For the last in-class writing assignment of the semester, I asked my second-level French students to compose a fairy tale that included at least three members of the class and demonstrated their ability to distinguish one form of the past tense from another.
One student, Michael, wrote a fairy tale that I found weirdly endearing, in part because he gave me an uncharacteristically heroic role in the final, apocalyptic battle of good versus evil. It’s the kind of thing you appreciate when, in a past life as a high school teacher, you occasionally found your name carved into desks and bathroom walls followed by profanity.
Michael made magic out of 200 words and 50 minutes. So, I asked his permission to reprint a translation of the story. He granted it in an e-mail quoted (in excerption) below:
Haha ABSOLUTELY you can publish it wherever you have my full permission yada yada haha.
Since everything I write these days requires annotation, I added endnotes, just for fun.
The Forest of Languages
The good witch Madame TS adored going into the forest of languages because the students loved living in her house and listening to her. (1)
One day, it was raining along the path . . . (2)
A long time ago, three students lived in a house in the forest of languages. Monsieur Stephen, Madame Margaret, and Monsieur Key (3) loved to study French! They studied with the good witch Miss T.S. This sorceress was a beautiful woman. She had very beautiful blond hair and blue-green eyes. (4) She loved to hear the students speak French when she came home.
Today was different. The witch, the good Madame TS, reflected on the weather. It was raining! It was raining!
“It only rains when the mean sorcerer comes to the forest of languages! Oh no!” the witch, TS, said. “The students are in trouble.”
She voyaged on her bicycle (5) towards the house where the students were studying. (6) She arrived and went into the house. It was dark, and she heard HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. (7) No! It was the mean sorcerer, Aaron!
“The students are dead. Haha. (8) I made them speak English to each other. (9)
NOOOOOOOOO. TS declared. She waved her wand and Aaron died. (10)
The sun came back out in the forest of languages. (11)
(1) Sweet, huh? How he has us all living in the same house in an enchanted learning community. But, as the story reveals, this sort of situation only ends in tragedy.
(2) I find this clever for a couple of reasons: First, it mimics something that happens more often when you’re speaking in a foreign language: the loaded trail-off, where you wait for your listener to realize what you’re saying or not saying. Second, the seemingly unrelated meteorological mention introduces a detail that seems irrelevant but becomes important later.
(3) These three students sit together in class and often work collaboratively. For some reason, only Michael goes by his last name, here.
(4) The female lead in Michael’s stories is often an older woman whom he describes as stunningly beautiful. Last time it was Hilary Clinton.
(5) I bike to class most days. I’m a little curious as to where I am when I’m not with the students. Do I have another student-family on the other side of the forest?
(6) Notice how the students are studying French for the intrinsic joy of it even when I’m not there. They’re not texting each other and or checking Facebook. Then again, the story is set “a long time ago” and the Forest of Languages is probably too remote for Internet service.
(7) What a great, bellowing run-on maniacal laugh by Aaron, who, in real life, is not an evil sorcerer, but a diligent, front-row student. It startled him to learn that he’d been cast as a ruthless, destructive villain in Michael’s story.
(8) A more subdued, concise version of the earlier BWAHAHA laugh reveals Aaron’s total nonchalance about his murder spree.
(9) This may be my favorite part: despite the fact that the students’ native language is English, the act of speaking English to each other during French study time is so antithetical to their beings that THEY ACTUALLY DIE. It’s like their souls just shrivel and cease to be when they can’t converse in French. If this really happened to someone in class, I bet the other students would never again have to be reminded to parler en français.
(10) The word for “wand,” in French, is baguette, the same word used to describe a long, thin loaf of French bread. My first year of teaching, I made a baguette magique to use as a pointer: a shellacked French-bread wand wound in sparkle garland with a silver star shooting out of the end. So, that’s the wand I imagine as the instrument of death.
(11) I’m still not sure how to interpret my choice to kill the evil sorcerer: Am I destroying him because there’s an immediate threat? Is this an act of vengeance for wiping out the most obedient, assiduous class-family ever? Or am I just stamping out the villain so the fairy tale can end?
(12) This conclusion is eerie. The return of sunlight and the disappearance of the evil sorcerer suggest a happy ending. But in this happily ever after, there I am, alone under a sunbeam in the middle of the woods, surrounded by four dead young adults.