Faith and Faerie: Reflections of Another World

When I was asked to do a devotional for today’s post, I really didn’t know which direction to turn.  For someone who loves fantasy, the works of Lewis are an obvious choice for an intertwining of faith and faerie. But Lewis’s brilliance has its sources, and I thought that perhaps one of Lewis’s favorite writers, George MacDonald, would be of service in this discussion, as well.  In Mere Christianity, Lewis says:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

mist irelandAs Christians, we know that “another world” is the heavenly kingdom, but as we are, for now, separated from that future dwelling, we are left with promises and our imagination.  For many of us, exploring and creating fantasy worlds can temporarily satiate the driving need to find “another world” to which we truly belong.  But Faerie Lands can play the role of more than just escapism; they can both act is a reflection of Reality and become that faintest of connections to “another world” which compels us forward in our walk toward it.

The fantasies and faerie worlds that we construct, no matter how wonderful, are still impermanent.  The kind of fantasy that MacDonald, Lewis, and many others strive to write is a kind which attempts to draw us out of our immediate Reality and take us to another world, but only temporarily.  Then, like a mirror, these worlds begin to reflect our Reality in a different form, and we can’t help thinking that some of these enchanted landscapes seem very familiar. Inexorably, we are drawn back into our own world, but when we return, we understand something of our world better, while the yearning for another world remains, perhaps stronger than ever.reflections isle of skye loch

MacDonald says in Phantastes:

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality? – not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier?  Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still.  Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself.  All mirrors are magic mirrors.  The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass.

castle scotland craigmillarA beautiful reflection is exactly what MacDonald strives for in his depiction of Faerie Land.  With lush descriptions, strange and surreal, whimsical and lovely, MacDonald draws his wandering hero into the depths of Faerie and compels us along with him.

But as with all reflections, there is a place where they join with Reality.  We can be in one and touch the other.  MacDonald’s Faerie Land is not meant to stand entirely apart:

As through the hard rock go the branching silver veins; as into the solid land run the creeks and gulfs from the unresting sea; as the lights and influences of the upper worlds sink silently through the earth’s atmosphere; so doth Faerie invade the world of men, and sometimes startle the common eye with an association as of cause and effect, when between the two no connecting links can be traced.

From the very beginning, Faerie is intertwined with our world.  It reflects our own world, but it also connects us to another.  It both satisfies and increases our longing for that Other World that we know exists.  And so, if this fantasy world as MacDonald portrays it – a reflection of Reality and an echo of something greater beyond it – if this is not only accessible, but ever-present, then we might begin to realize that its higher Form, that Other World that we all long for, is also in our midst.  The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, tangible, glorious, the source of all deep magic, drawing us further into it.

This is why I find Faerie and fantasy so beautiful and so satisfying: they have the ability to reflect our Reality while simultaneously summoning forth faint, but glorious images of the true Other World.  The best Faerie stories form a connection between us and what we were made for.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel… Perfect Princess Hair Gone too Far

As of a couple nights ago, I have seen the movie Tangled four times.  I am one of those special people who can rewatch a good movie in quick succession many times before I finally start tire of it.  For me, Tangled was just such a film.  Disney has finally remembered what once made it great and (without the help of Pixar surprisingly enough) has managed to recreate the magic of the old Disney Princess movies that some of us grew up watching and loving and incorporating into our daydreams – well, maybe not you male readers out there, though I cannot imagine why you wouldn’t want to be a Disney prince.  They tend to have it pretty good by the end of the story.

I liked pretty much everything about Tangled.  The animation is beautiful.  Rapunzel’s hair is so detailed, you can see every wisp and strand.  The expressions on the characters’ faces are stunningly realistic at all the right times, often humorous, always delightful.  The animators paid attention to the scenery and used it to enhance the story effectively.  The celebration with the flying lanterns is one of the most gorgeous animated scenes I have watched in quite some time.I also liked the fact that Alan Menken, the songwriter from such classics as Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast was brought on to do the songs and music for this new classic.  Tangled had the best of new animation and graphics, but they also took care to get the best of the best to do the music, and it was worth it.

As for the story itself, I am constrained not to give away too many plot details in the interest of preserving the joy of discovery for those who have not yet seen it.  However, I will note a few things that this movie did right.  They took the original story and they changed it up and gave it new depth and personality, as other Disney fairy tales have done in the past with varying degrees of success.

Of course, the Disney versions of fairy tales are never the same as the originals – far from it.  Thus, the real story told by the Brothers Grimm is quite different.  In the grand tradition of Grimm’s fairy tales, Rapunzel is a dark story with a not entirely happy ending.  Suffice to say that the Brothers Grimm would likely disapprove strongly of Disney in general for bringing so much joy and happiness into their stories.  The very nerve.

So let’s explore the differences in the stories a bit, just to see where Disney strayed away (though not to their detriment, I must say).

In the original story of Rapunzel, the girl is not a princess at all.  She is the daughter of commoners.  Unlike the story of Tangled, the parents are trapped into giving up their daughter to a nasty old enchantress through their own greed.  The enchantress makes Rapunzel grow out her hair to make the tower inaccessible to all but herself, the only one for whom Rapunzel will let down her long rope of hair.  What Rapunzel does with all of her time is a matter left up to the reader.  We just don’t know.

Eventually, a prince is guided to the tower by Rapunzel’s lovely singing voice (because all fair maidens in these stories come with lovely singing voices. Drat them.).  He climbs the rope of hair and they fall madly in love.  They keep their affair a secret for some time, but eventually Rapunzel makes the stupid mistake of telling Mother Gothel about her relationship with the prince.  Enraged, the old witch cuts off the long hair and sends Rapunzel away into the wilderness where she has twin babies and lives miserable and alone for some time (Yes, there were babies.  Go read it and see for yourself.)

When the prince returns, he calls out for Rapunzel’s hair, but it is Mother Gothel who lets down the rope.  The prince climbs it, but is greeted by someone a little older and a lot less pretty than his true love.  He is thrown from the tower and cuts his eyes on some thorns, going blind in the process. Surprisingly after all that, story has a relatively cheerful ending.  He ends up finding Rapunzel by way of her singing once again and her tears heal his eyes.  They live happily ever after.

Tangled takes this Grimm fairy tale and gives it more of a story.  In the movie, Rapunzel is the princess and her true love is the commoner, a lovable rogue named Flynn Rider (whose voice is played by Zachary Levi, known for his endearing performance in the show Chuck).  The movie preserves the name of the villainous “step-mother” figure: Mother Gothel, who is a fantastic villain, toying with Rapunzel’s natural affection for her and manipulating her with guilt and fear.  The movie also keeps the original idea of the tower and the memorable long, golden hair by means of which Mother Gothel ascends the tower.  What the movie does, however, is gives the hair not only a reason for being so long and golden, but a very real purpose throughout the story.  The story-writers for Tangled were admirably creative in this regard.

The Grimm brothers would probably not be thrilled with the dancing ruffians in the Snuggly Duckling Inn or the magical scene of the floating lanterns.  They might enjoy a few of the more tense and sad moments in the movie, but overall, Tangled is far too happy a tale for a Grimm to approve of.

Those who have seen it may have noticed one or two other similarities between the movie and the story, and those who have not seen it will hopefully be tantalized into viewing it soon in order to further compare the two.  Suffice to say that while Disney has made free with a traditional story, they have actually done a superb job.  The story is both magical and beautiful, funny and sweet, sad and joyous.  It fulfilled every hope that I had for it and renewed some of my lost faith in Disney.

Maximus and Pascal: Easily my favorite animal characters in a Disney movie