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

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