Dear Virginia,

Thanks so much for your sweet letter, but it is my sad duty to inform you that Santa passed on last month, his spirit rising to the great sleigh in the sky, then he was gone forever. It was quite a year up at the North Pole, what with the ozone and the icecap and the flood of ecotourism. And when the elves went off to work on the oil rigs, I think it was just too much for his old heart to take. To say nothing of his lungs: All that chimney particulate finally took its toll.

Anyway, my dear, the hard times had cost us in other ways too: I suppose you should know Santa left me just two days short of our millennial anniversary and took up with that notorious little housewrecker, Tinker Bell. Let's just say she grew up a whole lot faster than poor, clueless Peter Pan. What's worse, Santa left her the whole of Candyland, citing her part in what he described as the ten jolliest months of his life.

It broke my heart, I can tell you, but I do believe he was not in his right mind at the end–fairydust, the vixen. I plan to sue and am looking for a good lawyer, someone really devious because the polar court system is a bit of a joke. After all, we've never had to deal with real life way up here before. The original court was designed for theatrical functions only, and the judge was rescued from a puppet production of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operettas–you can tell by the gaudy gold stripes on his robes and the way he keeps humming: "Though all my law be fudge,/Yet I'll never, never budge,/But I'll live and die a judge." Anyway, you asked after the old-timers, most of whom have moved on or passed on. Bambi wandered into Scarsdale and was made an example of by the local zoning board. Billy Badger disappeared beneath a shopping mall. Eager Beaver met up with a drunk on Jet Skis.

On the brighter side, Chicken Little is doing Larry King after all those years of being dismissed as paranoid and fluffy. Who knew she had a degree in atmospheric studies? Jack Sprat wrote a diet book called Living on Air, and his wife wrote a cookbook called Goodies to Die For. And so between them both, they have spots on Oprah every other week. Loosey Goosey is a reporter for the Foxy Network. She always did believe everything she heard, but now that there's a market for it, she's sitting pretty. Punch and Judy have updated their act and have a regular gig doing political commentary for Hardball.

Baby Bear left the forest and moved to Manhattan, where he's an investment adviser to the Internet industry. He married that hungry Goldilocks woman, and his parents are just heartbroken. Cock Robin succumbed to the West Nile plague, but not before being accidentally baked in a pie along with four and twenty infected blackbirds. The pie was served to Solomon Grundy, who took ill on a Thursday, was turned down by his HMO on Friday, died on Saturday, was buried on Sunday. The EPA was asked to investigate, but before a report could be issued, the agency's three remaining wise men put out to sea in a bowl, under very suspicious circumstances. Their jobs were filled by three blind mice, and it's been all downhill since then. Industry wolves have been huffing and puffing and getting their way.

They finally put old Humpty Dumpty back together again, added a few shell-enhancing hormones and pumped him so full of antibiotics that all it would take would be one good resistant bacterial strain to kill him and all the other good eggs on the planet. The Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe is 700 years old these days, but thanks to the over-the-counter fertility pill they just approved, she still has so many children she doesn't know what to do. Meanwhile, poor Baba Black Sheep says she was force-fed a new sterility pill because she hadn't any wool. And I don't know if you ever met Little Dolly Lamb–the one whose fleece was white as snow? Turns out scientists were able to enhance her standardized-test-taking ability so significantly that she followed some little girl named Mary to school one day, enrolled and then graduated at the top of the class before Mary could so much as learn her ABCs. They've been cloning her like mad.

Through the miracle of the same technology, Little Boy Blue was able to beef up his business by literally putting cows in the corn. Corned-beef-on-the-cob seemed like a good idea at first, but now all kinds of things have leaped the species barrier, and mad corn disease has been spreading throughout Storyland. Thus far they have had to destroy a billion big bottomless barrels of barley, a million mounds of moldering millet, seventy-six secret sources of seriously soured soy, hundreds of hidden holdings of hacked and hindered hay, and a plethora of prematurely prepaid pots, parcels and pecks of partly pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked.

Jack's beanstalk is still hardy though, as are all unnatural things. Two of my brothers over the sea each recently sent a present to me: The first sent a chicken without any bones; the second, a cherry without any stones. And Mistress Mary's garden, which was quite contrary under the best of circumstances, is now just chock-full of weird pesticidal silver bells, fly-swallowing cockleshells and pretty maids snapping at dragonflies all in a row.

On other fronts, the loss of faith in fairy tales has taken a terrible toll. Br'er Rabbit turned into a sad cabbage junkie and was last seen braised, with a shallot, tarragon and champagne vinegar reduction. Tom-Tom the piper's son stole one too many pigs and, thanks to the new three-pigs-and-you're-out law, is doing life in Sing-a-Ling. Br'er Fox, on the other hand, claims to have given up terrorizing chickens, even hired two of them as his bodyguards, the sly old coot. He's running the barnyard these days. It's hard to believe, I know, but even Farmer Brown has appeared on television to extend the hand of reconciliation, insisting that Br'er Fox is most worthy of our trust.

It's good to know you're still holding a candle, my dear Virginia. But don't let that milk and cookies go to waste. Buy some videos. Join a chatroom. And if you hear someone climbing down the chimney, light a fire.