Fairy and folk tales are enjoying resurgence in popular media, albeit with modern trappings. The retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became Snow White and the Huntsman last year, with a deliciously wicked Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen. Hansel and Gretel have been reimagined as witch hunters in this year’s movie treatment of the old German tale. The French story of Cinderella has been reconstructed as Ella Enchanted and Ever After.
My favorite folk tales include Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans and an old English story of the Fifty Red Caps. If you’re unfamiliar with the second, I’ll give you a taste of the story here:
There once was a hatter who sold his wares at a country market. He’d worked for days folding and cutting and sewing the red felt into fifty jaunty red caps. When he finished and was ready to take his wares to market, he stacked the fifty red caps in two tall stacks and set out on the road. He perched one stack on his head, atop his own brown cap, and another in his hands. After a while, he grew weary and decided to take a nap in the shade of a tree alongside the road. Little did he know there were many, many mischievous monkeys – fifty to be exact – perched in the branches of the tree.
One by one the monkeys swung down through the branches with their long monkey tails. Each one snatched a cap from the stack and popped it on his little head, climbing back into the tree with his long monkey legs, while the hatter slept. When all of the monkeys were topped with red caps, they began chattering and calling out to each other about their newfound adornments, waking the man who found his hands empty and nothing but a brown cap upon his own head.
He looked into the tree with consternation.
“Give me back my caps!” he shouted, shaking his fist at the monkeys. They chattered back at him and shook their fists.
“I said, give me back my caps!” he crowed, pounding his fist into his empty hand. The monkeys crowed back at him in their monkey language, pounding fists into palms.
The man thought for a minute. He stroked his chin. The monkeys stroked their chins.
Then the man grabbed his own cap, as in despair, and threw it to the ground. “What shall I do?” he cried.
Whereupon the fifty monkeys grabbed their caps and threw them down to the ground, just like the man had done. The pleased hatter gathered up his wares from the ground and continued on this way to market.
I’ve toyed with the idea of using the Fifty Red Caps in a piece of flash fiction but haven’t yet worked out how to cast the monkeys and the hatter in contemporary context.