Exploring where life and story meet!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Life lessons from a 'kid's' movie?!

I was eleven when Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ came out and I was in love with it from the first. Now Disney Princess fetishes are not at all uncommon amongst modern girls, it may actually be an approved alternative lifestyle choice for all I know, but back then (1991) the phenomenon didn’t exist, not that I was the ‘princess’ type, preferring to climb trees to hosting a tea party any day, but it was not for love of princesses that I adored the movie, and still do. I have long pondered my fascination with the movie, most girls outgrow such infatuations, but I never have. I still enjoy ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Aladdin’ which are from the same era, but nowhere near so much. Every time I watch it, I still wonder what is it that sticks with me, though 25 years and a whole lifetime have passed in the interim?

First, I was taken from the first with the heroine: a spunky, independent girl who was still gentle, considerate, and kind, not lacking in courage or virtue, but was completely misunderstood and underappreciated by her community and even her well-meaning father. I was that girl, though my eleven year old mind could not comprehend such a concept at the time, but I felt for that girl’s plight as I felt for my own: trapped in a world not of your own making, with dreams and aspirations that others sneered and laughed at with no one to turn to for understanding or escape, save perhaps a book.

Second, it is a tale of brokenness, mistakes, and finally redemption, one of those rare stories that show characters with the flaws and idiosyncrasies that make us indelibly human, yet also gives us hope to rise above our current circumstances. It shows the true meaning of love: a willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of the beloved, rather than the shallow infatuation and lust we often mistake for it in these strange modern days. It shows that no matter how grim or dark your circumstances, there is hope and a morning unlooked for beyond the longest night. It shows that people can change for the better, that love can triumph over evil and death, but only if we let it. It also proves what happens when we refuse to change, to look within ourselves and see the flaws as well as the better parts. Most of all, it shows that what really matters is our heart, not our flimsy physical exterior.

Third, it teaches us that ‘happily ever after’ does not come by sitting idly by and waiting for our fairy godmother to make all our dreams come true. It takes hard work, the risk of failure and uncertainty, and a willingness to change and work on our own flaws and inconsistencies. Gaston felt he deserved the best and was baffled when Belle did not share that opinion, and not learning his lesson, his arrogance led to his downfall even when offered mercy and a second chance. Belle herself was surprised to discover that inside the ferocious and horrid beast lurked a great heart, now malleable and gentle under the softening influence of love.

Fourth, and this is peculiar to my own situation, is that it is possible to escape a narcissist. Belle had her Gaston, and I had my mother. Again, my eleven year old sensibilities could not possibly comprehend such a concept at the time, but as an adult who has only recently awakened to the fact that she was abused as a child by the person who should have loved her best, it is a bittersweet revelation. As it was Belle’s devotion to her beast that rescued her, so it was with my own little family that I was able to shed the chains of a lifetime of abuse and misperception. When Gaston offered to marry her, she knew it would lead to a lifetime of hurt and heartache, though the whole village thought her mad, she did a very brave thing and refused him. So too, did I find the strength to say, ‘this is not right,’ and move on with my life.

For a simple cartoon, this story packs quite a wallop when it comes to showing life and human nature as it truly is, especially to those who feel trapped in a world that does not appreciate or understand them or that all is fickle, shallow, and vain about them. In our age of social media, where relationships are flimsy at best, it is almost prophetic in its message of the importance of deep and real relationships in a world of vanity and falsehood. It is one of those rare works of art that give us the courage to be who we were meant to be and dares us to be comfortable in our own skin, clinging to what we know is right, despite the consequences: a breath of fresh air in a world of fickleness and egotism.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Yearning for home

Why is the hero of most stories always a person with an interesting familial background: orphan, step-mother, foundling…?  It does make for an interesting plot twist of course, usually involving mysterious parentage resulting in either a lost heir to a throne or fortune or some sort of long prophesied hero, but after a lifetime of study upon the subject (I should probably get an honorary degree or something, people get them for far less) I have my own conjectures.  What makes me an expert?  First, I have a very interesting family background, albeit I won't be inheriting either a fortune or a crown, nor am I like to save the world, but still interesting.  Second, I am an avid student of stories, having escaped into them from the moment I could read.  So there you are, a bona fide expert.

Now as to my theory: it is only persons with a sad or mysterious background that have the impetus to leave home; the rest of us spend our entire lives trying to find it or get back again.  One requisite for having adventures is usually leaving home, or whatever passes for such in a given story, unless of course the adventure comes to you, in the form or war or pestilence or violence or dragons or some such, which either destroys your home or thus forces you to leave it anyway.  While we all love adventures, as long as we aren't the ones having them, is it not the ending we really enjoy, when at last the hero finds home and peace and joy?  If you already have that, why on earth would you go out looking for it?

The truth is, we're all on that mysterious journey, in the midst of our own particular story.  Some are blessed with a happy home of origin, others less so, but we all yearn for something we can't quite describe and as we mature and are on the brink of adulthood, we find ourselves (usually) on that inexplicable journey searching for we're not quite sure what.  We try to find it in relationships, career, kids, hobbies, sports, possessions, drugs, travel…whatever, but alas we still can't quite grasp it.

Sally Lloyd-Jones, in her wonderful book The Jesus Storybook Bible, hints at this yearning, this longing for meaning and purpose and home and sums it up well at the end of her telling of the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden:

"then he sent them away on a long, long journey- out of the garden, out of their home…and though they would forget him, and run from him, deep in their hearts, God's children would miss him always, and long for him- lost children yearning for home."

Monday, February 15, 2016

In the Society of Dead Poets

I thought I was simply a post-mortem anglophile when it comes to literature (the authors are dead, not me), but strangely, or not so strangely, I think it is rather that I am drawn to books to which I can relate, but then books are sometimes likened to our dearest friends and who has a dear friend with whom they share nothing in common?  Sometimes I feel like an anachronism: out of place and time when I might have lived 200 years ago, but thanks to books, I can still enjoy all the convenience of modernity and still 'live' in by-gone days.

My current project is 'Lorna Doone,' I finally watched the DVD I got for my birthday last year and it was excellent, forcing me to seek out the source material, which may be the longest book I've ever read, but happily it is well worth the reading, at least if you appreciate the author's wit and obvious enjoyment of bucolic life, but I fear the urban modern may find it tedious, dull, and the language nearly incomprehensible (I admit the sections, though few, 'written' in the local dialect make middle english look readable).  There are certainly no zombies, except maybe the mysterious fellow in the night cap who is out digging a hole behind the Wizard's Slough, though I have not read far enough to uncover that mystery.  It is strange to think that this book, if written today, would likely not fare well at all.

So what is it I love about the work of dead Englishmen?  For one thing, they know how to use the language, their prose is very nearly poetic in places (George MacDonald is a Scotsman, but Scotland is still subject to the Crown) and many have the knack for a witty turn (most especially Miss Austen).  Second, they love their country and know it in all its moods and seasons, now I am not talking English politics here but rather the natural world about them: forest and fen, field and hedgerow in dawn and dusk, rain and sunshine; the natural world is almost as vital a character as any human in most tales, sometimes the most important.  Third, the characters are actually people, rather than avatars that must run around accomplishing tasks while spouting the occasional witty repartee (have you been to the movies of late?) and avoiding zombies, explosions, aliens, or whatever threat of imminent death awaits them.  Nothing really happens in a Jane Austen novel, at least nothing that should spawn a five hour movie, but the characters and the dialogue are what make 'Pride and Prejudice' a classic.  And lastly, perhaps it is the common humanity of each work that draws me in, rather than a juiced up comic book, these novels explore what it is to be human: to live, to suffer, to struggle, to laugh, to yearn, to be disappointed, but in the end, to triumph.

In our materialistic world, where our value is based upon our power, friends, possessions, social status, or whatever, these books take each human soul at face value: you are valuable because you are a person, and nothing can be taken from or added to that value by external sources, save the One who made you.  And as a person, you are possessed of various blessings and curses, joys and sufferings, and these books explore that enigma, that paradox, and help us understand ourselves and our world a little better.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Once upon a time…and theology?

Theologians, professional and amateur alike, which includes all of humanity at some point in their individual existence have pondered the 'problem of pain' as C.S. Lewis termed it since first there was such a difficulty to contemplate.  How can a loving, all-powerful God create something and then let it moulder in brokenness, fraught with pain, sorrow, and death?  The term 'loving God' gives a clue to its own enigma.  The price of Love is risk, the risk of sorrow, because ever the beloved might turn away from or be taken from the lover.  If there is no risk, there cannot be Love, for Love must be a choice, if the beloved has no choice, it is a mindless slave, a robot, an automaton.  Humanity made a bad choice, thus did sorrow come upon the world, but worse, into the very heart of Heaven.  But like the great lover in all the stories, He journeyed through much pain and sorrow to rescue the beloved, at no small cost to Himself.  Now that's a fairy tale!