The Enchanted Pig, A Retelling (Part III, the conclusion)

From, The Red Fairy Book, edited By Andrew Lang
And retold by William Thompson
Finding herself alone, the Princess wept so that she thought her heart would break. But after a while, she got up, determined to go wherever fate should lead. On reaching a town, the first thing she did was to buy three pairs of iron sandals and a steel staff, and then she set out in search of her husband.
She wandered over the land, across wide plains and through dark forests. She stumbled over fallen branches, the boughs of the trees striking her face and the shrubs tearing her hands, but on she went, and never looked back. At last, wearied with her long journey and overcome with sorrow, but still with hope in her heart, she reached a house.
It was the house of the Moon. The Princess knocked at the door, and begged to be let in that she might rest a little. The mother of the Moon, seeing the Princess’s torn clothes and sorrowful face, felt a great pity for her, and took her in and nursed and tended her. While the Princess recovered in the house of the Moon, she had a little baby.
“How was it possible for you, a mortal, to come all this way to the house of the Moon?” asked the mother of the Moon, one day, as the Princess sat nursing her child.
The Princess told her sad tale. “I shall always be thankful for your kindness to me and my child,” the Princess concluded, “but I would beg one last favour. Can your daughter, the Moon, tell me where I may find my husband?”
“She cannot tell you that, my child,” replied the mother of the Moon, gravely, “but, if you travel towards the East until you reach the house of the Sun, you may discover something of your husband.” Then she gave the Princess a roast chicken for the journey, and warned her to be careful not to lose any of the bones.
When the Princess had thanked her once more for her care and good advice, and had thrown away one pair of worn-out iron shoes, and had put on a second pair, she tied up the chicken bones into a bundle, and taking her child in her arms and her staff in her hand, she set out once more on her wanderings.
On and on she went. She crossed wide deserts and scaled high mountains, always walking to the East. The sun burned her face, and the bitter snow of the mountains froze her hands, but on and on she went. At length, wearied to death, her body torn and bleeding, she reached the house of the Sun.
With the little strength she had left, the Princess knocked. The mother of the Sun opened the door, and was astonished to find a ragged mortal and her child. She wept with pity upon hearing of all the Princess had suffered. “I will do what I can for you, my dear,” said the mother of the Sun, “but I must hide you in the cellar before my son returns. He is always in a terrible temper at the end of the day.”
The mother of the Sun then helped the Princess and her child into a bath, and then fed them a wholesome supper. After that, she put the Princess and her child into the cellar, where she had set up a soft bed. As the weary Princess fell asleep, she could hear the Sun raging and storming upon his return.
The next day, the Princess feared that things would not go well with her. Before leaving the house, the Sun grumbled to his mother: “Why does the whole place stink of mortal?”
“The smell of the mortal world can reach us even here, my dear,” said his mother, soothingly. “Now, off you go.” And the Sun stumped off to shine on the world for another day.
“Why is the Sun so angry?” asked the Princess, later that day. “He is so beautiful and so good to the mortal world.”
“Well,” said the mother of the Sun, “he begins well enough, but watching the wickedness of the world for an entire day puts him in a bad mood.”
“Now, I asked my son about your husband, but even he has seen nothing of him. I think your best hope is to journey on to the house of the Wind. There you might get word.”
When the Princess had recovered herself, the mother of the Sun gave her a roast chicken for the journey, and told her to take care of the bones, for she might have a use for them. The Princess then threw away her second pair of iron shoes, which were quite worn out, and with her child on her back and her staff in her hand, she set forth on her way to the Wind.
The Princess met with even greater difficulties on her way to the house of the Wind. She crossed mountains that belched fire and smoke into the sky, entered forests where no mortal foot had trodden, and crossed fields of ice and avalanches of snow.
The poor Princess nearly died of these hardships, but she kept a brave heart, and at length she reached an enormous cave in the side of a mountain. It was the house of the Wind. The mother of the Wind took pity on her, and brought the Princess and her child inside to give her food and heal her many hurts.
The next morning, the mother of the Wind came to the Princess, where she had hidden her in the cellar and away from her son. “Your husband, it seems, is living in a thick wood far from here. He has built himself a house from the trunks of trees, where he lives alone, shunning all human companionship.”
After the mother of the Wind had given the Princess a chicken to eat, and had warned her to take care of the bones, she told her to go by the Milky Way, which at night lies across the sky, and to wander on till she reached her goal.
Thanking the old woman with tears in her eyes, the Princess set out on her journey and rested neither night nor day, so great was her longing to see her husband. On and on she walked until her last pair of iron shoes fell in pieces. She threw them away and went on in bare feet, not heeding the thorns that wounded her, nor the stones that bruised her. At last she reached the edge of a dark wood. With her child on her back, she slashed her way into the wood with her steel staff, till it was quite blunt. She threw it away, overcome with despair.
It was then, in a little clearing, she noticed a house made of the trunks of trees. It had no window, and the door was in the roof. What was she to do? How was she to get in?
Then, she thought of the chicken bones that she had carried all that weary way, and she said to herself: “They would not all have told me to take such good care of these bones if they had not had some good reason for doing so. Perhaps now, in my hour of need, they may be of use to me.”
She took the bones out of her bundle, and having thought for a moment, she placed the two ends together. To her surprise they stuck tight. Then she added the other bones, till she had two long poles the height of the house. Across them she placed the other bones, piece by piece, like the steps of a ladder. As soon as one step was finished
She stood upon it and made the next one, and then the next, till she reached the door in the roof. With her child on her arm she entered the door of the house. Here she found everything in perfect order. Having taken some food, she sat down with her child to rest.
When her husband, the Pig, came back to his house, he was startled by what he saw. At first he could not believe his eyes, and he stared at the ladder of bones. He felt that some fresh magic must be at work, and in his fear he almost turned away from the house. But then, he changed himself into a dove, so that no witchcraft could have power over him, and he flew into the room without touching the ladder. Here he found his wife rocking a child. At the sight of her, looking so changed by all that she had suffered for his sake, his heart was moved by such love and longing and by so great a pity that the enchantment that was upon him broke, and he became a man.
The Princess stood up when she saw him, and her heart beat with fear, for she did not at first know him. But suddenly she recognized her husband, and in her great joy she forgot all her sufferings, and they lifted from her like a cloak. He was a very handsome man, as straight as a fir tree. They sat down together and she told him all her adventures, and he wept with pity at the tale. And then he told her his own history.
“I am a King’s son,” he told her. “Once, my father was fighting against a family of dragons,, who were the scourge of our country. I slew the youngest dragon myself. His mother, who was also a witch, cast a spell over me and changed me into a Pig. It was she who in the disguise of an old woman gave you the thread to bind round my foot. So that instead of the three days that had to run before the spell was broken, I was forced to remain a Pig for three more years. Now that we have suffered for each other, and have found each other again, let us forget the past.”
And in their joy they kissed one another. Next morning, they set out early to return to his father’s kingdom. Great was the rejoicing of all the people when they saw the Prince and his Princess and their child. His father and mother embraced them both, and there was feasting in the palace for three days and three nights.
Then they set out to see the father of the Princess. The old King nearly went out of his mind with joy at beholding his daughter again. When she had told him all her adventures, he said to her:
“Did not I tell you that I was quite sure that that creature who wooed and won you as his wife had not been born a Pig? Great has been your suffering, my child, but greater has been your courage, and rich will be your reward.”
And as the King was old, he put them on the throne in his place. And they ruled as only kings and queens rule who have suffered many things. And if they are not dead, they are still living and ruling happily.
The End

The Enchanted Pig, A Retelling (Part II)

From, The Red Fairy Book, edited By Andrew Lang
And retold by William Thompson
Time passed for the Princess, till one fine day an enormous pig from the North walked suddenly into the palace, and going straight up to the King said, “Hail! Oh King. May your life be as prosperous and bright as sunrise on a clear day!”
“Greetings, friend,” answered the King, cautiously, “what wind has brought you hither?”
“I come a-wooing,” replied the Pig.
The King was astonished to hear such a speech from a Pig, and he was certain something strange was afoot. He remembered the book and his daughter’s fate, but he still didn’t want to give the Princess in marriage to a pig.  As he hesitated, one of the courtiers whispered in his ear that the Court and the street were filled with hundreds of pigs. The King saw there was no escape, and he knew he must give his consent. The Pig insisted that the wedding should take place within a week, and he refused to go away till the King had sworn a royal oath upon it. What was the King to do?
The King then sent for his daughter. “Your fate is upon you, my dear,” he said.
The Princess began to weep, but the King said: “My child, the words and demeanor of this Pig are unlike any creature I have ever seen. Depend upon it. Some magic is at work. Go with him and obey him.  I feel sure that fate has more in store for you than marriage to a pig.”
“If you wish me to marry him, dear father, I will do it,” replied the Girl, swallowing her tears.
The wedding-day arrived, and soon after, the Pig and his bride set out for his home in one of the royal carriages. The parting from her father was grievous, but the Princess did her best to be brave.
On the road into the North they passed a great bog, and the Pig ordered the carriage to stop. He got out and rolled about in the muck till he was covered from head to foot. Then He clambered back into the carriage and turned to his bride. “Kiss me, my dear,” he said.
What was the poor girl to do? She remembered her father’s words, and, pulling out her pocket handkerchief, she gently wiped the Pig’s snout and gave it a kiss.
By the time they reached the Pig’s home, which stood alone in a thick wood, it was dark. They sat down quietly for a little, as they were tired after their journey. Then they had supper together, and lay down to rest. During the night, the Princess noticed a strange thing: the Pig had changed into a beautiful young man. She was surprised and a little frightened, but remembering her father’s words, she took courage. She decided to wait and see what would happen.
Every night after that, she saw that the Pig turned in to the beautiful young man, and every morning he was back to being a Pig. This happened night after night, and the Princess knew that her husband must be under an enchantment. As the days passed, she grew quite fond of him, for he was kind and gentle.
One day, as the Princess was sitting alone and watching the forest, she saw an old woman walking through the trees. She could hardly contain her excitement, as it was so long since she had seen another human being.
She called out to the old woman: “Come sit with me, old mother. You can join me in a cup of tea.”
The old woman joined her, and the two of them were soon deep in conversation. Among many other things, the old woman told the Princess that she understood all manner of magic arts, and that she could foretell the future, and knew the healing powers of herbs and plants.
“I shall be forever grateful, old mother,” said the Princess, “if you will tell me what is the matter with my husband. Why is he a Pig by day and a man by night?”
“I was just going to tell you that very thing, my dear, just to show you what a good fortune-teller I am. He’s under an enchantment, of course. If you like, I will give you a charm to break the spell.”
“If you only will,” sighed the Princess. “I will give you anything in return, for I cannot bear to see my poor husband like this.”
“Here, then, my dear child,” said the old woman, with a curious gleam in her eye. “Take this thread, but don’t say anything to your husband, for if you did, it would lose its healing power. Once he is asleep, get up very quietly and fasten the thread round his left foot. In the morning, you will see no pig beside you, but the beautiful young man.”
“And I need no reward. I shall be repaid by knowing that you are happy, for it breaks my heart to think of all you have suffered, and I only wish I had known it sooner, as I should have come to your rescue at once.”
After the old woman had gone away into the forest, the Princess hid the thread very carefully. That night, she got up quietly, and with a beating heart she bound the thread round her husband’s foot. Just as she was pulling it tight, the thread broke with a crack, for it was rotten to the core.
Her husband awoke with a start. He looked at her in the moonlight that streamed through the open window.  “Unhappy woman!” he cried. “What have you done? Three more days and this cursed spell would have fallen from me. Now, who knows how long I may have to go about in the shape of a pig?”
“I am leaving you at once, and we shall never meet again: not until you have worn out three pairs of iron shoes and blunted a steel staff in your search for me.” And so saying, he fled the house and disappeared into the forest.
(To be continued)

The Enchanted Pig, A Retelling (Part I)

From, The Red Fairy Book, edited By Andrew Lang
And retold by William Thompson
For my Daughters
ONCE upon a time there lived a King who had three daughters. One day, the King had to go to war, so he called his daughters and said to them:
“: My dear daughters, I must go to war. The enemy is at hand with a terrible army. It is a grief to me to leave you. While I am gone, take care of yourselves and be good girls. Look after everything in the house. You may walk in the garden, and you may go into all the rooms in the palace, except the room at the end of the hall on the second floor. Into that room you must not enter, for much harm would befall you.”
“Don’t worry, father,” they replied with dignity. “We would never disobey you. Go in peace, and may you win a glorious victory!”
Upon his departure, the King gave his daughters the keys to all the rooms in the palace. He reminded them once more of the room they mustn’t enter. But the parting was hard, and with tears in their eyes, the three daughters hugged their father. “Come back to us!” they cried.
“I will,” said the King, gravely. And he hugged his daughters in turn. And with that, he rode from the palace, sitting tall upon his great, black horse.
After that, the three daughters felt so sad and dull that they did not know what to do. To pass the time, and to keep themselves from worrying about their father, they decided they would divide their days between working, reading, and enjoying the garden. All went well for a time, but every day they grew more and more curious about the forbidden room.
“Sisters,” said the eldest Princess, one afternoon, as they walked through the palace, “all day long we sew, spin, and read. We have explored every corner of the garden, and we have looked into every room in the palace. It is dreadfully dull. Could it hurt to just have a peek in the room at the end of the hall on the second floor?”
“Sister!” cried the youngest, how can you tempt us to disobey our father? He must have had a good reason for telling us not to go in there. Don’t you think?”
“I’m sure,” offered the second princess, looking superior, “that the sky won’t fall if we just have a peek. Its unlikely dragons and monsters will be lying in wait.”
“And how,” added the eldest, “will our father ever find out?”
While they talked, they suddenly found themselves in front of the door at the end of the hall on the second floor. With a mischievous smile, the eldest fitted the key into the lock, and snap! The door stood open. With a little shiver of anticipation, one by one, they entered the room.
“Why it’s just an old book,” said the eldest, sounding disappointed.
The room was indeed empty, but in the middle stood a large table, with a gorgeous cloth, and on the table lay a big open book. Still determined to find something interesting, the eldest stepped up to the book and read:
“The eldest daughter of this King will marry a prince from the East.”
The eldest gave a little gasp, and then the second Princess stepped forward. She turned over the page and read:
“The second daughter of this King will marry a prince from the West.”
The sisters were delighted, and laughed and teased each other. “So here are some secrets our father is keeping,” they said.
The youngest did not want to go anywhere near that book. She hung back, but her sisters dragged her forward. “Turn the page,” they said. “Turn the page.”
Fearfully, the youngest turned over the page and read:
“The youngest daughter of this King will be married to a pig from the North.”
Now if she had been nearly struck by lightning the youngest princess would not have been more frightened. She almost fainted from misery, and if her sisters had not held her up, she Would have dropped to the floor right there. Once she recovered herself a little, her sisters tried to comfort her, saying:
“How can you believe such nonsense?” said the eldest. “When did it ever happen that a King’s daughter marry a pig?”
“What a baby you are!” said the second sister. “Won’t our father and all his soldiers protect you, even if such a creature came a wooing?”
The youngest Princess felt a little better, but her heart was Heavy. She kept thinking about the book and what it said: that happiness awaited her sisters, while she was fated to marry a pig.
Even more, she felt guilty for having disobeyed her father. She grew ill, and in a few days she had gone from being rosy-cheeked and merry-faced to pale and sickly. She stopped playing with her sisters in the garden, ceased gathering flowers to put in her hair, and never sang as was her wont.
In the meantime, the King had royally trounced the enemy, and he hurried home to his daughters. Everyone went out to meet him before the great gates, and all the people rejoiced at his Victorious return. The King went straight into the palace, not even bothering to change out of his dusty cloak and muddy boots.
The three Princesses came forward to meet him. His joy was great as he embraced them all in his arms, for he had missed his daughters terribly
It wasn’t long before the King noticed that his youngest child was looking thin and sad, and suddenly he felt as if a hot iron were entering his soul, for it flashed Through his mind that she had disobeyed him. He felt sure he Was right, but to be certain he sat them down and looked at them gravely. “My daughters,” he said. “Did you disobey me about the room at the end of the hall on the second floor?”
The three princesses looked at him, and then they burst into tears. “We did, father! We did!” they cried. “We are dreadfully sorry.”
The King was so distressed that he was almost overcome with grief. But he took heart and tried to comfort his daughters, who continued to sob.
“My daughters,” he said, gently. “What’s done is done, and no amount of tears will change it.”
Life slowly got back to normal in the palace, and soon even the youngest forgot about the book and what lay in wait for her.
One fine day a dashing prince from the East appeared at the Court and asked the King for the hand of his eldest daughter. Remembering the words of the book, the King gladly gave his consent. A great wedding banquet was prepared, and after three days of feasting the happy pair were accompanied to the border with much ceremony and rejoicing. After a month, the same thing befell the second daughter, who was wooed and won by a debonair prince from the West.
Now when the young Princess saw that everything happened exactly as the book had said, she grew sad. She barely ate, and she wouldn’t put on her fine clothes nor go out walking, and declared that she would rather die than marry a pig.
The King tried to comfort his daughter the best he could. “Perhaps things will not come to pass in the manner the book suggests,” he said.
But he didn’t believe it, and neither did the princess. And despite feeling anxious about what was to come, the princess couldn’t help sometimes walking the battlements, watching the north-road to see what fate would bring her.
(To be continued)

What! No Women in The Hobbit?

My sister recently sent me a link to a talk by Patrick Rothfuss, the author of The King Killer Chronicle. He was speaking at a book event, and he commented on the need to halt the perpetuation of sexism in fantasy, and particularly on the conspicuous lack of women in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. You can watch his comments here:
Rothfuss is correct in suggesting fantasy as a genre has perpetuated female stereotypes. He’s also right about The Hobbit: the book lacks any active female characters. Belladonna Took—Bilbo’s mother—is the only named female character, while Kili and Fili’s mother only gets a mention, and the generic women of Lake-Town huddle with their children after the attack of the dragon.
I agree with Rothfuss’ point about fantasy, but I thought it a little odd that he offers his comments about Tolkien as though he’s revealing a well-kept secret. It’s possible that some people might have been misled by Peter Jackson’s introduction of two major female characters in his Hobbit trilogy, in which Galadriel, already familiar to fans of Lord of the Rings as the Elven Queen, proves herself a forbidding member of the White Council, and Tauriel, a feisty Elven warrior, has a smoldering attachment to Kili the dwarf. Given this pseudo-romance between an elf and a dwarf, perhaps it’s Peter Jackson we need to forgive, not Tolkien. Such a liaison would never, never—and I can’t stress this enough—never happen in Tolkien’s universe.
I’ve read Tolkien’s The Hobbit more times than I can count, and I’ve taught the book for well over a decade. I don’t remember when I first realized the book lacked any female characters. Maybe I always knew; it just took awhile to register.
However, it’s a point that gets made every time I teach the book—if not by me, then by a student, usually with a knowing shake of the head. My children’s literature courses are generally populated by female students, so I do feel I owe them an explanation, at least.
Tolkien, I tell them, was never a modern, neither as a writer nor as a man. He was a medieval at heart. He was also a medievalist, but that was his job. Tolkien died on September 2, 1973, but I don’t think he ever truly entered the twentieth century. He hated the industrial transformation of the English landscape, and as an Oxford professor and philologist, he spoke openly against the modernist movement in literature. His definition of English literature, in fact, didn’t extend much beyond Chaucer. He was a devoted father and husband, something which sometimes baffled his friend C. S. Lewis, the nearly lifetime bachelor, Christian apologist, and author of the Narniad.
I don’t think Tolkien necessarily wrote to exclude women from his books, but I think he inherited an understanding of and an attitude towards women that came from an earlier time. His legendarium shows it. At the same time, Tolkien’s body of work includes important female characters, not the least of which is Luthien, the elf maiden  of the Tale of Beren and Luthien, who falls in love with Beren, and together they cut a silmaril, a precious  Elven gem, from the iron crown of Morgoth—the dark lord of Middle-Earth’s first age. Such women play a crucial role in Tolkien’s mythology, and patriarchal constructions of women aside, it’s still a woman, Eowyn, in Lord of the Rings,who kills the chief of the Nazgul by driving a sword into his face.
And yet, why are there no women in The Hobbit? I never have an entirely satisfactory answer. There just isn’t one.
Having said that, I always emphasize the role of Bilbo’s mother in his development as a burglar and adventurer whenever I teach the book. Bilbo’s yearning for adventure comes from his mother’s side, while his longing for food, fire, and a comfortable armchair comes from his father’s.
One of my favourite passages early in the book is Bilbo’s first recognition of this Tookish nature, just after the dwarves sing their song for the first time:
Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up – probably somebody lighting a wood-fire – and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again. (Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. New York: Harper Collins, 1999. 16.)
Tolkien may not have given us any women in The Hobbit, but he gave the twentieth century a new way of understanding fantasy, first with the publication of The Hobbit in 1937, and second with the delivery of his essay “On Faerie Stories.” Writers such as Ursula Le Guin, Robin McKinley, and J. K. Rowling—just to name three—took  that genre and populated it with female characters that Tolkien never could. Was Tolkien a sexist? I don’t think so. Would he have recognized the Oxford of the 1940s and 50s as a bastion of institutionalized sexism? I doubt it. Did he write to exclude women? I think he wrote an idea of women into his mythology that grew out of his understanding of medieval and chivalric romance. And to be fair, he wrote his male characters out of the same tradition. They are noble, strong, and sometimes flawed, but the hobbits are those characters who are most human and literally closest to the earth.
To bring it back to Patrick Rothfuss’ comments, does fantasy as a genre perpetuate gender stereotypes? It does—at least some of it does. I tend not to read such fantasy if I can help it. But I don’t think it’s a problem with the genre. I can think of any number of strong female characters I’ve encountered in my reading: Tenar from Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, Alana from Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Quartet, Rowen from Thomas Wharton’s’ Perilous Realm series, Sonea from Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician series, and Katniss from Suzanne Collins The Hunger Gamesseries.
Do I wish that Tolkien had done something different? Not really. I recognize his portrayal of women for what it is, but I don’t hold it against him. Without him, I would have never discovered the power of fantasy in the first place, or come to love the genre and to follow it in all its multitudinous forms. By the way, I learned that word from Tolkien.

Mr. Wolf and the Seven Kids, an Urban Fairy Tale (part II)

Mrs. Goat arrived home as the narrow streets were darkening towards evening. She stepped briskly along, and she knew something was wrong long before she saw the smashed front door. She ran the last half block.
Mrs. Goat stared around at the chaos of the little room. The meagar furnature lay scattered about, and in the centre of the room was a rabbit stuffy—Fluffy, who belonged to the second youngest. Mrs. Goat paced carefully into the room, one hand sliding into her bag to grasp something out of sight.
With the keen hearing of her kind, she thought she heard a snuffle. She stepped quickly into the kitchen, and she saw that one of the cupboards was not quite shut. Mrs. Goat reached for the cupboard door, opening it to find her youngest, curled up and miserable.
Tragedy had struck the Goat family, but Mrs. Goat did not lose her head. She pulled her youngest daughter out from the cupboard, and the two of them sat at the table, where Mrs. Goat heard the whole, sorry tale.
“And I hid,” said her youngest, sniffing back more tears. “I didn’t know what to do, (sniff) and I couldn’t help the others.”
“Don’t worry my dear,” said Mrs. Goat, gently rocking her little girl. “You did the right thing. For how would I know that your brothers and sisters had been taken by the terrible Mr. Wolf unless you were here to tell me?”
The little girl nodded sorrowfully. “But what now?” she asked. “Will he eat them?”
“Not if I can help it,” said Mrs. Goat, determinedly. “Now come. Get your coat and shoes. We have things to do.”
And the two of them set off into the darkeness of the streets, all the while Mrs. Goat clutching something inside her bag.
They walked for a time, but Mrs. Goat knew who she was looking for, and it wasn’t long before they found him—slouching and indolent and leaning against a pole.
“Mr. Fox,” said Mrs. Goat, marching directly up to him. “I’m interested in seeing your boss.”
Mr. fox shifted on his pole. His expression never changed—if anything, he looked even more indolent and a little scornful. “What makes you think, missus, that I would take you to see the boss?”
Mr. Fox knew exactly who Mrs. Goat was, and he knew of the events earlier that day, but he wasn’t about to make things easy for her.
“Because,” said Mrs. Goat, “I have a proposition for him. It is to his advantage, and I’m sure you would not want to be the lacky who got in the way of an opportunity for his boss.”
Mr. Fox eyed her for a moment. She had spirit, he couldn’t deny that. “All right, missus. Yu come with me. But if the boss isn’t happy about being interrupted, then you might regret it.”
He led Mrs. Goat down the street and into an alley. They came to a dark doorway, and Mr. Fox gave a secret knock. The door opened. “Follow me, missus. And don’t go snooping once we’re inside.”
Mrs. Goat followed, one hand clutching her daughter, and the other still thrust into her purse. Mr. Fox led them upstairs and down a hall to a door. On the door was a plaque, which read:
Mr. Toad, Crime Boss.
Mr. Fox gave a knock, which was ansered by a croaking cough. Mr. Fox gave Mrs. Goat a sly grin. “After you, missus,” he said.
Mrs. Goat stepped into the office, her little girl now clutched to her side. It was a small, dingy  room, with a desk in the exact middle. A single bare bulb hung from the ceiling by a wire. Behind the desk sat Mr. Toad leaning back in a chair. The desk before him was littered with takeout containers.
He looked at her out of wide-set, bulging eyes. “Mrs. Goat,” said Mr. Toad, in a croaking voice. “And what can I do for you this fine evening.”
“I’m here to trade for some information,” She said.
“Information?” said Mr. Toad, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, Mr. Wolf came to my house this afternoon and made off with all my children, save the youngest. If you can please tell me where he hides, then I will agree to come and clean your house twice a week.”
Mr. Toad persed his wide mouth. “Are you suggesting, madame, that my home requires cleaning?”
“Every man’s home requires cleaning,” said Mrs. Goat. “And,” she said, glancing down at the desk, “I’ll bring a home-cooked meal each time I come.”
Mr. Toad gulped visibly. Then he blinked. “Done,” he said. “Mr. Fox here will take you to the lair of Mr. Wolf, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope that you will be able to fulfill your end of the bargain.”
“Be that as it may,” said Mrs. Goat. “I intend to pay Mr. Wolf a visit.”
She followed the slouching Mr. Fox out of the building, and he led her to an old, battered car in the alley. He said nothing as he drove through the narrow streets down to the river. Parking the car in front of an old warehouse, he looked at Mrs. Goat and her child. “I’ll wait here awhile,” he said. “You have fifteen minutes, and then you’re on your own.”
Mrs. Goat stepped smartly out of the car. She gathered herself, looked down at her daughter, and then the two of them marched up to the door. It wasn’t locked, for who in their right mind would come barging into the lair of Mr. Wolf?
It was a wide room, and Mrs. Goat spotted her children at once—all six of them, trust up and hanging from hooks in the ceiling. Mr. Wolf stood at a table chopping onions and mushrooms and wearing a chef’s apron. He looked up as Mrs. Goat entered, grinning widely in his long face.
“Well, well,” he said. “It looks as though Mrs. Goat has decided to bring me another tasty treat.”
Mrs. Goat marched up to the table and stared Mr. Wolf in the eye. “you will release my children right now,” she said, the smallest of quivers entering her voice.
But Mr. Wolf smiled even wider, showing his sharp, sharp teeth. “Not likely, madame. I am here preparing for a night of feasting and excess. And I think my evening just became more excessive.”
He was wiping the long chopping knife against his apron to clean it, looking hungrily at the child Mrs. Goat still clutched to her side.
“Very well,” said Mrs. Goat, and she took a pistol from her bag and shot him through the heart.
The expression of surprise on old Mr. Wolf’s face was something to see. And then he fell over dead on the floor.
Mrs. Goat soon had her six weeping children untied and down from the hooks. Even the littlest helped. And much to the consternation of Mr. Fox, fifteen minutes after he saw Mrs. Goat enter the building, out she came leading a pack of kids.
“I would be very grateful if you drove me and my children home,” she said. And Mr. fox did, but not until after he’d had a quick look inside the warehouse so he could report to his boss.
That night there was much cause for celebration in the Goat home. Mrs. Goat fixed the door, and her children set to work tidying the living room and preparing a snack.
Mrs. Goat hugged each one of them a hundred times. And she even cried a little, now that all the excitement was over.
“And what lesson can we learn from today’s events?” asked Mrs. Goat as her children sat around on the floor eating their snack.
“Don’t’ trust a wolf?” said the eldest.
“it’s true,” said Mrs. Goat.
“Never, never, never let a stranger into the house—especially a wolf?” said the second youngest, clutching Fluffy.
“True as well,” said Mrs. Goat. “But what’s also true is that sometimes you just have to take things into your own hands.”
After that, things got back to normal in the Goat home. The children were wiser and more cautious, and Mrs. Goat went back to her two and sometimes three jobs. She made good on her promise, and twice a wweek she tidied the home of Mr. Toad, always leaving a covered platter on his table.
Mr. Toad was perhaps the happiest of all, for he had two home-cooked meals to anticipate every week. And after hearing the story of how Mrs. Goat handled herself in the lair of Mr. Wolf, he decided that he would eventually have to put her on the payrole.

Mr. Wolf and the Seven Kids, an Urban Fairy Tale (Part I)

In the twisted heart of the old city lived Mrs. Goat with her seven children. She had to work hard to care for those children. Mr. Goat, who was a drinker and a layabout, had walked out several years before, leaving Mrs. Goat to raise the children on her own. She hadn’t been too sorry to see him go.
Being a single parent meant long days and short nights. Mrs. Goat worked two and sometimes three jobs to keep her children in barely more than rags. But they were good children, if not always well behaved, and Mrs. Goat wasn’t above giving any of them a clip on the ear to remind them that growing up in the old city didn’t mean they could behave like savages.
There weren’t many schools in the old city in those days, so the elder children taught the younger to read and write. Mrs. Goat left every morning by seven o’clock. The children usually finished their chores around the house by noon, and that left them the rest of the afternoon and evening to play and snooze and get up to mischief of one kind and another before Mrs. Goat came home again in the early evening.
Every morning before leaving the house, Mrs. Goat said to the four eldest, twin girls and twin boys—in that order:
“Now children, finish your chores before doing anything else. Lock the door if you go out for a walk, and never, never, never let a stranger into the house.”
“Yes mother,” the children always said. They did their chores, sometimes they went into the narrow streets to walk or to play, but once back indoors, they never, never, never let anyone into the house.
Now at that time there were many seedy and unsavoury characters living in the old city. One of the worst of them all was Mr. Wolf. He was a tall, thin character, with a main of grey hair and clean-shaven chops that were an attempt to hide his wolfish disposition. He lived on the main floor of an old warehouse near the river, and he spent his time prowling the streets and looking for victims. He preyed on the weak, the stupid, and the young. So despicable was Mr. Wolf that even the hardest of the hardened criminals gave him a wide berth. Rumours of Mr. Wolf and his exploits were whispered in the dens and taverns of the old city.
“You don’t want to mess with the old Wolf,” said Mr. Fox, nodding wisely to his companions over mugs of gin-punch. They all shuddered and shook their heads.
The children had heard of Mr. Wolf, but they felt safe enough during the day while their mother was at work—as long as they followed her instructions. “Never, never, never open the door to a stranger,” they reminded one another.
One afternoon, while Mrs. Goat was at work, and after the children had finished their chores for the day, they heard a knock at the door. They stopped what they were doing and stared at each other.
“Who could that be?” they whispered to one another.
The eldest set of twins hurried to the door and peeped through the peep-hole. There, standing on the doorstep, as bold as you please, stood Mr. Wolf.
Mr. Wolf had put on a clean suit that morning. He shaved his long chops carefully, and he brushed back his shaggy hair. He had decided the night before that it was time to make a move to collect Mrs. Goat’s children. He had seen them often enough, but they hadn’t seen him—he made certain of that. He got to know their habits, morning and afternoon, and today was the day he was going to collect himself some tender and juicy kids.
“Hello children,” called Mr. Wolf, in what he thought was a friendly voice. “I’m the local Inspector of Schools, and I’ve come to see that you’re educated.” He snickered to himself. He thought it was a particularly good joke.
In proof of his lie, he held up a card to the peep-hole. It read:
Mr. Tobias Wulf
Inspector of Schools.
But the children weren’t that stupid. And the golden rule was to never, never, never let a stranger into the house.
“You’ll have to come back when our mother is home,” called the eldest of the twin girls. “We’re not allowed to let a stranger of any kind enter the house.”
The twin boys nodded their agreement as they watched their sisters.
Mr. Wolf was a patient sort of predator, but this was too much. Glancing first up and down the street, he drew back his fist, and he hit that door, which burst open with a crash.
There was screaming and running about as the elder children tried to protect the younger. But Mr. Wolf was intent on his business, and all the screaming only served to enrage him further. In no time at all, he had those children trust up like spring pigs, and two by two he carried them out to his blacked-out van and tossed them inside. He drove away, licking his chops in anticipation, while the children wept and moaned in the back of the van. All, save one.
In his haste to make off with the children, Mr. Wolf had neglected to count his captives. Everyone in that part of the old city knew Mrs. Goat had seven kids, but only six bundles of misery lay on the smelly floor of the van.
The seventh, and youngest, acting on the orders of the eldest twin, had hidden herself in a cupboard while Mr. Wolf tied up the others. She trembled from head to foot, but never a sound did she make as she crouched in the darkness of the cupboard. She felt sorry for her six siblings, but she felt worse at the thought of her mother’s return, and having to tell her the tale of the wicked, wicked Mr. Wolf.