ACCORDING TO G. K. CHESTERTON, tales and stories are an elementary wonder because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. Their effect upon us is both simple and innate. More than that, Chesterton believed that stories are needed because they can awaken us, even startle us, when our lives have languished in familiarity:
Stories remind of us of reality. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. The tales make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water. It is the same for fairytales. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and evil flies out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.
The reality that stories bring also conveys truth. One such story is in Lois Lowry’s Giver series, Gathering Blue. In this futuristic tale, on an earth that has forgotten much of its history and seems to have reverted to the Dark Ages, young Kira has just lost her mother, the only parent that she’s known.
No one would desire Kira. No one ever had, except her mother. Often Katrina had told Kira the story of her birth—the birth of a fatherless girl with a twisted leg—and how her mother had fought to keep her alive. . . . 'They came to take you, Kir. They brought me food and were going to take you away to the Field.'
Kira is clearly a cripple. That’s how she is seen on the outside by everyone except her mother who is now gone. But being crippled is only the outside condition. Her status quickly reminds me of more than one account where people in Christ’s time only saw condition too. They yelled at the blind beggars to get off the road, they fled at the sight of lepers, and laughed at Jesus when he said Jairus’ daughter was only asleep. They would have made fun of the Samaritan woman too. Those who lived in Nazareth said Jesus was just the carpenter’s son. They saw condition, just the surface.
So now, Kira has to make her way in life, and she is afraid that her village will cast her out. As the story continues, we find out that Kira has a gift, one that’s just beginning to grow. She calls it the knowledge and first describes it as a keepsake.
With her thumb, Kira felt a small square of decorated woven cloth. She had forgotten the strip of cloth in the recent, confusing days . . . When she was much younger, the knowledge had come quite unexpectedly to her, and she recalled the look of amazement on her mother’s face as she watched Kira choose and pattern the threads one afternoon with sudden sureness. ‘I didn’t teach you that!’ her mother said laughing with delight and astonishment. ‘I wouldn’t know how!’ Kira hadn’t known how either, not really. It had come about almost magically, as if the threads had spoken to her, or sung. After that first time, the knowledge had grown. . . . the threads began to sing to her.
It is this gift that saves her from exile or death as a cripple, and the village elders now provide her food and her own dwelling so that she can sew and embroider for them.
*Part II will continue the story next week.