How to Defeat the Dragon (Even the Interior One)

A good friend just recently told me that before C.S. Lewis wrote his Chronicles of Narnia he despised fairy tales; he thought they were a great evil that corrupted the minds of the youth. For obvious reasons we know he had a change of heart somewhere down the road after publishing seven books on this very genre ( several other books outsides of the Narnia series as well), and often dedicated his work to the very children in his own family. Fairy tales are like parables, most of us think of Disney but it’s so much more than that; there is a lesson in each tale. Great poets and authors like J.R.R. Tolkien (who was a devout Catholic) and G.K. Chesterton (who later became Catholic) can attest to this truth (a priest once said “if Lewis wasn’t Catholic then, he is now”). In fact, such tales are not simply written for the youth, but all ages. Think about it, half of the New Testament is made up of stories, parables told by Our Lord- Who told them to none other than the average adult, His apostles. In fact, the original traditional fairy tales actually date back centuries and were very much known as “morality” tales. Isn’t that what parables are?

Traditional Disney was very much on board with these morality tales, especially with Sleeping Beauty- I used to always get the chills when Maleficent conjured “all the powers of hell” to defeat Prince Philip, but he was given “the sword of truth” and “the shield of virtue” (this always reminded me of Our Lady’s Scapular and Holy Rosary). Now, hell can’t be mentioned, “no, it will scare children” or “it doesn’t exist”. That is complete bosh, have we lost our sense of virtue in our present culture? What are we teaching society and our children? To cave and not fight! I had countless debates with a holy religious sister some months ago (very dear soul) about the beauty of fairy tales, why they are needed and how God uses them. She was determined in her resolution that they are too worldly and we should be focusing on heaven, not stories (tell that to Our Lord). While yes, absolutely we should be focusing on heaven, we are not yet in that Eternal Homeland. We are at a constant war with powers and principalities, are we not? G.K. Chesterton couldn’t have said it better:

The Son of God Himself was born into this world and was tempted; fairy tales teach us how to conquer the world, the flesh and the devil. And more, it shows us that good always triumphs over evil- always! One of the best quotes I came across today by Our Holy Carmelite Mother Teresa of Jesus made me smile, she said:

If the Devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.

In other words, we already know Satan exists and we know his much deserved fate (even though it hasn’t happened yet!) But Our Lord foretold it- “I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, between Her Seed and your seed- She shall crush thy head.” Ah, victory! Our Lady WILL conquer, God chose Her as His Vessel, His Weapon. All of Mary’s power belongs to God, but He entrusted it to Her. The Dragon is even biblical representing Satan himself in the book of Revelation:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven royal crowns on his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the Woman.

The taste of a triumph usually comes only after much sweat and tears in this life, that is why fairy tales are a source of hope. When I first entered Carmel my Novice Mistress was a firm believer in fairy tales; she gave me special permission to read the Chronicles of Narnia whenever I was having a rough day or on a Sunday (as Sunday’s were reserved for “fun” books). I instantly became a C.S. Lewis fan; my favorite book was “The Silver Chair”. I loved it so much I even wrote up a skit on my favorite scene, prepared costumes, chose the music and we novices acted out the scene where Prince Rilian has his famous battle with the war against himself as he is stuck in this enchanted chair controlled by an evil but beautiful queen. These stories were exciting and satisfied the thrill seeker in me, as I have always loved a good fight scene. I knew each book I read in the series taught me how to fight my own battles within!

The fairy tale I want to share today is one I heard for the first time in Carmel, it was a Sunday and it was being read in the refectory (where religious eat as a community). At that season in my life I was at an all time low in my Carmelite vocation. I truly struggled with believing I was worthy and good enough to be Christ’s bride; I even doubted His love for me. But I remember believing- knowing Our Lord needed me to hear this story; It felt like my own personal parable gifted from Him. I held onto every word being read, it was my small portion of hope I needed to maintain my faith. I have printed it and made a copy for my future “Sunday fun books” as a solo Carmelite Hermitess. It has since served as a great reminder that while we are suffering- our first reaction is to lash out and say “what did I do, why is this happening?”- but if we are right in the middle of the battle we tend to forget the victory part, just like the apostles forgot that Christ SAID He would rise again three days after the crucifixion. The truth is, sometimes we suffer so much that we can’t even fathom that we too have our own personal resurrections.

I hope you enjoy this tale below as much as I do, and if you don’t…. all I can say is:

 After all, we must be like children to enter into the kingdom of heaven!

The Tale of King Thrushbeard- A Grimm’s Fairytale

A king had a daughter who was beautiful beyond all measure, but at the same time so proud and arrogant that no suitor was good enough for her. She rejected one after the other, ridiculing them as well.

Once the king sponsored a great feast and invited from far and near all the men wanting to get married. They were all placed in a row according to their rank and standing. First came the kings, then the grand dukes, then the princes, the earls, the barons, and the aristocracy. Then the king’s daughter was led through the ranks, but she objected to something about each one. One was too fat: “The wine barrel,” she said. Another was too tall: “Thin and tall, no good at all.” The third was too short: “Short and thick is never quick.” The fourth was too pale: “As pale as death.” The fifth too red: “A prize rooster.” The sixth was not straight enough: “Green wood, dried behind the stove.”

And thus she had some objection to each one, she even did her best to find fault with one especially handsome king (who was actually hard to find fault with) who stood at the very top of the row, and whose beard was something to behold. “Look!” she cried out, laughing, “He has a chin like a thrush’s beak.” And from that time he was called King Thrushbeard.

Now the old king, seeing that his daughter did nothing but ridicule the people, making fun of all the suitors who were gathered there, became very angry, and he swore that she should have for her husband the very first beggar to come to his door.

A few days later a minstrel came and sang beneath the window, trying to earn a small handout.

When the king heard him he said, “Let him come up.”

So the minstrel, in his dirty, ragged clothes, came in and sang before the king and his daughter, and when he was finished he asked for a small gift. Despite his ragged clothing there was a charm about his appearance and his voice.

The king said, “I liked your song so much that I will give you my daughter for a wife.”

The king’s daughter took fright, but the king said, “I have taken an oath to give you to the very first beggar, and I will keep it.”

Her protests did not help. The priest was called in, and she had to marry the minstrel at once. Not long after the king said, “It is not proper for you, a beggar’s wife, to stay in my palace any longer. All you can do now is to go away with your husband.”

The beggar led her out by the hand, and she had to leave with him, walking on foot.

They came to a large forest, and she asked, “Who owns this beautiful forest?”

“It belongs to King Thrushbeard. If you had taken him for a husband, all this would be yours.”

Although this minstrel was poor, he had a tongue as sharp as her own.

“Oh, I am a miserable thing; If only I’d taken the Thrushbeard King.”

Afterwards they crossed a meadow, and she asked again, “Who owns this beautiful green meadow?”

“It belongs to King Thrushbeard. If you had taken him for a husband, all this would be yours.”

“Oh, I am a miserable thing; If only I’d taken the Thrushbeard King.”

Then they walked by a splendid kingdom, and she asked again, “Who owns this beautiful large kingdom?”

“It belongs to King Thrushbeard. If you had taken him as your prince and husband, it would be yours.”

“Oh, I am a miserable thing; If only I’d taken the Thrushbeard King.”

“I do not like you to always be wishing for another husband, you are MY wife” said the minstrel. “Am I not good enough for you?”

At last they came to a very little hut, and she said, “Oh goodness. What a small house. Who owns this miserable tiny hut?”

(side note- My actual dream hermitage.)

The minstrel answered, “Not King Thrushbeard. This is my house and yours, where we shall live together.”

She had to stoop in order to get in the low door.

“Where are the servants?” said the king’s daughter.

“What servants?” answered the beggar. “You must do for yourself what you want to have done. Now make a fire at once, put some water on to boil, so you can cook me something to eat. I am very tired.”

But the king’s daughter knew nothing about lighting fires or cooking, and the beggar had to lend a hand himself to get anything done at all. When they had finished their scanty meal they went to bed. But he made her get up very early the next morning in order to do the housework.

For a few days they lived in this way, as well as they could, but they finally came to the end of their provisions.

Then the man said, “Wife, we cannot go on any longer eating and drinking here and earning nothing. You must weave baskets.” He went out, cut some willows, and brought them home. Then she began to weave baskets, but the hard willows cut into her delicate fingers and he had to mend her hands. Oddly enough, he did this with great care…

“I see that this will not do,” said the man. “You had better spin. Perhaps you can do that better.” She sat down and tried to spin, but the hard thread soon cut into her soft fingers until they bled.

With great concern in his eyes he still managed to say “See, you are not good for any sort of work; I made a bad bargain with you. Now, I will try to start a business with pots and earthenware. You must sit in the marketplace and sell them.”

“Oh!” she thought. “If people from my father’s kingdom come to the market and see me sitting there selling things, how they will ridicule me!”

But her protests did not help. She had to do what her husband demanded, unless she wanted to die of hunger.

At first it went well. People bought the woman’s wares because she was beautiful, and they paid her whatever she asked. Many even gave her the money and let her keep the pots. So they lived on what she earned as long as it lasted. Then the husband bought a lot of new pottery. She sat down with this at the corner of the marketplace and set it around her for sale. But suddenly there came a drunken hussar galloping along, and he rode right into the pots, breaking them into a thousand pieces. She began to cry, and was so afraid that she did not know what to do.

“Oh! What will happen to me?” she cried. “What will my husband say about this?” She ran home and told him of the misfortune.

“Who would sit at the corner of the marketplace with earthenware?” said the husband. “Now stop crying. I see very well that you are not fit for any ordinary work. Now I was at our king’s palace and I asked if they couldn’t use a kitchen maid. They promised me to take you. In return you will get free food.”

The king’s daughter now became a kitchen maid, and had to be available to the cook, and to do the dirtiest of work. In each of her pockets she fastened a little jar, in which she took home her share of the leftovers. And this is what they lived on.

It happened that the wedding of the king’s eldest son was to be celebrated that day, so the poor woman went up and stood near the door of the hall to look on. When all the lights were lit, and people, each more beautiful than the other, entered, and all was full of pomp and splendor, she thought about her plight with a sad heart, and cursed the pride and haughtiness which had humbled her and brought her to such great poverty.

The smell of the delicious dishes which were being taken in and out reached her, and now and then the servants threw her a few scraps, which she put in her jar to take home.

Then suddenly the king’s son entered, clothed in velvet and silk, with gold chains around his neck. He was indeed very handsome and she couldn’t help admire his beauty, not being aware of her surroundings she rested her head on a pillar and stared at him. When he saw the beautiful woman standing by the door, eyes resting on him, he took her by the hand and said “dance with me!”

But she refused and took fright, for she saw that he was King Thrushbeard, the very suitor whom she had rejected with scorn. “No, please! I am just a kitchen maid, I beg you…please leave me be!”

Her struggles did not help. He pulled her into the hall with all his charm and before she knew it the string that tied up her pockets broke, and the pots fell to the floor. The soup ran out, and the scraps flew everywhere. When the people saw this, everyone laughed and ridiculed her. She was so ashamed that she would rather have been a thousand fathoms beneath the ground. She jumped out the door and wanted to run away, but a man overtook her on the stairs, grabbed her hand with great persistence and brought her back. And when she looked at him, it was King Thrushbeard again!

He said to her kindly, “Don’t be afraid. Look at me, don’t you recognize me?” She looked closer into his handsome face and couldn’t believe she had missed the resemblance. “I and the minstrel who has been living with you and took you as his wife in that miserable hut are one and the same. For the love of you I disguised myself; I was also the hussar who broke your pottery to pieces. All this was done to humble your proud spirit and to punish you for the arrogance with which you ridiculed me. I loved you from the moment I saw you, I would take no other to be my wife. I was willing to do whatever it takes to show you I could win your heart. I mended your hands when they bled and wasn’t really interested in your cooking or sewing or how well you could sell pottery- I was waiting for your change of heart.”

Then she cried bitterly and said, “I was terribly wrong, and I am not worthy to be your wife.”

But he lovingly took her hands and said, “None of that matters now, be comforted for I love you so very dearly. The evil days are past. Now we will celebrate our wedding- our real wedding.”

For she did not know it, but the wedding was indeed for her, the maids-in-waiting came and dressed her in the most splendid clothing, and her father and his whole court came and wished her happiness in her marriage with her dear King, who’s name was of course not really Thrushbeard and their true happiness began only now. I wish that you and I had been there as well.                               

The End

Even our interior dragons…