Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. –G.K. Chesterton
Many of us may have grown up with the sanitized Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but the authentic tales of the Brothers Grimm were gory tales of terror meant to instill fear in children. Why? Why deliberately scare children? The world was wild, chaotic, and men had evil intentions. Children needed to know to stay on the path. Do not trust a stranger. Do as you are told or there would be consequences. Terrible, nightmarish consequences. Cannibalistic old women lurked in those dark glens. Plump, pink thighs were exactly what they craved, tempting innocents with candy.
Are we any different today? Stranger danger? The media outlets sensationalize every child abduction. We put the metaphorical fear of God into our children, and evil still lurks…tempting with candy.
We still believe in dragons, do we not? The bogeyman still haunts us. Evil is still very real. Sharon Tate was on the cover of People. She and her unborn child died at the hands of Charles Manson’s sycophantic followers. If there were ever a face for evil in our culture, then it’s Charles Manson. Who else do we think of?
Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the anonymous Zodiac Killer, or even the faceless men and women running child porn and human trafficking rings. Evil is splashed on the cover of the front page reminding us once again to be ever vigilant like Little Red Riding Hood’s mother and lurking online like the wolf wearing Grandmother’s night cap.
We are acquainted with nightmares. Many of us have our own personal dragons. We have grown up with bogeymen. We still live with fear. We are waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the nightmare to return.
I can speak for myself in this.
Yes, evil is evil. I have read the fairy tales. I have known the dragons intimately ever since I had an imagination. Have I seen St. George kill the dragons? Do I know that limitless terrors have a limit? Do I know that those shapeless enemies have enemies, too? Do I know that something in the universe is more mystical than darkness? Something is stronger than strong fear?
This is where the media limits itself and the fear mongering in our culture cannot pass. We are left with only uncertainty about our own power and a certainty that there will be a far bigger dragon tomorrow splashed across tomorrow’s front page. Another bogeyman will be stalking the crosswalks of our neighborhoods next week, and rumors of war will inundate the ether.
Terror is the shapeless monster. Fear is the wolf lurking in all its forms. Anxiety, obsessions, adrenaline pumping, panicked thoughts, racing, running, and blazing a trail of chaos through the landscape of our minds, turning out the light of peace, bringing darkness.
Where is the woodsman and his axe? Who will kill this wolf? Where is St. George come to slay the dragons of despair, violence, depression, and emptiness that terrorize and perpetuate the entropy? Where can we hide from such behemoths?
What if I am the woodsman? What if you are? What if I am St. George? What if you are? What if the resilient, fearless knight who rescues the oppressed from the Great and Terrible Thing is not without but within? What if our path through the Lonely Woods into the deep wilderness following breadcrumbs isn’t to lead us to an oasis or a way out but to ourselves, our brave selves? Our mighty selves. Our stronger-than-strong-fear selves. Our something-in-the-universe-more-mystical-than-darkness selves. Our limitless-terrors-have-a-limit selves.
Our shimmering selves.
What if wherever we are right now in our lives, however hard or wonderful or messy or painful or beautiful it might be, there is an opportunity to clearly see the dragons flying overhead, set our arrow, and let it fly. At last, limiting the terror. Expanding our resiliency. Dampening our fear. Growing bigger. Slaying another bogeyman. Getting a taste for it. Finding out that we might have a craving for freedom after all.
Even if we have to fight for it. We have finally found our will to power.
What if we find out that we’re St. George, and everyone was really wrong about us? We are strong!
Life has more possibilities when you’re the dragon slayer, doesn’t it, rather than the princess in the tower waiting to be rescued?