Fairy Tales: The Bronze Ring
Trial lawyers are story tellers. The great ones are master story tellers. And the best stories, the stories that resonate deepest in the minds of ordinary folks, are folk tales, also known as fairy tales. I have a hunger to review the tales we tell our children to learn what I can about how better to communicate, and how best to recognize the simple archetypes that lay beneath the apparent diversity in the "fact patterns" that comprise my practice. Where best to find these stories now?
I had the pleasure not long ago to discover Andrew Lang's works. Lang was born in Scotland in 1844, and was trained in classics at Oxford. He is renowned for his so-called "colored fairy books," compilations of folk tales that were extremely popular in the United States at the time L.Frank Baum wrote about the Wizard of Oz. The first of these books is the Blue Fairy Book, first published in 1889. The first fairy tale in that book is "The Bronze Ring."
This simple story is scarcely 12 pages long, yet it contains everything. Enchantment itself opens the tale: "Once upon a time," we are told. And I am reminded at once of the mystery of origins: Romulus and Remus, Helen at Troy, Adam and Eve. The narrative impulse defines us and every story has a beginning, so we start in places we have never been and cannot go out of the necessity to sing of the day's events. Once upon a time is an invitation to dream. The words are irresistible.
A king's garden lays fallow. He wants it to blossom. A humble gardener is recruited. The gardener tends the Earth and it blossoms. The gardener's son and the king's daughter fall in love. Hope leaps across the great divide of class, status and power. The king wants his daughter to marry the son of his Prime Minister, but she loves the gardener's son. So the king sets a contest that only the Prime Minister's son should win: the two suitors will travel to a distant city and return. The winner will take the hand of the king's daughter.
Sorrow descends on the reader. Surely the king's son has every advantage. But didn't the story begin with words of magic: "Once upon a time ..."? We know these are hopeful words. If we but have the courage to persist and risk all, even our ordinary expectations, hope will be redeemed.
And so it is. A magic ring brings power. Fortunes are reversed. Bad men surface and triumph for a time. But innocence is redeemed in the end. The king's daughter and gardener's son marry; evil is vanquished and destroyed; hope is redeemed.
I read the story yesterday morning and all day and into the night I brooded. I was bidden to suspend disbelief in the implausible, and I responded by doing so. I read, and then re-read hungrily. What sustained me was not so much doubt as the inevitable outcome. The form of the story carried with it the guarantee of success. The hunger I experienced was the need to nourish hope in the face of realism's despair. Yes, the world is darkness and I believe that darkness claims us in the end. All die.
But this death seems less compelling, less real, less sustaining and alive than the need to believe. It would be a silent sort of death to stop hoping. I found myself revising Descartes: "I hope therefor I am." Or perhaps Shakespeare meant this when he reminded that we are such stuff as dreams are made of.
The reality of our days are made of such dismal straw. We struggle, we break, we rage, we err, and, in the end, we simple become undone by time and pass into nothing. But these hard meager truths inspire nothing so much as a passivity at once at odds with a stirring I cannot stop: the stirring that is me, and than must be expressed. Fairy tells give content to my hidden hopes.
I cannot claim to understand the deeper significance of "The Bronze Ring," but I know that each day in countless ways I reach for a ring of my own. The odds are against me. There is danger everywhere, and my hopes are foolish. But, oh, how I love to hope, and, oh, cynical fool that I am, how much of a hypocrite I am and willingly remain. This simple tale nourishes a flicker I want to transform into a flame. I believe this tale although I know it is folly to do so.
Perhaps that is the power of fairy tales: their ability to fire the illusions necessary to live fully.
There is magic in these tales, I tell you it is true. I will try to understand the magic better and share what I can discern here in an occasional series appearing under the banner: Fairy Tale Project.
Next: "Prince Hyancith and the Dear Little Princess"