Maleficent

The little one continues to be fascinated with Sleeping Beauty, and it has now become a daily subject of conversation.  What with all of the skipping of “the bad parts,” she has come to recognize that the story might be more coherent if she knew what she was missing.  But she does not want to have to see it.  So one of her favorite series of questions now is some variant on, “What bad happens in Sleeping Beauty?… And what else?… And what else about Maleficent [the evil fairy]?… What else does Maleficent do?… But why is she mean to her goblins?… But why…?  But how…?”

It was in the midst of one of these Disney princess Q&A sessions that I revealed that Prince Phillip kills the dragon (and later that Maleficent is therefore dead, since the dragon was Maleficent.)  “But why?” she asked.  We were hovering on the precipice of her initiation into the myth of redemptive violence.  But it is true, what Dr. Stanley Hauerwas (standing on the shoulders of Iris Murdoch) has said – that character formation in worship, in Christian community, means that we are not always making decisions, but instead do what comes naturally.  And so it was that I answered, “Because Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather thought that it was the only way to save Aurora.” And my good girl predictably asked, “Why?” And I said, “I don’t think they were thinking very hard about it, because there were lots of other things they could have done – can you think of any?”  And together we were able to think of a long list of options that did not involve killing anyone, which process was admittedly helped along by the fairies ability to use magic.

Guess those Disney movies are good for something, after all.

Malcolm and Marcus

So, for awhile I have wanted to set the record straight that I actually do know that the boy in question in the book and movie About A Boy is named Marcus, not Malcolm.  (This is important face saving stuff.)  Contrary to my constant use of the name Malcolm in a post more than 3 years ago (perfectionist? why do you ask?)

Here is the thing – I am pretty good at remembering detail, but not great.  I am much better at storing abstraction.  Name starting with M of a Black Nationalist leader?  Why Malcolm, of course.

Malcolm X has been one of my obsessions since about 1991, when I picked up a book of his later writings for 25cents (notice how they don’t have a “cents” symbol on the computer keyboard?  I miss it.  Yes, I started off on typewriters.) at the local thrift store – Malcolm X Speaks.  Malcolm X had not made it into my school history books, so this was my introduction to him – as a complex figure, a thoughtful and principled person who was always learning, always changing.

Marcus Garvey on the other hand, was a cardboard cutout image in my mind, constructed out of a single paragraph in a middle school textbook, paired with the only photo I had seen of him (also in that textbook) – wearing an admiral’s hat, fluffy with feathers.  He was, to me, a pompous individual, unwittingly playing into white racists’ hands – or perhaps even in willing collusion with them.  It was hard for me to see why anyone (much less a white woman in England) would name her son after Garvey.  (Yes, I recognize that there are many other Marcuses and Malcolms to name one’s child after – I am just here recounting the strange workings of my own mind, which did not store “Marcus” but instead stored “black nationalist leader whose name starts with M” – and so, after the retrieval, the immediate reconstruction used those data points, irrelevant though they may have been to an imaginary character in naming her son – or to a very real author, for that matter.)

So, while I am looking forward to reading Manning Marable’s recent  book, which is reported to deepen our understanding of the complexity of Malcolm X yet further, it seems appropriate for me to revisit Garvey as well.  I have judged him on the basis of so little information, really.  Any cursory thought to the times reveals what a complex situation he was in, and the quickest glance at a one page internet biography reveals how much about him I had neither known nor accounted for.  Is it possible for a white woman – a white woman so southern as to have identified herself (more recently than she cares to acknowledge) more as a Virginian than as a Christian – is it possible for me to embrace Garvey for all the right reasons?  With God, anything is possible.  And in Christ, I am repeatedly commanded to try – from “judge not…” through “love your neighbor.”

I have found, for myself, that I can come closer to this reconciliation (the reconciliation that Jesus urges me towards and into) by listening – by learning more about the one with whom I am not yet reconciled.  After all, we cannot love an individual in the abstract – love is concrete – the one who loves us most dearly numbers even the hairs on our heads (no detail is too small for God to notice it and care about it)!  So I am hoping that some of you out there will pray for me, and that at least one of you will have a helpful biography of Garvey to recommend.

Fairy Tale Logic

My daughter has recently noticed that many of her friends have been watching Disney movies for some time, and so lately we have picked up both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.  We’ve probably watched Sleeping Beauty six times in the past two weeks – or at lest we have watched *half* of it – she is no less sensitive now than she was nearly a year ago, so we fast forward through any “scary parts,” with the result that the story sometimes needs even more explanation than it would otherwise.   But fairy tales, even when intact, are inexplicable in parts, and when her questions come I wish I could put more spin on my answers without doing violence to the story.  I was relieved yesterday evening when, in the midst of another Sleeping Beauty Q&A, she made the breakthrough observation, “movies are different.”  Which led to a long (for a preschooler) conversation about how things happen in movies that don’t happen in real life.

But I have to admit, while the “movies are different” realization is a significant turning point, I was even more excited about a conversation we had earlier in the day.

“Mom, why does the bad witch take the prince and put him in her castle?”

“She doesn’t want Prince Phillip to kiss Sleeping Beauty and wake her up.”

“But why doesn’t she want the prince to kiss Sleeping Beauty? … I know! Because Sleeping Beauty can wake up herself!”

I know that there is a good chance (if her romantic attentions focus on the male gender) that there will be many years when she forgets the insight that she doesn’t need a man to “wake her up” – as if life begins with “love’s first kiss” and ends with waltzing in the clouds together.  And I don’t want to knock the importance of community, friendship, and even of finding one’s “soulmate” – certainly my life has been changed by having such a loving and supportive husband.  But too often girls find themselves coming to believe (quite early on) that their chief worth lies in who wants to kiss them.  With the result that many women are the products of their contortions to fit the ideals of the boys whose attentions they most wanted.  To the chagrin of their parents, who see natural talents squandered, and special qualities carefully hidden, and new shames cultivated.

So today I am grateful for my sweet and confident daughter, who can say unselfconsciously, “I like being Hannah!”