Fairytales are Fun
I love fairytales. Based on folk legends, they’re retellings of the oldest stories in the world.
Paulo Coelho says there are only three stories: love between two people, love between three people and a struggle for power. Fairy tales contain all three.
My favourite tale is Cinderella. Why? Because she rescues herself. She’s told she’s ugly and she’s not to go to the ball – but she goes anyway. And she puts on the slipper and wins the Prince.
There are different versions of Cinderella. In some, the stepsisters cut off their own toes, so as to fit the shoe. In another a tree provides her ball dress. (Yep. That’s fairy tales for you.) In a Native American version the stepsisters burn her face. You can read these stories on line here.
In Upon a Time, I’ve written three versions of the Cinderella story: Cinderella as assassin, working to a tight deadline. Cynders as (male) chimney sweep. But my favourite is the Charming Brands story, where Ash is an assistant in a shoe store.
That’s the great thing about a fairy stories, you can take one part of the fable and change it up, but provided you stick to the core truth of the tale it still has meaning and readers can still relate.
Fairy stories are often funny; they’re over-the-top and rarely believable. I mean, pumpkins turning into coaches? Please. But that doesn’t matter. We don’t need to believe a tale is true to enjoy it.
Fairytales can contain themes that aren’t popular today. A prince has more rights than a commoner; men have more status than women. Fairy tales are frequently sexist – think of One Thousand and One Nights, where Scheherazade has to keep retelling stories to avoid beheading.
That’s something we often forget: fairytales have sex and blood and vengeance. Which brings me to the purpose of this blog post. Fairytales are often bawdy.
Set out below is my retelling of a story from One Thousand and One Nights.
(I’ve quite freely copied this story from A Continued Sense of Wonder night at the Dunedin Library (more about that programme here). Since the retelling was copied it from a much older work, I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few small embellishments.
Warning! Don’t read on if you don’t like reading about farts.
The story of Abu-Hassan and the Tremendous Fart.
Once upon a time in a great city lived a young man named Abu-Hassan. Though of humble origins, Abu-Hassan was a godly man. Now it came to pass that the King of the land took a new wife. This Queen was more beautiful than the moon and sun and greatly loved, for she was truly kind and gentle.
The King and his new wife began a journey throughout their kingdom, and they came to the city of Abu-Hassan.
Now everyone in the city wanted to see this new queen, but it was feared that the throng of people would be too much for the royal couple. The mayor decreed that they would cast lots for the privilege of attending the Royal reception, and that every right-thinking citizen might cast in their lot.
And thus it came to pass that Abu-Hassan was invited to a banquet at the mayoral palace to be held in the honour of the King and Queen.
Abu-Hassan felt very nervous, for he was a humble man and uncertain of how to act in the presence of Royalty. But his mother told him to be mindful of his duty to God and his host. He should partake of his food without complaint and offer sincere dutiful obescience to the King.
Abu-Hassan followed this wise counsel and the evening passed uneventfully. Despite his nerves, he ate heartily for the meal was rich and flavoursome.
After the meal came lengthy, florid speeches as each official tried to outdo his peers in eloquence. But finally the speeches came to an end. A slave banged a gong for silence.
‘The Royal Audience will begin!’ announced the mayor.
With a flurry of anticipation, the citizens filed through to the Audience Chamber, where the King and his new, beautiful Queen were waiting to receive the guests.
The room was magnificent! Candlelight gleamed on gold walls, lapis lazuli and precious stones glistened. Musicians played; jugglers threw flaming torches; contortionists formed strange shapes. There was a long wait until the presentations began, but Abu-Hassan was not at all bored. The Queen was even more beautiful than the tales; it was a pleasure to stand in one corner and watch her.
Then, finally, came the great moment.
‘Abu-Hassan!’ boomed the vizier.
Abu-Hassan came forward, made obeisance to the throne. The King appeared almost unaware of his presence, and barely glanced his way. Abu-Hassan felt concerned; perhaps he had offended his monarch. So, when bowing to the Queen, he dropped onto one knee, and made the deepest obeisance he could manage.
Unfortunately, in so doing, he had forgotten about his elaborate meal.
And as he bent forward, he let out the most tremendous, enormous fart!
The silk canopy above the throne shook. Candles blew out.
All conversation stopped. A juggler dropped his torch and a tambourine player dropped his instrument. It fell, crashing to the floor.
The King looked first annoyed, then surprised. And the beautiful Queen, who Abu-Hassan had longed to meet? She began laughing. Quietly at first, and then louder and louder, until nearly doubled up with mirth.
After a surprised pause, the entire throne room began laughing.
And Abu-Hassan, overcome with embarrassment, backed from of the room. The laughter continued, as the rumours of the tremendous fart spread. Waves of hilarity followed as he ran from the palace.
News of the fart circulated quickly. Beggars in the gutter laughed; merchants in the marketplace could hardly contain their glee. The guards on the walls laughed so hard they nearly fell.
Abu-Hassan left the city.
He came at last to a far town. He worked hard, and said little about where he had come from, and why he had left. He grew older, and was respected in business. He married, had three children. He told no one about his tremendous fart.
Time passed. Abu-Hassan grew old and longed to look once more on the city of his ancestors. He said farewell to his children and grandchildren and took ship to his homeland.
Drawing near to his old home, he said to himself, “I will wander about the outskirts and listen to what people are saying. Perhaps they will not remember me, or why I left.”
And as he entered the city he heard a young man asking: “Mother, when were you born?”
“My son,” said his mother, “I know exactly when I was born. It was on the eighteenth of March; the very night of Abu-Hassan’s tremendous fart.”
When Abu-Hassan heard these words than he rose up from the bench. “My fart has become a date!”
And he realised that such a fart will be always be remembered from now until eternity.
Abu-Hassan returned no more to the city of his birth. Instead he returned to his children and his grandchildren, and remained in self-imposed exile until he died.
May God’s mercy be upon him.