The Mortal Foe of My Children: Where Is It All leading?MICHAEL D. O'BRIEN
About forty years ago there began a culture-shift that steadily gathered momentum, a massive influx of children's literature that appeared good on the surface but was fundamentally disordered became the new majority.
At this point, the reader may be saying to himself “What you describe may be true. I've seen evidence of it, and I've struggled to understand it. I've tried to pick my way through the flood of things coming at my children, but I'm not having much success. I'm uneasy about the new culture, but I don't seem to have the skills to argue with it.”
I think most conscientious parents feel this way; We know something is not right, but we don't quite know how to assess it. We worry that our children might be affected adversely by it, but at the same time we don't want to overreact. The image of the "witch-hunt” haunts us(a fear that is strongly reinforced by the new culture), but we are equally concerned about the need to protect our children from being indoctrinated into paganism.
What, then, are we to do?
Our first step must be in the direction of finding a few helpful categories, a standard against which we can measure examples of the new culture. I have found it useful to divide the field of children's culture into roughly four main categories:
I will return to these categories in the next chapter's assessment of children's literature, where I hope to develop them in greater detail. I introduce them here to make a different point. Two generations ago the culture of the Western world was composed of material that, with few exception, was either entirely good (1) or fundamentally good but disordered in some details (2). About forty years ago there began a culture-shift that steadily gathered momentum, a massive influx of material that appeared good on the surface but was fundamentally disordered (3). It became the new majority. During this period entirely good material became the minority, and at the same time more material that was diabolically evil began to appear (4). There is a pattern here. And it raises the question: Where is it all leading?
I think it highly unlikely that we will ever see a popular culture that is wholly dominated by the blatantly diabolical, but I do believe that unless we recognize what is happening, we may soon be living in a culture that is totally dominated by the fundamentally disordered and in which the diabolical is respected as an alternative world view and becomes more influential than the entirely good. Indeed, we may be very close to that condition. I can think of half a dozen recent films that deliberately reverse the meaning of Christian symbols and elevate the diabolical to the status of a saving mythology.
The 1996 film DragonHeart, for example, is the tale of a tenth century kingdom that suffers under a tyrannical king. When the king is killed in a peasant uprising, his son inherits the crown but is himself wounded when he is accidentally impaled on a spike. His heart is pierced, and he is beyond all hope of recovery. The queen takes her son into an underground cave that is the lair of a dragon. She kneels before the dragon, calls him “Lord”, and begs him to save the prince's life. The dragon removes half of his own heart and inserts it into the gaping wound of the prince's chest, then heals the wound with a touch of his claw.
The queen says to her son, "He [the dragon] will save you.” And to the dragon she says, "He [the prince] will grow in your grace.” The prince recovers and grows to manhood, the dragon's heart beating within him.
The prince becomes totally evil, a tyrant like his father, and the viewer is led to believe that, in this detail at least, traditional symbolism is at work the heart of a dragon will make a man into a dragon. Not so, for later we learn that the prince's own evil nature has overshadowed the dragon's good heart. When the dragon reappears in the plot and becomes the central character, we begin to learn that he is not the terrifying monster we think him to be. He dabbles in the role the superstitious peasants have assigned to him (the traditional concept of dragon), but he never really does any harm, except to dragon slayers, and then only when they attack him without provocation. Through his growing friendship with a reformed dragon slayer, we gradually come to see the dragon's true character. He is wise, noble, ethical, and witty. He merely plays upon the irrational fears of the humans regarding dragon because he knows that they are not yet ready to understand the higher wisdom, a vision known only to dragons and their enlightened human initiates. It is corrupt human nature, we are told, that has deformed man's understanding of dragons.
The dragon and his knight-friend assist the peasants in an uprising against the evil prince. Even a Catholic priest is enlisted in the battle. This character is yet another Hollywood buffoon-priest, who in his best moments is a silly, poetic dreamer and at worst a confused and shallow remnant of a dishonored Christian myth. Over and over again, we are shown the ineffectiveness of Christianity against evil and the effective power of The People when they ally themselves with the dragon. The priest sees the choice, abandons his cross, and takes up a bow and arrow, firing two shafts into the head and groin of a practice dummy. In a final battle, he overcomes his Christian scruples and begins to shoot at enemy soldiers, quoting Scripture humorously (even the words of Jesus) every time he shoots. An arrow in a soldier's buttock elicits the priest's sly comment, “Turn the other cheek, brother!” When he aims at the evil prince, he murmurs, “Thou shalt not kill! Thou shalt not kill!” Then proceeds to disobey the divine commandment. The arrow goes straight into the prince's heart, but he does not fall. He pulls the arrow from his heart and smiles. Neither Christian myth nor Christian might can stop this kind of evil!
Here we begin to understand the objectives that the scriptwriter has subtly hatched from the very beginning of the film. The prince cannot die because a dragon's heart beats within him, even though he, not the dragon, has corrupted that heart. The evil prince will die only when the dragon dies. Knowing this, the dragon willingly sacrifices his own life in order to end the reign of evil, receiving a spear thrust into his heart. At this point we see the real purpose of the film — the presentation of the dragon as a Christ-figure!
Shortly before this decisive climax, the dragon describes in mystical tones his version of the history of the universe: "Long ago, when man was young and the dragon already old, the wisest of our race took pity on man. He gathered together all the dragons, who vowed to watch over man always. And at the moment of his death, the night became alive with those stars [pointing to the constellation Draco], and thus was born the dragon's heaven.”
He explains that he had shared his heart with the dying young prince in order to "reunite man and dragon and to ensure my place among my ancient brothers of the sky”.
In the final moments of the film, after the dragon's death, he is assumed into the heavens amidst heart-throbbing music and star bursts and becomes part of the constellation Draco. The crowd of humans watch the spectacle, their faces filled with religious awe. A voice-over narrator says that in the years following Draco's “sacrifice” — a time of justice and brotherhood came upon the world, “golden years warmed by an unworldly light. And when things became most difficult, Draco's star shone more brightly for all of us who knew where to look.”
Few members of the audience would know that, according to the lore of witchcraft and Satanism, the constellation Draco is the original home of Satan and is reverenced in their rituals. Here is a warning about where Gnosticism can lead. What begins as one's insistence on the right to decide the meaning of good and evil leads inevitably to spiritual blindness. Step by step we are led from the wholly good to flawed personal interpretations of good; then, as the will is weakened and the mind darkened, we suffer more serious damage to the foundation itself and arrive finally, if we should lose all reason, at some manifestation of the diabolical.
When this process is promulgated with the genius of modern cinematic technology, packaged in the trappings of art and mysticism, our peril increases exponentially. My wife and I have known devout, intelligent, Christian parents who allowed their young children to watch DragonHeart because they thought it was “just mythology”. This is an understandable naivete', but it is also a symptom of our state of unpreparedness. The evil in corrupt mythology is never rendered harmless simply because it is encapsulated in a literary genre, as if sealed in a watertight compartment. Indeed, there are few things as infectious as mythology.
We would be sadly mistaken if we assumed that the cultural invasion is mainly a conflict of abstract ideas. It is a major front in the battle for the soul of modern man, and as such it necessarily entails elements of spiritual combat. For this reason parents must ask God for the gifts of wisdom, discernment, and vigilance during these times. We must also plead for extraordinary graces and intercede continuously for our children. The invasion reaches into very young minds, relaxing children's instinctive aversion to what is truly frightening. It begins there, but we must understand that it will not end there, for its logical end is a culture that exalts the diabolical. There are a growing number of signs that this process is well under way.
In most toy shops, for example, one can find a number of soft, cuddly dragons and other monsters to befriend. There are several new children's books about lovable dragons who are not evil, merely misunderstood. In one such book, given as a Christmas present to our children by a well-meaning friend, we found six illustrations that attempted to tame the diabolical by dressing it in ingratiating costumes. The illustrator exercised a certain genius that made his work well nigh irresistible. One of the images portrayed a horrible, grotesque being at the foot of a child's bed. The accompanying story told how the child, instead of driving it away, befriended it, and together they lived happily ever after. The demonic being had become the child's guardian. One wonders what has become of guardian angels! Such works seek to help children integrate "the dark side” into their natures, to reconcile good and evil within, and, as our friend expressed it, to "embrace their shadows".
In Lilith, a classical fantasy by the nineteenth-century Christian writer George MacDonald, the voice of Eve calls this darkness “the mortal foe of my children”. In one passage a character describes the coming of “the Shadow”:
He was nothing but blackness. We were frightened the moment we saw him, but we did not run away, we stood and watched him. He came on us as if he would run over us. But before he reached us he began to spread and spread, and grew bigger and bigger, till at last he was so big that he went out of our sight, and we saw him no more, and then he was upon us.
It is when they can no longer see him that his power over them is at its height. They then describe how the shadow temporarily possessed them and bent their personalities in the direction of hatred. He is thrown off by love welling up within their hearts.
The German writer Goethe, in his great classic work Faust, uses a different approach to depict the seduction of mankind. At one point the devil says:
Humanity's most lofty power,
In children's culture a growing fascination with the supernatural is hastening the breakdown of the Christian vision of the spiritual world and the moral order of the universe. Reason and a holy knowledge are despised, while intoxicating signs and wonders increase.
O'Brien, Michael. “The Mortal Foe of My Children: Where Is It All leading?” In Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), 85-97.
Reprinted by permission of Ignatius Press. All rights reserved. Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind. - ISBN 0-89870-678-5.
Chapter six of this book describes the best fantasy literature now available outlining what it is that makes the work of J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and George MacDonald so exceptional.
Michael O'Brien is a professional artist and the author of a series of novels including his most recent A Cry of Stone, the best selling Father Elijah, and Eclipse of the Sun. In addition, he is the author of A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind which looks at the proper role of children's literature in the forming of character (see sample chapters from this book on the CERC site). O'Brien's articles on faith and culture have appeared in numerous journals throughout the English-speaking world. Michael O'Brien is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center. Visit his web site at: studiobrien.com.
© 1998 Ignatius Press
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.