Cross-posted from The Writers’ Vineyard: A number of my stories, including the novel, ‘Wonder Guy,’ feature a fairy godmothers’ union.
I’ve wished for a fairy godmother so often it’s probably what led me to start writing stories about them. The thing with fairy godmothers is that they are not genies or magic wishing wells. They don’t grant any and all wishes.
Cinderella, for example, and supposing her story real, probably wished for something or other everyday — if only to escape the notice of her step-mother or find some relief for her aching back or knees. As it was, she never asked for a ball gown or a carriage. She wished to attend the ball to which she’d been invited.
The fairy godmother stepped in at this time, when she never had before. She supplied more than was asked. A tricky genie or devil’s bargain might have sent Cinderella to the ball as she was: on foot, ragged and filthy with ashes.
Why did the fairy godmother step in at that time and not before? Why did she do everything to assure that Cinderella would not only attend the ball, but shine there? That she would show off the full potential of her natural beauty and catch the eye of the prince? That she would appear as a member of the respectable nobility and worthy of a like respect? This all suggests that the fairy godmother was motivated not by the letter of the wish, but by the spirit, that she had Cinderella’s best interests at heart all along.
Cinderella is a story, of course, and I can only imagine myself in the place of the fairy godmother and surmise her reasons and motives. Perhaps her powers to interfere in the natural course of events were limited, so that she could do only so much and she had to choose her time wisely. If she could only help once, she had to make sure that what she did would count to the best effect. By awaiting this one opportunity, she could change the whole course of Cinderella’s life for the better, using only a few small bursts of magic.
Choosing the moment required a broader understanding and perspective than Cinderella had. She could wish a thousand times for a thousand things and having those wishes granted might ultimately have done her no good. The fairy godmother’s perspective must have included an understanding of the affairs of the whole kingdom, the tastes of the prince, a sense of how a great many lives and goals interacted with each other and would be affected by what she did.
As I said, there have been many times in my life when I’ve wished for magical intervention. I’ve had my heart broken. I’ve lost a home to foreclosure. I’ve lived in poverty and lost loved ones to death, watched helplessly while they suffered from disease.
Death and disease and poverty have been with humanity from the start. Even supposing they are real, it may be that some things are beyond a fairy godmother’s powers to cure. It may be that there aren’t enough fairy godmothers to meet the demand. Perhaps I have already benefited in ways I never knew. And it may be that the moment has not been ripe for reaping the best effect from the application of my own fairy godmother’s help. Like the hero or heroine of any story, each of us is limited in our knowledge of what the morrow will bring and of the full consequences of our actions – or the fulfillment of our wishes. I like to think that if the fairy godmothers are out there, they do what they can, acting from superior wisdom, to produce the best possible results.