My father's mother was a great one for romance and fantasy, I think, and that may have turned him off. Vanity Fair, in his opinion, is about a bad woman doing bad things. And he passed a college course that included Spencer's Faery Queen without cracking the book. His memory is excellent and he had read a shortened children's version in My Book House as a young boy. I have a copy of My Book House. We all do. But he was the one who gave me a book every week and never, ever questioned what I read. He was the one who knew all the biblical stories and greek myths, read me Aesop's Fables.
My mother was my partner-in-crime at times. She taught me to read. Before that, she took me to the library and checked out LP records of readings of The Wind in The Willows. She probably gave me my first copy of the book. She squirmed in her seat while visiting my math class in college, all because she wanted to tell me my professor looked just like Mr. Toad.
My sisters gave me every good book they ever read. I never read a bad one until I was old enough to select them on my own. Every story was incredible. But I don't think any of them were into fairy tales the way I was and still am. Which brings me to my point.
Fairy tales can be retold. They have a core that sustains retelling.
Once upon a time there was a woman who lost things. She moved a great distance and her belongings seemed to slip away out of her grasp as she went, dropping alongside the road like litter. They streamed out of the van she had filled with them. By the time she reached her destination, she was exhausted with trying to hold them all in place, exhausted with watching them slip between her fingers and fall to the ground at high speed, broken, lost. And she was exhausted because no one else seemed to see what was happening, no matter how much she tried to find the words to explain it. It was all a bad dream.
But that was the problem. She couldn't sleep and thus couldn't dream, so she must have been awake and it must have really happened. She was so exhausted that she couldn't find her clothes, couldn't find her nightgowns, couldn't find much of anything she wanted, no matter how many boxes she unpacked, no matter how many piles of her belongings she made. And as a result, she looked more and more ratty. She couldn't even find her brush to pull it through her hair. Her clothes were baggy and dirty from her long journey and from lying down in them (because she couldn't find her nightgowns and she couldn't sleep). She went to meals in them and everyone watched her and she felt their disapproval like a weight on her shoulders. But she pretended not to notice. Or she was too tired to care what others thought. It was all one and the same to her.
She looked less and less like who she was and more and more like a woman of no means. Presented with her nicer clothing, she turned her head away, refused to look at it. It was the wrong clothing anyway. She had lost the outfits she really wanted to wear. They had slipped through her fingers on the journey to this strange place where some of her belongings were, but not the right ones.
So they tested her. They could not believe that this woman in dirty rags was one of them, a queen entitled to live amongst them, associate with them. Only true royalty was allowed to live here. Looking down their noses at her, they were certain she didn't fit in, no matter what her family had told them. They made her bed and offered it to her, though she had asked them not to touch it. And then they turned out the lights and went away until morning.
She lay down on her bed and tried to sleep, but she couldn't. She tossed and turned all night. It was the worst night's sleep she had ever had. Her bed was broken, her mattress ruined by its journey. Her body was a mass of black and blue bruises, all the way to the bruises under her eyes. She railed at the people who had broken her lovely bed, ruined her mattress, robbed her of sleep, made it for her.
She was so tired.
And when the next morning dawned, they asked how she slept and she said, "Terrible! I tossed and turned all night. I'm a mass of bruises. My bed is ruined." And she burst into tears.
But they knew now beyond all certainty. She was indeed royalty and fit to live among them, no matter how she was dressed. They had secretly turned her mattress around and they had put her to bed on the king's side of the mattress. And she had felt it through her bedding, it had made her black and blue. Only a true princess has skin so sensitive it can feel the pea through all that bedding. Only a queen who was once that true princess can feel the wrong side of the mattress with the same results. And when they revealed it to her, pulling back the sheets to show her that she had slept on the wrong side, she was filled with joy. Her bed wasn't broken at all. It was just turned around.
They turned her mattress for her and remade her bed. They found her nightgowns and tucked her in with great ceremony. And she slept like a baby, no pea, no mis-shape to disturb her rest. And when she woke up and went to the hall for her evening meal, she was dressed like the queen she was inside, in robes to make them all green with envy, smiling at them all, nodding left and right.
A (mostly) true story.