Friday, December 3, 2010
Why "Notes from the Idiot Child?"
Several stories from the Brothers Grimm feature three brothers who are given a difficult task by their father. The two tales I know best are "The Golden Goose" and "The Golden Bird." In the latter, each brother is asked in turn to capture a magical bird that has dropped a golden feather in their garden. The father is filled with desire for the material value of a bird that sheds such precious feathers. He first sends out the eldest son. This most trusted child immediately meets a fox in the woods, who gives the boy valuable advice about finding the bird. The vain young man, unwilling to believe and respect such an inferior creature, ignores the fox and loses his way. The father sends the second brother, who meets exactly the same fate. Desperately, reluctantly, the father sends the third boy, the "slow" one, the idiot child.
This youngest child does not see things the same way as his brothers. His low rank in the family has led to a distrust of superficial realities of power, and at the same time, an innocence, an openness to alternative and hidden possibilities. From his family's point of view this appears only as gullibility and naivete.
The youngest son meets the fox and gratefully accepts his advice. This leads him to the golden bird and consequently to a series of great adventures and trials. Father and brothers are forgotten. Time and again, in order to surmount a challenge, the third son is asked to believe in something unreasonable that his magic friend, the fox, shares with him. He fails his challenges over and over, not out of pride or greed, but from kindness and a sense of mischievous rebellion. Because of these qualities, the fox continues to believe and trust in the youngest brother, helping him achieve ordinarily impossible tasks. But now there is nothing ordinary about the idiot child's path through the world. It is a path lit by great possibilities and shadowed by great danger.
The idiot child's desire leads him on. He woos a princess, by making her laugh. With the help of the magic fox and the golden bird, the simpleton son eventually inherits a kingdom — a fairy tale metaphor for spiritual satisfaction. His brothers and father are left behind, blinded by materialist values to the real treasures offered by the golden bird, who once flitted temptingly through their garden.
Even when the youngest son has come into his inheritance, one more task is demanded, requiring a greater trust than ever in the invisible world and the word of his magic friend. The fox asks him to cut his head off. When the young man obliges, against his own will but with faith, the fox is revealed to be a prince and the brother of his bride.
I hope that this blog will provide a view from the less seen side. I want to examine books — their topics, themes and authors — not from the point of view of power and prestige and critical high-mindedness, but from the simpleton side. Because I don't think books should be about fame or money, but about spiritual treasure.