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This is an attempt to create a childrens' fairy tale primer based on Neil Gaiman's poem, "Instructions"; that is to say, an attempt to take each line or stanza and match it to related fairy tales and fables. In that way, the poem can be used as an introduction to a whole range of mythologies and tales.

Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never
saw before.

Perhaps The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett?

Say "please" before you open the latch,
go through,
walk down the path.

A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted
front door,
as a knocker,
do not touch it; it will bite your fingers.

The red imp on the front door also appears in Closing Time, in Gaiman's Fragile Things. This is reminiscent of the front door of Baba Yaga's hut, which has a keyhole that is a mouth full of sharp teeth.

Walk through the house. Take nothing.
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • General fairy tale rule against taking things from fairy lands and/or fairies, lest you be trapped there and/or indebted.


Persephone being forced to return to Hades due to having eaten pomegranate seeds there.

However, if any creature tells you that it hungers,
feed it.
If it tells you that it is dirty,
clean it.
If it cries to you that it hurts,
if you can,
ease its pain.

There is a tradition in fables and religious stories of angels and gods disguising themselves as needy people or creatures, granting boons to those who show them kindnes.

From the back garden you will be able to see the
wild wood.

The deep well you walk past leads to Winter's
there is another land at the bottom of it.

could be related to the Grimms Tale of Frau Holle (Mother Hulda) or the celtic "otherworld"

If you turn around here,
you can walk back, safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.

Once through the garden you will be in the
The trees are old. Eyes peer from the under-

Beneath a twisted oak sits an old woman. She
may ask for something;
give it to her. She
will point the way to the castle.

Inside it are three princesses.
Do not trust the youngest. Walk on.

In the clearing beyond the castle the twelve
months sit about a fire,
warming their feet, exchanging tales.
They may do favors for you, if you are polite.
You may pick strawberries in December's frost.

Reference: "The Twelve Months", fairy tale

The twelve months also appear in October in the Chair, in Gaiman's Fragile Things.

Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where
you are going.

The river can be crossed by the ferry. The ferry-
man will take you.
(The answer to his question is this:
If he hands the oar to his passenger, he will be free to
leave the boat.
Only tell him this from a safe distance.)

The ferryman is archetypal, whether Charon or some other. Jim Henson's "Storytellers" used the device of handing his oar to a passenger.

If an eagle gives you a feather, keep it safe.

Remember: that giants sleep too soundly;

Jack and the Beanstalk?

that witches are often betrayed by their appetites;

This is generally true in fairy tales. For example, Hansel and Gretel.

dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always;

Like Smaug in "The Hobbit" which was itself a reference to the dragon, Fafnir from Norse mythology. Sigurd hid in a pit to strike at Fafnir's soft belly.

hearts can be well-hidden,
and you betray them with your tongue.

Reference: A koschei, whose heart is "inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest (sometimes the chest is crystal and/or gold), which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on the island of Buyan, in the ocean." The hero gets him to slip up and reveal the location. (fairy tale)

Do not be jealous of your sister.
Know that diamonds and roses
are as uncomfortable when they tumble from
one's lips as toads and frogs:
colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.

Reference: "Diamonds and Toads", fairy tale

Remember your name.

Do not lose hope -- what you seek will be found.

Trust ghosts.

Trust those that you have helped
to help you in their turn.

Trust dreams.

Trust your heart, and trust your story.

When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts will be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.

Reference: Orpheus (mythology), Lot's wife (Biblical)

Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall).

Could be a reference to Gandalf riding the eagle in LotR.

Ride the silver fish (you will not drown).

Ride the grey wolf (hold tightly to his fur).

Reference: "Ivan and The Gray Wolf", fairy tale

There is a worm at the heart of the tower; that is
why it will not stand.

Reference: "Vortiger's tower from the early life of Merlin (The Prose Merlin of Robert de Boron is the earliest source), where as a kid he reveals that the tyrant's tower collapses because in a pool beneath it are a red dragon and a white dragon fighting." -- Cavenagh,

When you reach the little house, the place your
journey started,
you will recognize it, although it will seem
much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden gate
you never saw before but once.
And then go home. Or make a home.
And rest.
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