Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis quotes Augustine in the Chapter “Men without Chests”. He writes, “St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.” [Lewis 26]
We do this by training more than the rational part of our personhood but also the soul, where emotions, imagination, and worship lie. We do this through stories: history, myths, fairy tales. I think fairy tales are underrated! Fairy tales have a way of sticking around.
We had company on Friday night and after a jam session with a beautiful violin, electric bass, and an out of tune piano, we two mothers and our two twenty-year-olds got to talking about books and movies. My son surprised me by retelling a fairy tale he read as a youth, in order to make a point. This story, which I do not remember reading to him, planted a strong lesson of virtue he still remembers. Fairy tales have a unique way of explaining the way of the world and moving us to virtue. Think of the ubiquitous helpless old lady who is scorned by the privileged in the stories, but helped by the one of humble means. By the story’s end, the order is turned upside down and the humble one is raised in glory while the proud is brought low. The youngest one receives the throne. The “foolish” one solves the problem and wins the princess. Cinderella marries the prince.
One of my favorite fairy tales is by Howard Pyle in The Wonder Clock. The princess is too proud to condescend to any of her suitors and she treats them harshly. One day a shabby man begs for a job and becomes the gooseherd. He attracts the notice of the princess who covets his three shiny baubles. She insists on having them and one by one trades for them her kerchief, her necklace, and finally, five-and-twenty kisses. Her father sees this last exchange and in anger marries them on the spot and kicks her out. The beggar grumbles about being saddled with a useless wife but takes her home.
One day he tells her to take the eggs to market to sell. She does go, but her eggs are trampled when a tipsy countryman knocks them to the ground. A basket of apples is next but a passing swineherd bumps into her and the pigs eat every one. Lastly, he sends her to work in the kitchen at the castle because the king will celebrate his marriage today and she can bring some scraps home for dinner.
But as she leaves the castle she is stopped by two soldiers, who say she must come with them. She hastily throws her apron over the basket of scraps as they march her before the king. She stands there before the gold-crowned king, trembling with fright. He asks what is under her apron. When she doesn’t answer, someone pulls the apron aside to reveal the kitchen scraps. She hangs her head in deepest shame.
But the king comes down beside her and reveals himself as the gooseherd, the tipsy countryman, and the swineherd. Her pride is broken and he raises her up to sit beside him, for today he celebrates his marriage to her.
And we learn so much, not the least of which is that things are not what they appear. There may be more to our story than we realize: that the pain we suffer has meaning, and that our growth in virtue is the point of it all.
So I say, let’s nourish the souls of our children with fairy tales!
Lewis, C. S.. Abolition of Man. Macmillan Publishing. New York.1947.