Starring In Your Own Story
By Audrey Stallsmith
I recently read Samantha Ellis’s book, How To Be a Heroine, in which she evaluates some of history’s most famous fictional females. Although I wasn’t enthusiastic about all of the heroines she included, I did find her conclusion intriguing—that the heroine most of us must emulate is Scheherazade of Arabian Nights or The Thousand and One Nights. That dauntless dame had to come up with a new story every evening or her husband, a sultan (Arabic king), would kill her.
As the heroes or heroines of our own lives, we real humans also must come up with new stories—rewrite those lives—constantly, to adapt to circumstances we can’t control. Of course, that may seem to make God the villainous king in the Nights tale.
He believed all females were so fickle that the only way to keep them faithful was to kill them. So his wife left him hanging at a crucial point in her story every night, so he would have to allow her to live another day to hear the rest of it. Theoretically then, she actually would have to come up with two stories every night, an end to the first one and the beginning of another.
I have to admit that there is a certain metaphorical similarity there. God too had to set limits on earthly life to keep us humans somewhat in line. Knowing the depths of human depravity already, can you imagine how low we would sink if we lived forever down here and never had to answer for our actions? So it’s true “nobody gets out alive.” All of us will die eventually—providing, of course, that Christ doesn’t return first.
While still here, however, we often meet change with frightened resistance, as if we too believe God to be an irrational and hostile ruler who must be placated. Strangely enough, Scheherazade actually volunteered to be the next queen, knowing that if she could keep the king preoccupied, she could save the lives of countless other women. She outwitted her husband by always coming up with a good enough story that he wanted to hear more. By the time she ran out of stories, he had grown fond enough of her to keep her. That had to be a mixed blessing!
God, too, wants us to make the best stories possible—but for our own sakes, not for our entertainment value. As I’ve pointed out before, God doesn’t cause all of the changes, some of them bad, which come into our lives. Many of those are simply things which happen to humans with free will in an imperfect world.
God can work with them, however. Like a good spouse, He loves us enough not to abandon us. So He has to suffer with us through all the disasters in our lives, some which we brought upon ourselves and some which we didn’t.
We’ve got to stop thinking of God as a critical and hostile monarch and replace that with the image of a king who is on our side, who will stick by us when nobody else does. In reality, our story might be more like an obscure Grimm fairy tale called King Grisly-Beard. In it, a beautiful and haughty princess makes fun of all her royal suitors, especially one good king she nicknames King Grisly-Beard. Eventually her father becomes so angry with her that he marries her to the first bum to pass by, who happens to be a traveling troubadour.
As the wife of a poor man, she lives in a dilapidated cottage and must learn to cook and spin and run a business, selling pots in the marketplace—but doesn’t succeed at any of those tasks. The troubadour actually is King Grisly-Beard, who must have shaved off that beard to make himself unrecognizable. Since the princess apparently only was looking for something to criticize in each of her suitors, we’ll assume she didn’t notice the rest of his features.
We’ll also have to hope that he married the princess because he was infatuated with her beauty and not to humiliate her because she humiliated him.
Considering the sometimes grim nature of the Grimm’s stories, it’s hard to say! We really can’t blame the brothers for that, however, as they actually toned down some of the original folk tales.
At any rate, all of the proud princess’s difficulties teach her that there are more important attributes than beauty, none of which she seems to possess. In an idealized version of this story, she should fall in love with her troubadour and want to stay with him, no matter what. In reality, she appears constantly scared and resentful, wishing she had married the wealthy King Grisly-Beard instead.
Of course, she eventually finds out that she did. I assume her father was in on the trick since he turns up at the somewhat belated wedding feast.
The point is that the king married the princess when she wasn’t worth marrying, and attempted to turn her into a worthy bride. We’ll assume he endured a lot of burnt suppers and tantrums, since he had to live with her during the process and try to teach her how to cook, spin, and etc.
Whether he actually succeeded in converting her into a good wife with more empathy for other people remains ambiguous, in the version that I read anyway. I seriously doubt the princess would have been grateful. Also, the story seems chauvinistic and one-sided. If this king was human, he no doubt had some faults of his own that nobody got around to correcting.
In the fairy tale, however, the princess’s choice was taken away from her. The only truly good King, committed himself to the human race when it wasn’t worth saving too, but he allows each of us to decide for ourselves whether we will commit to him in return. That commitment doesn’t mean we will be spared difficulties, but that he will stick with us through them and teach us to be stronger people in the process.
When we feel like asking “If I belong to a king, why do I have to live in a hovel?” we need to remember that the hovel is only temporary. Provided that we remain faithful to Him through it all, our undeserved relationship to the king is eternal.