Careful the Tale You Tell

The movie version of ‘Into the Woods’ is currently being filmed, and while I was reserving excitement until closer to its planned release of December 2014, the teaser photo of Meryl Streep as the Witch was just too good to ignore. ‘Into the Woods’ is one of the first musicals that had a significant impact on my life. At the time I saw it – somewhere around 1988 at Proctor’s – I was just a kid, but on the verge of being a teenager. The music of Stephen Sondheim and the fairy-tale mash-up was what first captured my attention, but only upon repeated listening did I realize, over the years, how much deeply it struck a chord. Like much of Sondheim’s work, this goes deeper than a few bright melodies (arguably his happiest-sounding score), becoming a complex, and sometimes troubling, psychological take on family, romance, and that ever-encroaching threat of ‘giants in the sky’.

Careful the things you say, children will listen,
Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.
Children may not obey, but children will listen,
Children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be.
Careful before you say listen to me…


When I first saw the show, I was too young to realize how much loss was in it. Fortunately innocent of much of that, I didn’t see how terrible the loss of innocence, the loss of love, and the loss of parental protection could be – not just to children but to adults. As the years past, I grew to know such loss. The musical was turning darker, richer, and more frightening. When we came out of the show that first time, I remember excitedly asking my Mom if she liked it as much as I did. She seemed slightly reticent, hesitant to say much. I understand that reticence now. Was it guilt then, or simple resigned exhaustion at how fucked-up things might be?

Who can say what’s true?

Childhood can be such a muck of a fairy tale, and even when you get older it only gets muckier. Families don’t always grow up. Relationships don’t always get better. Children don’t always learn from their mistakes. Parents don’t either. And the truth can be… a terrible thing.


Careful the spell you cast, not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see and turn against you
Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell…
Children will listen.
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