Truth, Beauty: Why I Teach Beautiful Poetry

An excellent post from Megan Von Bergen resonant with several things I’ve written here on Letters from the Edge of Elfland. Including Faeriean Metaphysics: A Diet of Poetry and Faeriean Metaphysics: The Necessity of Poetry, Fantasy, and Faerie in Theology.

Christ & University

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During a recent visit to my local art museum, I found that the museum was displaying the St John’s Illuminated Bible, commissioned by the monks of St John’s Abbey. Curious, I made it a point to see the Bible.

It was breathtaking.

In a dim room there were twenty-five glass cases, each holding a portion of the Scripture and opened to reveal the most beautiful illuminations. St John’s Gospel announced the Word Incarnate with a gold figure on a royal purple background; Revelation, the Second Coming with a cacophany of colours marching across the pages, speaking to the terror and joy of the apocryphal books.

I stood in the dim museum light reading page after page, entranced by the glory of the illuminations.

I recalled this enchantment recently, reading Marilynne Robinson’s essay “Freedom of Thought”. There, Robinson wonders sadly whether there is any place in modern education for this…

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Giving the Gifts of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Sleeping Beauty’s Gifts from Her Fairy Godmothers

David Russell Mosley

Christmastide
Twelfth Night
5 January 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I want to look at the fairy tale we most commonly call Sleeping Beauty. In truth, this tale has several titles, or variations, anyway. In French it is ‘La belle au bois dormant’, the Grimm’s called it ‘Little Briar Rose’, and there is an Italian story very similar to it called Sun, Moon, and Talia. I will be focusing on the French version as written/collected by Charles Perrault and translated by Andrew Lang. It is once again interesting to note that in the Grimm version of this story, the fairies are not godparents.

La belle au bois dormant begins with a royal family longing to increase from two to three (at least). They eventually conceive and a little girl is born. They have a christening (which is really just another word for a baptism) and invite to it seven fairies to serve as her godmothers (for it is at baptisms that godparents become bound to their godchildren). Her mother and father choose fairies, ‘that every one of them might give her a gift, as was the custom of fairies in those days.’ After the baptism a feast is held (remembering that festivals and gift-giving are inherent to and the foundation of the godparent-godchild relationship), and an eighth fairy shows up. She was an old fairy and was not invited for the believed her ‘dead or enchanted.’ She is given a seat at the table, but does not receive as a nice a place setting as her elven companions. And so, ‘The old fairy fancied she was slighted, and muttered some threats between her teeth. One of the young fairies who sat by her overheard how she grumbled; and, judging that she might give the little princess some unlucky gift, went, as soon as they rose from table, and hid herself behind the hangings, that she might speak last, and repair, as much as she could, the evil which the old fairy might intend.’

After the feasting is done it is time to give gifts: ‘The youngest gave her for gift that she should be the most beautiful person in the world; the next, that she should have the wit of an angel; the third, that she should have a wonderful grace in everything she did; the fourth, that she should dance perfectly well; the fifth, that she should sing like a nightingale; and the sixth, that she should play all kinds of music to the utmost perfection.’ I find these gifts interesting and informative. Again, think back to Cinderella and what her fairy godmother does for her, she makes evident to all the truth, beauty, and goodness (which naturally belong together) that are coincident in her. Here, the first fairy makes her beautiful; the second intelligent for an angel’s wit is not in humour, but in knowledge and most specifically knowledge of God and this would be truth; I do not think it a stretch to say third gives her the gift of goodness, for what else can it mean to have grace in everything that we do; the fourth, fifth, and sixth seem to give her further gifts of beauty, goodness, and truth, specifically in the things she does. Sleeping beauty is not rendered strange by her godmothers, but is given the coincidence of truth, beauty, and goodness as gifts themselves.

The old fairy gives the gift of death and terrifies the whole court. But then out comes the original seventh fairy who does not undo the gift of death, but transforms it: ‘At this very instant the young fairy came out from behind the hangings, and spake these words aloud: “Assure yourselves, O King and Queen, that your daughter shall not die of this disaster. It is true, I have no power to undo entirely what my elder has done. The princess shall indeed pierce her hand with a spindle; but, instead of dying, she shall only fall into a profound sleep, which shall last a hundred years, at the expiration of which a king’s son shall come and awake her.”‘

This fairy godmother proceeds to put the whole kingdom to sleep, excepting the girl’s natural parents, and raises up thorns and brambles in order to protect the young girl from harm while she slept. She is awakened after 100 years by her handsome prince, is married and the story takes a strange turn involving the prince’s mother who is part ogress and desires to eat his wife and children. There are no more mentions of the fairies who had served as godmothers to Sleeping Beauty, nor do we learn whether any fairies served as godparents to her children Morning and Day. Yet we can see how they continue to be protected by the triple gift of goodness, beauty, and truth. The cook cannot bring himself to kill the children: Morning’s beauty and goodness overwhelm him as she, ‘came up to him jumping and laughing, to take him about the neck, and ask him for some sugar candy.’ Day overwhelms him with his bravery, a subset of goodness in so many ways, for the cook found ‘him with a little foil in his hand, with which he was fencing with a great monkey, the child being then only three years of age.’ The Queen, that is Sleeping Beauty, overwhelms him with her love for her children, whom she believed to be dead. Love is, in so many ways, the coming together of truth, beauty, and goodness.

So while her godparents don’t take much of a role in her life after she pricks her finger on a spindle, the spiritual gifts which they gave her protected from all future evil. A human godparent can help raise a child to be proficient in the gifts given to the young princess, but they cannot give them outright, only, it would, a fairy godparent can do so. And so again we see the coming together of the Kingdom of God, since God is the true source of truth, beauty, and goodness; and the realm of Faërie.

Sincerely yours,
David

Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet and Christian Heroism: Old Post 3

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The New Green Hornet
Last night my wife and I watched the new Green Hornet with Seth Rogen. While I knew better than to expect something that remained true to the original Green Hornet, I was, nevertheless, severely disappointed. Not only did Rogen’s adaptation fail to deliver the essence of the Green Hornet as the purposely misunderstood hero who’s alter ego is the intelligent newspaperman, but he also failed to understand the purpose of heroes in society.
What Makes Rogen’s Hornet the Hero?
While heroes come from different kinds of backgrounds and upbringings, Rogen’s Hornet is the spoiled child of a mean, if not otherwise mostly virtuous, widower. Growing up he becomes a rather unintelligent, hedonistic loaf who becomes the head of a media empire after the death of his father. Through a variety of circumstances he and his martial art/engineering expert partner pose as bad guys to fight crime. First they do so in order to “stick it” to Rogen’s old man. Then they do it in his honor, once they understand him better.
What Didn’t I Like?
Rogen’s Hornet is selfish. Until the end of the movie he fights for selfish reasons. He refuses to listen to his partner Cato and does not have the intelligence to have any reason not to do so. Rogen’s Hornet is a bumbling idiot who fights for something, but it is difficult to figure out what. Is it justice? Is it the memory of his father? Is it to be cool? I’m not sure, but mostly the latter with a mix of the first two seems to be the case.
Also, I could not stand the sheer amount of violence and death that took place in this film. In their first outing, Cato causes at least one gang member to be shot and killed. The others seem either to be dead or unconscious. Either way, violence, the ability to better beat or kill your opponent is seen as a virtue. The rid themselves of the two main villains by killing them. One get stabbed in the eyes and the other is crushed by half of car falling from about 30 stories. This I cannot stand. It seems to me, that Rogen in his attempt to make a slapstick superhero movie missed the purpose of the hero rather than truly parodying it.
What are Heroes supposed to Be?
Rogen’s heroes fight for themselves or at least for some semblance of an idea of justice. This is not what the hero is supposed to be. The hero stands for societal values. The hero inspires societal values. The hero is someone both the individual and the society as a whole can say, “I want to be like that person. That person is better than I am and makes me want to be better than I am.” Heroes also cause some aspect, or aspects, of the divine to be brought down to the human level.
Upholders and Creators of Societal Virtues
Heroes, true, mythic heroes, are representations of what a society values. They embody the ideals and can even go beyond the current ideals of a society in order to encourage and inspire those who are not heroes. If we take a look at comics from the 30s, 40s and 50s, those heroes may have had flaws––save Aunt May or save the world? Always be Superman or take time to be Clark Kent? Take out your anger on the villain or help them get better––but they served to inspire. They taught the children of those ages that truth was better than lying; that justice meant doing what was right no matter the costs; that freedom for all meant the eradication of oppression. Captain America, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Thor these characters filled a much-needed niche. They taught us to be better. In some ways they even showed us new virtues. A society built on capitalism might make us think that ends justify the means, Superman taught us never to lie (except about your secret identity).
Incarnating the Divine
Heroes also serve to show us God. Its true, many of the heroes I listed above were not made by professing Christians. Nevertheless, when they show us things that are true, that are virtuous, they are showing us aspects of God that we might not see or understand otherwise. God does this often. In fact, the Incarnation, God the Son becoming a human is perhaps the ultimate example of that. God knows that for us to be truly human, to reach the goals he has set for us, we will need not only his help internally, through the Holy Spirit, but we also need the example of other men and women. Sometimes it is hard to think that we can ever be like Jesus, he was perfect, infallible; we are not. But maybe we can be a bit more like Paul or Timothy or Polycarp or Augustine or John Cassian or Catherine of Siena or Mary the mother of Jesus. Perhaps these people whose faults we can see we can be like, while they also try to be like Christ. Rogen’s Hornet does none of this for us.
The New Green Hornet and American Virtues
The new Green Hornet seems to be saying that violence, sex, some misguided sense of justice and intelligence are what we value as a society. As Christians, even as Americans, we must reject these values.
Who are Our Heroes?
We need to return to better heroes. We need to be reminded of the virtues and values that all societies ought to stand for. As Christians we need to baptize the heroes our societies do have so we can use them to show people the light and truth that is Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Teacher, our Model, our Hero. We also need to rediscover some of our own heroes from Christian history and learn from and follow them as they followed Christ. Finally, we need to every day become heroes ourselves so we can inspire those around us to be better, to become more like Christ and give their lives over to him. The only way to be truly heroic, to be truly human, is to be like Christ.