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Archive for the ‘Fairy Tales’ Category

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MerryOldSantaThe debate about Santa Claus is almost as heated as this ridiculous El Niño December we’re having in the Northeast U.S (sorry warm weather lovers, but I’m old school — I like my snow for Christmas).  And while there is nothing I can do about the weather, I think I can help shed some light on the Santa question. (more…)

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For parts one through three, click here

Remember the “name game” we played in Part 2?  Well, I’ll ask you to grant me just a little further indulgence in this.

frozen_anna_gray_hairI said that the name Elsa was a variant of Elizabeth, hence a connection with St. Elizabeth.  Well, Anna, as I also mentioned, is a variant of the name Hannah.  Hannah, in the Old Testament, is the mother of the prophet Samuel.  As a young woman, her situation is almost identical with that of St. Elizabeth.  Both suffer from barrenness.

But, as with Elizabeth, Hannah is graciously granted a child.

Hence Hannah and Elizabeth are in parallel circumstances in the Bible.  So, in fact, are Anna and Elsa in “Frozen.”

Both, you will recall, bear some mark of the scapegoat — Elsa in her strange powers, Anna in the streak of gray in her hair.  Furthermore, a mutual salvation occurs between them at the end; both are saved from “frozen hearts” (though in different ways).

Hans and ElsaContrast that with Prince Hans, whose way of relating to Elsa (and Anna as well, though in diluted form) shows all of the characteristic signs of scapegoating.  Recall Anna’s comment at the end to the effect that he is the only one with a “frozen heart” in Arendelle.

Original Sin

“Michelangelo Sündenfall” by Michelangelo Buonarroti – http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/Fotos/Eva2.jpgTransferred from de.wikipedia to Commons by Roberta F. using CommonsHelper., 9 September 2007 (original upload date), Original uploader was Nitramtrebla at de.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg

“Frozenness” is very much an effect of the Fall of our first parents.  Consequent upon their initial transgression in the Garden, Adam and Eve’s relationship goes from one of honor and love to one of blame (Gen. 3: 12) and use (Gen. 3: 16).  And of course, blame and use are the sole “stuff” of people’s relationships with their scapegoats.  The latter are blamed for the ills of society, and they are at the same time used for the maintenance of order.

But with “a little bit of love,” as the Trolls would say, this can change.  People go from scapegoats to “fixer-uppers,” and we come to see that in fact “everyone is little bit of a fixer-upper” (emphasis mine).

frozen-happy-endingWe haven’t really spoken much about Elsa’s perspective, so I’ll say this: There are basically two different ways of being that result from the “frozenness” of the Fall, both of which have some foundation in fear and self-preservation.  There is, of course, outright selfishness and ego-assertion, as is the case with scapegoaters.  But there is also the self-centered condition of despair, and this can cause people not only to accept, but to cling to the scapegoat position.

And something like this, unfortunately, happens to Elsa.  She is so discouraged by her “different-ness” that she will not allow herself to be loved…or to love, except in the form of isolating herself against those she fears she may hurt.

Divine_Mercy_(Adolf_Hyla_painting)2007-08-16But Jesus Christ and His angels bring the world this striking message: “Be not afraid.”

Jesus Christ comes to reveal God to us, but He also comes to reveal to us the mystery of the human person.  Consider the Holy Wounds in His hands, feet, and side; He enters into our woundedness, and shines the light of divine mercy upon it.

Thus the God-Man makes it possible for us to see two things: 1) We are all wounded, all “marked” in some way…not just a few isolated “scapegoats”; 2) We do not need to be afraid of this.  God is love and mercy itself, and by His grace, we can find hope and healing — and this will often come through touching others in their woundedness, and making ourselves vulnerable to them in ours.

In her own way, Princess Anna got that…and so should we.

Another way of saying “to end something” is to “let it go,” correct?  I think I’ll let this commentary go with “Let It Go”:

Divine Mercy image from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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Frozen_(2013_film)_poster

Working on the fourth and final installment of my commentary on Disney’s “Frozen.”  I hadn’t intended for it to take this long, of course — but what with the holidays, the more time-sensitive “Advent, Waiting, and Preparation” posts, and the details of professional and personal life, I have had to stretch the series out a bit.

Like I said, I’m working on it — just want to make sure I do it right.

In the meantime, I thought to myself: “Self, why not do a quickie on an aspect of the film that stood out in your mind, but would not have fit very comfortably into the overall analysis?”

Frozen_Olaf

The “aspect” in question is actually Olaf the Snowman (voiced by Josh Gad).  Fans of the movie will undoubtedly recall the endearing dance number that summarizes this quite literally “cool” little guy’s dream of seeing summer.

Olaf’s desire is actually not that different from the deepest desire of the human heart: The desire for God.

We are made for eternal friendship with God — indeed, for nothing less than the very vision of God as He is.  We may not all realize this explicitly, but we know that we desire perfection and unlimited goodness and beauty, whatever that may mean.

But this is something well beyond our natural capacity as creatures, and all the more unattainable by our own powers on account of our fallen nature.  If any one of us were to attempt to approach this destiny in its fullness in our current state, it would destroy us (just as it would destroy us if we were to walk right up to the sun, were such a thing possible).

Sound vaguely familiar with regard to “Frozen”?  Olaf’s desire for summer is laudable, but tragically incompatible with his physical make-up.

Elsa_Olaf

Yet by way of a gift from Elsa at the end of the film, he is made able to partake of summer without melting.  In a similar way, God wills to bestow upon all of us, in His Son Jesus Christ, the grace to be fit for and to partake in His joy, His life.

How’s that for a “warm hug?”  Thanks for reading 🙂

Movie poster from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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For parts one and two, click here

“Beware the frozen heart.”  That’s the warning of the singing icemen in the opening scene of “Frozen.”  We take that as the theme of this third installment of our analysis.

frozen_trollWe turn to the unlikely “love experts” in the iceman Kristoff’s (Jonathan Groff) social circle: The Trolls.

We meet them at the very beginning, when Anna (at this point a young child) is taken to them for healing after Elsa, with her magical powers, accidentally paralyzes her.  And then we cross paths with them yet again after Elsa (Idina Menzel) accidentally freezes Anna’s (Kristen Bell) heart when the latter tries to get her to return to Arendelle.

Grandpa Troll (Ciarán Hinds) declares that a frozen heart can only be cured by an act of true love.  And if it doesn’t happen soon, Anna will be frozen forever.

anna saves elsaUnexpectedly, it is Anna who saves Elsa by an act of true love.  Prince Hans approaches Elsa on the ice, sword in hand, ready to execute her for the murder of her sister — a verdict that he himself has passed falsely.

Fortunately for her, Anna is on the scene.  She jumps in the way just as the clock runs out; she freezes into an ice statue, blocking Hans’ blow.

Elsa weeps for her sister’s apparent demise; but right on the tail of her tears comes a miracle: Anna “thaws out” and reawakens, her frozen heart fully cured.

The act of true love that saves Anna ends up being her own.

frozen-happy-endingOf course, she saves Elsa as well — and not just from Hans’ blow.  She shows her that true love is, in fact, the elusive key to keeping her powers in check — a key Elsa has longed for her whole life, but has never been able to find.

So now we must explore the $1,000,000 question: What is this “true love” of which Grandpa Troll speaks?

As mentioned in the prelude to this series of posts, love is to will the good of the other as other — to give of oneself for the life, for the happiness, for the good of a brother, a sister, a friend, or anyone.

For human beings made in the image of the Triune God, for whom it is not good to be alone (Gen. 2: 18), love also entails a certain vulnerability to the other.  In other words, the belovéd open themselves up to one another, in some sense becoming part of one another (in the natural sphere this reaches its height in true romantic love, but all forms of love are characterized by this to varying degrees and in different ways).

St. Thomas AquinasOne of history’s greatest commentators on the virtue of love (if not the greatest) was St. Thomas Aquinas.  Writing in the 13th century, he identified four particular effects of love, one of which is relevant to our analysis — namely, the effect of melting

…which is opposed to freezing.  For things that are frozen are … hard to pierce.  (. . .) Consequently the freezing or hardening of the heart is a disposition incompatible with love: while melting denotes a softening of the heart, whereby the heart shows itself to be ready for the entrance of the beloved.

(Summa Theologiae I-II, 28, 5, quoted in Peter Kreeft’s “Summa of the Summa”; bold added)

HansBetrayelAnna makes a shrewd observation at the end of the film when addressing Hans: “The only one around here with a frozen heart is you.”

Indeed, the physical aspects of frozenness (terrible as they are) pale in comparison to the sickness of a truly frozen heart — a heart focused on its own interests and ambitions, closed to the needs and desires of others.  Anna submits herself to the former (at least in a sense — she could have focused on seeking help for herself instead of putting her energy into saving Elsa) in response to the promptings of her “melting heart,” and through this submission even her apparent death by frozenness brings about salvation.

I have a little bit more to say, and then I’m done.  Thanks for reading.

Image of St. Thomas Aquinas from Wikipedia; movie stills obtained through a Google image search

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frozen_posterFor part 1, click here

As you might expect, I feel I would be remiss in moving forward with my analysis of “Frozen” without first talking about how Jesus Christ fits into the history of the scapegoat mechanism.

Eccehomo1According to René Girard, Christ both reveals and rejects the scapegoat  mechanism by making Himself the scapegoat, the victim who dies for the community.  He thus makes His story the first to be told from the perspective of the victim, who is vindicated against the guilty persecutors — as opposed to the ancient myths that were told from the persecutors’ perspectives and used either to justify or to conceal the murder of the scapegoat.  So “Frozen” is in a certain sense automatically a Christian tale, in that it is predicated on the rescue and vindication of the scapegoat character.

Young ElsaThe people of Arendelle do make Elsa (Idina Menzel) a scapegoat in the traditional sense…they want to kill her.  But the scapegoat mechanism can occur in mitigated forms as well, and what the people of our society can relate to in Elsa’s situation is a particular kind of frustration: She cannot count on her people to help her deal with the reality of her strange (and not freely chosen) powers constructively.

So we can understand why she chooses to run away, seclude herself in the mountains, and be alone…why she decides it’s time to stop trying to conceal her powers and just “let it go” (the polar extreme of the suppression she has been forced to endure her whole life).

Anna-kristoff-from-disney-frozenBut to the rescue come Elsa’s sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), and her newly met companion, Kristoff the iceman (Jonathan Groff).  With that in mind, let’s play a little game.  Tell me I’m reading too much into this if you like, but the names intrigue me.

We should consider first and most obviously the name Kristoff, a Germanic variant of Christopher, which means “Christ-bearer.”  The name makes sense — Kristoff is more or less brought into this situation from without, and he bears the weight of Anna’s (and, by extension, Elsa’s) burden on his shoulders.

movies-frozen-still-1Which brings us to Anna herself.  St. Anna (also known as Anne or Hannah) is very important to us Catholics, because she is the mother of the Blesséd Virgin Mary.  Among her various traditionally recognized intercessory roles is that of protection from storms, which is interesting given Princess Anna’s quest to save Arendelle from the “eternal winter.”

The name itself means “grace,” which is really what Christianity is all about.  Throughout His earthly life, and in His ultimate act of self-sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus Christ touched people in their infirmities, in their weaknesses, in their pain; He was not afraid to enter into their loneliness and isolation, nor did he use the “marks” of the scapegoat as an excuse to ostracize or kill people…

Christ's Wounds…in fact, He would ultimately take these marks upon Himself.

Elza_ElizabethFinally, let’s look at the name Elsa.  Elsa is a Scandinavian variant of Elizabeth, and St. Elizabeth is known for being the cousin of the Blesséd Virgin Mary and the mother of St. John the Baptist.

The_Embrace_of_Elizabeth_and_the_Virgin_MaryAccording to Luke’s Gospel, Mary undertook a long and arduous journey to visit Elizabeth immediately after learning from the archangel Gabriel that both she and Elizabeth were with child.  Tradition recognizes this as one of the first acts of evangelization; in a certain sense, Elizabeth stands in for all of us, for the whole human race awaiting salvation…awaiting the Mother and Son who will spell the end of the serpent’s reign (cf. Genesis 3:15).  The great spiritual writer Thomas Merton spoke of it as the fulfillment not only of the words of all the Prophets, but also of all the poets (and, I would add, of all fairy tales).

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

(Luke 1: 41-45)

Not incidentally, Elizabeth conceived her child late in life.  She is therefore also known for having been set free from the stigma of barrenness.

Elsa is like Elizabeth in both respects.  She desires to be set free from the stigma that has kept her prisoner for most of her life; and, whether she knows it or not, she awaits the intervention of grace (remember Anna?) and of Christ-like (remember Kristoff, the “Christ-Bearer”?) love.  What this looks like in the context of “Frozen” is something I mean to turn to in the next post (which will probably come after Thanksgiving).

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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I don’t think I have ever physically kicked myself.

But I am a little tempted to do so, in opposition to the generally accepted sense of the term, when I recall that Disney’s “Frozen” was playing in my local theater shortly after it first came out, and I did not go see it.  Had I known what a sensation it would become, I might have rethought that decision.

Anyway, I did finally get around to seeing the film a couple weeks ago.  Apart from some broader reflections that I offered last week, here are the thoughts that stand out most in my mind:

René_GirardElsa, the “snow queen” (voiced by Idina Menzel), made me think of Stanford University anthropologist René Girard’s great book “The Scapegoat,” in which he demonstrates the universality of the scapegoat mechanism across all cultures and its concealed presence in world mythology.

ElsaElsa qualifies as a scapegoat in the classical sense — not merely as one who gets blamed for everything, but one who is:

1) distinguished by some unusual mark or deformity — in Elsa’s case, her (often uncontrollable) magical powers of being able to produce and manipulate ice and snow (if we are looking for a more concrete physical mark, it would be the white gloves she wears to conceal these powers);

2) somehow perceived as the cause of the pestilence or curse on the community — Elsa does, of course, set off the “eternal winter” (though not on purpose); and

3) perceived at the same time as the one who can cure the community’s misfortune — a big part of the quest to rescue Elsa is to get her to stop the “eternal winter,” after all.

Contrary to what you might think, the latter is especially troubling with regard to traditional scapegoats.  Very often, this was where human sacrifice would come into play.  The one with the special “mark” would be killed (“sacrificed”), and this person’s death was thought to bring about the harmony and safety of the community.  Subsequently and as a result, the scapegoat would be deified or “mythified.” This basic societal impulse would morph into a variety of well-known stories (the blind Oedipus, for example).

Anna_Elsa2I hope I haven’t got people depressed.  If so, know that the analogy doesn’t end here.  “Frozen” is a much more upbeat and hopeful tale than Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” on which it is loosely based — and, ironically, the scapegoat mechanism doesn’t seem to make it into the latter at all.

Hans-elsa-stormBut before I move on, just one further illustration of how Elsa resembles the traditional scapegoat.  I’m thinking of the scene in which Prince Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana) and his band of men come to capture her in her secluded “ice palace.”  In the face of these intruders who appear to mean her harm, Elsa unleashes her powers in self-defense.

At this point, Hans pleads with her –apparently with concern and sincerity — not to “become the monster they think you are.”

If Elsa’s situation in general reminds me of the scapegoat mechanism in general, then this scene in particular makes me think of perhaps the most striking living example of this societal impulse mentioned in the Bible: The Gerasene demoniac.

Healing_of_the_demon-possessedMost people know this to be the gentleman out of whom Christ cast a host of demons, whom he then allowed to enter a herd of swine.  But if we read the Gospel account carefully we find that beforehand, the demoniac’s community carefully maintained his status as village outcast by chaining him to the tombs.  What results is a vicious circle.  The demoniac rages about, breaks his chains, gashes himself with stones…in short, “becomes the monster they think he is.”

This chaining is both literal and symbolic.  It is a concrete manifestation of the community’s determination to keep him trapped in his scapegoat status.  Elsa faces a somewhat similar situation in “Frozen.”  But, like the Gerasene demoniac, she is rescued by Christ — although in a more indirect, disguised, and admittedly symbolic form.

We’ll get into that next time.

“Frozen” stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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