Thursday, September 2, 2010

Boys to Men: In Search of the Fairy Tale Ending

"It's time for you to go forth and seek your fortune."

That's what I told my 19-year-old son last week after pondering a book I had been reading about the steps boys have to go through to become men. It's called Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly. It's his attempt to explain the importance of traditional rites of initiation into manhood and how those things were expressed in the fairy tale of the same name. The whole process depends on first separating from the mother, preferably between the ages of 8 and 12.

Anyway, upon hearing my announcement, my son looked at me as if I might be a mythical creature, covered in slimy green grass. Then, smiling and shaking his head, he walked away. I could just imagine his next Facebook status: "My mom is so random."

"Well, that didn't work out as I had planned," I thought. "Maybe I should have waited until I could give him some magic beans or a golden goose or something." On second thought, I knew this modern day fairy tale hero would probably only be motivated by something with epic horsepower and chick magnetism, like a Ferrari.

I grabbed my book. Let's see, the prince has to:

Steal the key from under the Queen's pillow, find his second king, descend into the kitchen, receive a thigh wound. . . I read, flipping pages.

Oh, bother! How do I apply this stuff to my 21st-century formerly homeschooled, now college student son? Maybe he's already stolen the key from under my pillow, and found his second king in his boss at Chick-fil-A. If he hasn't stolen the key, then maybe it won't work if the Queen Mama flat out gives it to him and says, "Here. Go." And what would the King Daddy say, who, according to the fairy tale, gave the key to the Queen Mama for safe keeping in the first place?

All I want is the fairytale ending: The prince wins a virtuous and beautiful princess; claims his kingdom, and lives happily ever after. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe I should consult the author.

That's the trouble with books like this. They set off fireworks in your thinking, and then the sparks fall to the ground and fizzle as you realize you don't know how to apply them to your situation. Actually. . .I know what the problem is. The book is for princes, not Queen mothers. The prince has to read the book and take the appropriate action.

Still, like the Little Match Girl, I crave the light, even if it's only a match light and goes out and leaves me in the cold and dark. I crave it so much that after reading a library copy of this book, I ordered my own so that I can read it again with highlighter in hand. Why?

Because men are fascinating, incredibly wonderful creatures, and anything that contributes to my understanding of them helps me to be a better woman and Queen Mama.

More later, after the highlighting.


Kindred Spirit said...

Such a poignant post! I'll have to get this book for my sixteen year old son. It seems ironic at first blush, but fairy tale characters--those who populate stories ostensibly written for children--are often childlike but rarely childish; they have a maturity which many modern young people seem to lack, and their lives are full of tests, quests, and challenges. Maybe one answer to the immaturity problem of young people is to read them more fairy tales; I'm all for it!

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Kindred Spirit,

Yes, I agree with you! Fairy tale characters "are often childlike but rarely childish".

That is probably why I also agree with C.S. Lewis, who believed that fairy tales are for all ages:

"When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."