Lying with Dragons (or Sometimes a Story is a Sword)

dragon-1014565_640Fairy tales are changing.
Have you noticed?
I remember thinking that back when I read a library book to my children about The Gingerbread Man. Do you remember him? “Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man.”
When I was a little girl, the gingerbread man ran away from the childless couple who baked him and kept running from all pursuers, thinking he was smarter and faster than everyone until he was finally outwitted and eaten by a fox.
In my children’s version, the Gingerbread Man is eaten but on the last page, somehow miraculously escapes the stomach of the fox, having learned a wise lesson about the danger of running away.
What? Even my children, with their extravagant imaginations, were annoyed.
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why would someone even write that story?” My son asked.
I wondered that, too.
When I was a child, fairy tales were a little frightening – children who disobeyed or wandered or were lazy in those fairy tales were cooked in witches stoves, lost in the woods,eaten by wolves, or missed out on meals and fun.
In the world of my children’s sanitized fairy tales, disobedient children endured “a bit of a fright” but always had second chances or were rescued at the last minute. Whew. No need to ever worry about a little disobedience. The story always ends well.
I thought about this again today as I stood in the children’s book section to find gifts for my nephews – the oldest is ten years younger than my youngest child.
The shelves were full of dragons.

I’ve never seen so many dragons. They were ornate, bejeweled, intricately designed, and beautiful.

But what struck me most about this bevy of beasts was that they were mostly tame. Not only tame, but friendly – some were downright heroic.
Now, dragons have always fascinated me and I think there should be a dragon in every children’s tale – but dragons are never tame and they are there to be conquered, not befriended.
In Biblical literature, the dragon represents the evil one – the one who comes against Christ and the church. In Revelation 12, the dragon is defeated by the archangel, Michael. “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.  The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
He is a very clever dragon.
He has learned the right lie for each generation.
In earlier generations, the dragon fed on people’s anxieties. He terrorized them and convinced them he was powerful and they could not defeat him.
In later generations, the dragon fed on people’s avarice by enticing them with his great stores of the promised treasure he protected in his lair.
A more recent generation, surrounded by anarchy, yawned with apathy as it shared a puff of the dragon’s favorite pipe and leaned its head against the dragon’s breast to watch the light dance off his scales.

In this generation, the dragon feeds on our arrogance and convinces us that we can tame him, that we can make him our friend. We sit at his table to have talks and discuss the details of a brokered peace.

The dragon lies.
He lies to us and he lies to our children. He lies so well, we feed the lie to our children with their bedtime milk and cookies.
 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” (Isaiah 5:20-21)
Some of you will argue with me that I’m just talking about stories. That I shouldn’t be concerned about children’s fairy tales and book series read by school children.
I will tell you that the dragon knows – story is the key to the treasure store of our hearts and our imaginations. Once he enters there, he can weave a web of lies so finely entwined with our own neural pathways we believe the thoughts and ideas are our own.
We aren’t meant to sleep with dragons and no dragon was ever the hero of any true story.
When children are fed on lies from the cradle, they cannot tell from the truth as they grow.
When children ingest the truth with their mother’s milk, they develop an appetite for truth that cannot be satisfied with falsehood.
Stories are sippy cups for truth that is so powerful and real it can slay dragons.
So do write a dragon into every story – whether for children or those who think themselves grown – but never make the dragon your hero or think him tame enough to turn your back on him.
Sometimes a story is sword.

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7 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Heather says:

    Lori, this is a fascinating post and would make a great PhD topic in literature!

  2. Hmmm, maybe that’s what I should do next.

  3. Kate says:

    Outstanding post, Lori! Thank you!

  4. Joanne Sher says:

    Oh, Lori. Just excellent. No other words (which is unusual for me LOL).

  5. Hmmm Well, I’m not sure I get your point.

    I am with you on the stupid rewriting of the fairy tales. I even did a book review many years ago that kind of reminded me of this post: http://www.paraklesis.com/reviews/longshortcut.htm

    But I don’t think people have made dragons good to trick children or to protect them from unpleasantness. I think they made dragons good because they were trying to come up with fresh ideas that would sell books. Now we have so many good dragons we need bad ones again, I think.

    In any case, dragons are fictitious creatures and can be good or bad in stories. Man judges by outward appearances, but God looketh upon the heart. Even a child (or a dragon) is known by his actions.

    What’s the harm if a child reads a story about a good dragon? Are you suggesting that one day he’ll meet a real dragon and not know to run? He won’t meet a dragon, because dragons aren’t real, but he may meet an ugly man. He may meet a man everyone hates. And he may see good in the man and befriend the man.

    But I don’t see how good or bad dragons have anything to do with Satan. Or did I miss the point of the post?

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