there. If only I could think of a good beginning. That’s the most important bit, you know. The beginning. Grab the reader’s attention right away.”

“So my friend has said. May I hear what you have so far?”

“It’s not much I’m afraid.” Mr. Jefferson took up the sheet of paper he was working from and read, “‘There are times when men must pursue the goals of his people and face the…’” that’s as far as he got before he crumpled it up and threw it in the corner, where it landed on a large pile of papers which had met a similar fate. I resisted the temptation to pick one up and pocket it to take back with me…of course, that’s mainly because I had no pockets.

“If you’ll pardon my saying so, Mr. Jefferson, I think you’re trying to make it too fancy. You said yourself that it should be in plain, simple words.”

“This is not a grocery list, my small friend. It is an important document.”

“It certainly is. But that doesn’t mean it has to be Shakespeare. What about something like, ‘When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…’”

“‘…it becomes necessary,’” continued Mr. Jefferson, a bright gleam in his eye, “‘for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…’” Suddenly excited, a look which I’ve come to know through my association with the selfsame friend I mentioned to Mr. Jefferson earlier, he sat down at his desk and resumed his writing. I was fascinated as I saw him scribble away with his quill pen. I glanced at the paper he was writing on and smiled. He was at my favorite part:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I thought about how simple an idea that was and, yet, what a revolutionary one it was back then. I thought about how that simple idea would change the world. I thought about the countless people in my time who still didn’t understand that self-evident truth…all men are created equal. Part of me wanted to suggest that he add “and women” to that sentence, or even “regardless of the color of their skin or what country they come from or who they want to marry or if they’re a penguin or how much money they’ve got in their pockets or what religion they are…” but I didn’t want to disturb history too much. Plus, you have to admit, it wouldn’t have sounded quite so good.

Suddenly there came a light tapping sound from the window. Someone was throwing small stones at it to get our attention. Mr. Jefferson got up to see who it was and I was nervous that he might “lose his flow” as my friend puts it and not be able to finish. As he looked out the window he smiled and turned to me. “I believe it’s for you.”

Confused, I went to window and there was Peter the Lemur standing in the street. I said my goodbyes to Mr. Jefferson and ran downstairs to meet him.

“I’m glad you’re all right,” said Peter when he saw me. “I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find you.”

“But how did you get here?” I asked.

“Oh, that. I built another time machine. But it got run over by a horse, so we’ll have to take the first one back. C’mon then.” Luckily, the original time machine had not been run over by a horse so we got in and Peter hit the ‘Present’ button and, with another flash of light, we were back in the good ole 21st Century, exactly where we were when the whole ordeal started.

“It’s good to be back,” I said, being slightly more careful as I climbed out of the box this time.

“Yes, I think I still have a few more adjustments to make. So, how did you enjoy your trip to the past? Anything interesting happen?”

“Same thing that happens everywhere I go,” I said. “I made a new friend.”