Story Beyond the Chase

Feeling chatty today? I’m feeling chatty.

Ruth, over at Booktalk & More, recently started a discussion about the novel heroine Marguerite, where she pointed out our culture’s obsession with the “chase” part of a romance, to the extent that we expect the story to trickle away once the chase is over.

In a sense this blog title is already a misnomer, because movement is required for any story, and chasing is a fun movement before or after the relationship is solidified.

I’ve mentioned before that “the moonlighting curse” isn’t strictly logical, and I appreciate how that (2nd link) article puts the focus clearly on the skill (and guts) of the shows’ writers, rather than what the actors do onscreen (Seriously, EVERYTHING is being done on television now to some critical acclaim, and it’s all about the Story and the way the it’s told).

But I digress.

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Back to Basics: Rumpelstiltskin– a Tuesday Tale

Based on the excellent picture book illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

One upon a time a miller found himself face-to-face with the king and was so star-struck he said without thinking, “My beautiful daughter is able to spin straw into gold.”

Well, the king loved gold, and meeting a beautiful girl in the mix was no bad thing, so he ordered the miller to send his daughter to the palace.

Over the next three nights the king proceeded to show her into larger and larger rooms, each more full of straw than the last, with only a spinning wheel to displace a bit of the straw.

Each night, after the girl was shut in, the threat of death hanging over her, a strange little man would dance into the locked room, and ask what the girl was willing to give in exchange for him doing the impossible for her.

The first night the little man accepted her necklace, the second night, her ring, but the third night, with not only death waiting for her if she failed, and life as queen if she succeeded, she had nothing left to offer him.

“Promise me your first-born child as queen,” he said, “and I will spin all this straw for you into gold.”

Feeling she had no choice, and telling herself the king might not marry her after all, the miller’s daughter agreed.

It all fell out as best as could be expected.  The straw was spun into gold and the king kept his word, marrying the girl and making her queen.

In one year’s time she gave birth to a little boy.  But before that child was three days old a locked door again flew open and the strange little man appeared, demanding his payment.

The queen begged him to have pity, promising to give him anything at all in the kingdom he might desire, but the man asserted there was nothing he wanted so much as the child.

But he seemed to be moved by the young mother’s tears, and relented a little, offering her three days to guess his name and nullify the year-old pact.

The first day she recited all the names she knew.  The second day she read off all the names her servants had been able to invent or collect.  The little man seemed to take delight in singing out

That is not my name!

After each increasingly desperate suggestion.

It was not until the end of the third day that the fear in the young queen’s heart lifted, for her most faithful servant returned from her searching with a story of seeing a strange little man riding a wooden spoon around a fire, all the while singing about winning a queen’s son because she did not know his name was… Rumpelstiltskin.

When the now-confident queen told him his right name that third night, he flew out the window on his wooden spoon and was never seen again.

Back to Basics: Cinderella– a Tuesday Tale

Once there was a delightful little girl whose mother had died.

When her father remarried it was to a woman with two daughters of her own, near his child’s age.

Before long the father, too, died, and the sweet child was left an orphan.

As she grew older and more beautiful her stepmother grew more and more harsh, giving her the hardest chores and making her sleep alone, away from the family.

The girl never complained, even when she had to sleep in the ashes by the kitchen fire to keep warm during the winter.  She would awake covered in cinders, without a chance to wash or even a looking glass to know.

Her two step-sisters took their cue from their mother and looked for every opportunity to belittle their unfortunate comrade.  It was they who came up with the taunt, “Cinderella,” as a way to address her, not even allowing her to keep the dignity of a true name.


Eventually the time came when the prince of the land was seeking a bride, and so held a series of balls.  Each night Cinderella’s family refused to take her, but each night she had magical help and was transformed to appear in the eyes of anyone as beautiful as her good spirit.

Her beauty captivated the prince, who would dance with no one else, but always she slipped away before midnight.  By the third night the prince recognized the pattern and was too close behind for her to stop when she lost one of her tiny dancing slippers.

The next day the kingdom received word that the Prince would marry whoever fit the little shoe.

The stepmother, seeking vicariously to advance her own position, cut off a piece of her oldest daughter’s heel, so that her foot would fit the little shoe.

Riding away to the palace with the false bride the prince heard,

Turn back, good prince, turn back.
There is blood in the little shoe.

He looked and seeing the mutilation he returned the girl to her mother.

The mother, however, wasted no time but cut off the toe of her other daughter, allowing the slipper to fit.  The prince placed this girl on his horse and began to ride away, but again he heard,

Turn back, good prince, turn back.
There is blood in the little shoe.

Having seen the proof with his own eyes the prince returned her as well.

Now Cinderella was able to get at the soe and prove it fit.

As they rode on to the palace the now familiar voice sang out,

Ride on, good prince, Ride on.
The slipper has found its home.

The prince was happy to do so, and took her back to the palace where he married her at once and lived in great contentment.

The 1,001 Nights– a Tuesday Tale

This is my telling of the frame story of the Arabian Nights. It is lifted from my novel (you’d expect there to be storytelling in a storyteller’s novel, right?).
I’ve always loved this story, sometimes more than the other stories it brackets. So here you go.

This story tells of a king gone mad, suspecting all women of being evil.

As he desired the pleasures of marriage without its trials and demands, he married each evening and the next morning caused his bride to be executed.

He killed her, so he reasoned in his twisted mind, before she could destroy or betray him.

It was this tormented soul’s Grand Vizier who had the unhappy task of collecting a new bride each day, knowing he was sending her to her death. And this torture was made all the more painful as he had two beautiful daughters of his own. He felt his terror for them intensify with each morning’s execution.


First the daughters of the slaves were taken. When they were gone, the Grand Vizier was forced to collect next from the serving class, then the merchants.

The king’s madness did not abate. If things continued thus, no maiden would remain in the entire city. Families were attempting to flee the country in their efforts to protect their daughters.

Finally Scheherazade, the Vizier’s elder daughter, could stand it no longer.

She battered her father with words: an endless stream of reason from a woman whose mind was set before she had reasons.

Scheherazade wore him down, and with a breaking heart he presented her to his lord and master.

That the vizier would offer his own daughter brought the king enough out of his self-centered madness that the girl was able to attempt her desperate plan.

Scheherazade begged leave to have her young sister spend the night.

Shortly before dawn, as they had arranged between them, the younger sister woke the new queen to ask for a last story in the presence of the great King, her husband.

The elder daughter began a story that twisted and tangled in and out with so many others that the king spared her life that day, then the next, and the next; always promising to execute her the next morning, when the story was finished.

But of course it never was—or when it was, another story just as tantalizing was left at a critical moment that would again allow the young queen a day of amnesty.

Thus the words of a woman held off her master’s madness and her own death for one-thousand-and-one nights, and in the end, they were both free.

The Queen Bee– a Tuesday Tale

Once there were two royal brothers that went out into the world to make their fortunes, but they fell among the wrong friends and so failed miserably.

When their youngest brother found them, they mocked him, saying he was stupid in addition to being young.

“And if such clever fellows as we cannot find our way in the world, what makes you think you can, Blockhead?”

But, knowing that they were preparing again to travel he insisted on accompanying them, despite the abuse they heaped on him.

A few days into their journey the three princes came upon an anthill, and the elder two wanted to kick it apart, for the entertainment of watching the little creatures scurry about, seeking safety for their young.

Blockhead stood between them and the mound, and wouldn’t permit it.

A little ways on they came to a lake with many nesting ducks, and again the elder brothers wanted to destroy a nest for the sport of it, but Blockhead prevented them.

Finally the three came to a bee tree so full of honey it was dripping down the outside of the hollow trunk.

The elder brothers plotted together to burn the tree and steal the honey, but once more Blockhead interrupted their plans.

They eventually came, as all traveling princes must, to an enchanted castle.

It was empty of people, but they found three bedrooms prepared for their arrival and weary as they were they asked no questions but went in and slept.

Before he’d been asleep long the eldest prince was wakened by a strange old man.

“Would you take the chance to free this castle from its enchantment and win a princess?”

Of course he would.

The old man took him out under the trees and told the prince that 2,000 pearls were buried under the old leaves of the forest floor.

If the prince could not find them all by sunrise he would be turned to stone.

The prince then understood why the many stones about him were all human in form.

He began frantically to search, but succeeded in finding no more than 100 pearls before the sun rose, so he was turned to stone.

The next night the same old man woke the second brother, but though he, too, accepted the challenge, the second prince found only 200 of the pearls before the sun rose and he became the next human pillar.

When the third prince learned that a mere three tasks stood between him and the hand of a princess, he readily agreed.

But when he recognized the stone forms of his two missing brothers he began to despair of ever completing the task that they could not.

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Count Alaric’s Lady– A Tuesday Tale (Part 2)

(Read Part 1 first.)

Count Alaric did not question his wife further about Midsummer’s Eve.

He saw only two possibilities: either she would remember nothing and his questions would distress her, or she would know but continue to tell him nothing, and he could not bear to hear her lie.

He went finally to the wise woman Magda, who had helped his mother before him, and sought her advice. Magda told him to bring her a lock of his wife’s hair.

When he had brought the lock, Magda stood,

holding the hair, like a faint imprisoned moonbeam, in her strong brown hands.

Then she dropped it on the coals of her fire, and it burned with a green flame. With great pity in her face, Magda informed the count he had married one of the fairy folk.

It was her people and their music that continually filled that corner of her mind that never was present with him. It was being away from her people that made her unable to know who she was or whence she had come.

“But then she may someday dance with them and never return,” said Count Alaric. “How may I keep her from always thinking of this other place?”

“There is one way,” replied Magda, “by which a mortal can win one of the fairy people for himself, and that is by offering her a love so perfect that it leaves no room in her mind for memories of any other life.”

“But my love is already perfect,” Count Alaric insisted. “I would fight or live or die for her. There is nothing more I can do.”

“There must be,” Magda pointed out gently, “or she would already be yours.”

So Count Alaric spent the following months being, if possible, even more tender and solicitous to his wife, never letting a day go by without expressing his affection.

And while she always accepted his attentions and tokens with delight, he grew sorrowful as he observed the distant part of her never diminished.

He was careful to conceal his sorrow, however, and settled in his mind as Midsummer again drew near that he would follow his wife to the dancing place and capture her home again.

He would not allow the fairy folk to steal her away.

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Count Alaric’s Lady– A Tuesday Tale (Part 1)

From Barbara Leonie Picard’s The Faun and the Woodcutter’s Daughter.

Riding through his lands the morning of midsummer’s day, young Count Alaric came upon a dazed young lady wandering in the early-morning dew.

He was more distressed than she at her lack of memory, and took her home. While he could not discover who she was, he found her lovely, and she was willing, so they married and were happy together.

The Lady had no skills, neither for entertainment, nor of industry, but as she was the wife of a count, with servants to care for her, and seemed to need no amusing, it made no difference.

Count Alaric loved her greatly, but while she seemed fond of him, part of her mind always seemed to be somewhere else, and once Count Alaric observed her dancing strangely to music only she could hear.

Count Alaric took her hands in his, “Tell me, Catherine,” he said, “tell me the truth, are you happy with me?”

She smiled and laughed and kissed him. “Of course I am happy with you,” she said.

But his heart was heavy, even as he took her in his arms, for he saw still the look in her eyes, as though she thought of something else.


Later, near again to Midsummer’s Day and returning early from a three-day trip, Count Alaric hurried, desiring to see her on the anniversary of their first meeting.

Approaching a great meadow near his castle, his horse’s hooves making no noise in the thick grass, he saw a group of 20 or 30 figures dancing in the moonlight and realized it was the fairies celebrating Midsummer’s Eve.*

Then he realized that one of the figures was not dancing in green but in crimson and gold, and he recognized his Lady Catherine.

Afraid the fairy folk had bewitched her and would carry her off with them, he drove his horse toward them at a gallop, but their nearness suddenly spooked the animal and it bolted from the clearing and back the way it had come.

It was three miles before Count Alaric regained control and forced its head toward home.

The Lady Catherine was in her bed when he went to find her, and she was happy we was home early. But she was also tired, though she denied having been anywhere in the night.

She was in earnest and guileless, and Count Alaric already believed her, full of relief, when he turned and saw the crimson gown draped over a chair.

Its skirt was heavy with dew.

I hope to finish this tale tonight or tomorrow morning.

*There are several different images of the fairies. I hope you understand by now that the fairies of this story were not the “little people” of pixie dust and wings, but the haunting type, barely distinguishable from humans.

The Prince and the Orphan– A Tuesday Tale

I found this story in Raouf Mama’s book, Why Goats Smell Bad, and Other Stories from Benin.

A great king had many wives, but only one of the children they bore him survived infancy.Two months before this child was born, the king and his seer went into the jungle and determined they must choose for the coming child a secret name, that not even the boy would know.

They named him Denangan, which means “One of Them Shall Live.”

He was indeed the perfect prince. Not only was he handsome and talented, he was beloved by all his father’s subjects because of his wisdom and kindness.

When he grew to be a man and there came upon him the desire for a wife, the king let it be known that whoever could guess the prince’s name would claim him for her husband.

There was among his subjects a beautiful orphan girl named Hobami, “Woe is Me.”

The lowliest girl ever to fall in love with a prince.

Hobami was forced to work like a slave in the home of a woman with three daughters of her own.

These daughters, too, hoped to win the prince, and their mother bought for them rich dresses and bangles and jewels. She also planned to pay a powerful diviner to magically learn the prince’s true name.

The sisters told one another stories about dazzling the prince with their beauty, and tricking him into revealing his name so they could all marry him.

Their mother also gave Hobami new clothing, saying the king required all maidens to attend. But it was only rags.

The three sisters promised to leave a palm branch to mark the correct train to the palace, since Hobami had to finish her chores and could not accompany them.

Of course, they marked the wrong trail intending to lead her away from the contest.

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The Snake’s Savior– a Tuesday Tale

On a morning of bitter cold a man was out walking, huddled warm in his jacket, when he noticed a rattlesnake lying stretched out and nearly frozen along the side of the road.

He would have walked by, grateful for one-less rattlesnake in the world, except the snake spoke, and begged for help, saying he was sure to die without it.

“Oh, no, I won’t,” the man said, stopping but steeling his heart. You would bite me, and then all would see the foolishness of a man who listened to a snake.”

“But I would never bite you!” wailed the snake. “Not after you saved my life. You would have my eternal gratitude. Save my life, I beg you!”

So the man picked it up and wrapped it under his shirt, against his own skin.

The snake murmured his gratitude, and the man continued on his journey.

Some time later, feeling warm and revived, the snake turned within the man’s coat and drove his poison teeth into the man’s bare chest.

Collapsing in shock and gasping from the pain, the man called, incredulous, to the rattlesnake as it slithered away,

“How could you do that to me? I saved your life!”

And the snake replied without looking back, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”

The Zebra Storyteller– a Tuesday Tale

For the first time in the short history of TT, I am including a literary tale in its entirety (first read in English 211x, collected from here). It was short and meaningful enough to be free of any need for improvement.


By Spencer Holst

Once upon a time there was a Siamese cat who pretended to be a lion and spoke inappropriate Zebraic.

That language is whinnied by the race of striped horses in Africa.

Here now: An innocent zebra is walking in a jungle, and approaching from another direction is the little cat; they meet.

“Hello there!” says the Siamese cat in perfectly pronounced Zebraic. “It certainly is a pleasant day, isn’t it? The sun is shining, the birds are singing, isn’t the world a lovely place to live today!”

The zebra is so astonished at hearing a Siamese cat speaking like a zebra, why, he’s just fit to be tied.

So the little cat quickly ties him up, kills him, and drags the better parts of the carcass back to his den.

The cat successfully hunted zebras many months in this manner, dining on filet mignon of zebra every night, and from the better hides he made bow neckties and wide belts after the fashion of the decadent princes of the Old Siamese court.

He began boasting to his friends he was a lion, and he gave them as proof the fact that he hunted zebras.

The delicate noses of the zebras told them there was really no lion in the neighborhood. The zebra deaths caused many to avoid the region. Superstitious, they decided the woods were haunted by the ghost of a lion.

One day the storyteller of the zebras was ambling, and through his mind ran plots for stories to amuse the other zebras, when suddenly his eyes brightened, and he said, “That’s it! I’ll tell a story about a Siamese cat who learns to speak our language! What an idea! That’ll make ’em laugh!”

Just then the Siamese cat appeared before him, and said, “Hello there! Pleasant day today, isn’t it!”

The zebra storyteller wasn’t fit to be tied at hearing a cat speaking his language, because he’d been thinking about that very thing.

He took a good look at the cat, and he didn’t know why, but there was something about his looks he didn’t like, so he kicked him with a hoof and killed him.

That is the function of the storyteller.

From THE ZEBRA STORYTELLER, Station Hill Press (914-758-5840)