8/30/14

saints and fairies

Amelia asked me to tell her the story of Joan of Arc before going to bed tonight. Of Joan's childhood, we only have a skeleton outline, but leave it to Mark Twain to bring it to life with a beating, vivid heart. I imagine I would be the ideal audience for Mark Twain's novel, The Personal Reflections of Joan of Arc, but even for me, it is a tedious read. However, I loved the fantastical childhood Twain imagined for Joan. My favorite passage is this:
"In a noble open space carpeted with grass on the high ground toward Vaucouleurs stood a most majestic beech tree with wide-reaching arms and a grand spread of shade, and by it a limpid spring of cold water; and on summer days the children went there—oh, every summer for more than five hundred years—went there and sang and danced around the tree for hours together, refreshing themselves at the spring from time to time, and it was most lovely and enjoyable. Also they made wreaths of flowers and hung them upon the tree and about the spring to please the fairies that lived there; for they liked that, being idle innocent little creatures, as all fairies are, and fond of anything delicate and pretty like wild flowers put together in that way. And in return for this attention the fairies did any friendly thing they could for the children, such as keeping the spring always full and clear and cold, and driving away serpents and insects that sting; and so there was never any unkindness between the fairies and the children during more than five hundred years—tradition said a thousand—but only the warmest affection and the most perfect trust and confidence; and whenever a child died the fairies mourned just as that child's playmates did, and the sign of it was there to see; for before the dawn on the day of the funeral they hung a little immortelle over the place where that child was used to sit under the tree. I know this to be true by my own eyes; it is not hearsay. And the reason it was known that the fairies did it was this—that it was made all of black flowers of a sort not known in France anywhere."
Later in the chapter, "...the priest of Domremy had held a religious function under the tree and denounced [the fairies] as being blood-kin to the Fiend and barred them from redemption; and then he warned them never to show themselves again, nor hang any more immortelles, on pain of perpetual banishment from that parish. All the children pleaded for the fairies, and said they were their good friends and dear to them and never did them any harm, but the priest would not listen, and said it was sin and shame to have such friends."

Of course in my own retelling of Joan's life to my children, the fairies have to be a part. Being inquisitive five-year-olds, I can hardly make two sentences without being peppered with questions. "Is the very top of France like the very top of the North Pole?" "Why did God ask her to save France?" "Why were the English bad guys?" "Why did the brigands steal their sheep?" "Why don't we know what Joan looked like?"
They pieced the story together for themselves, and did not have any troubles with visions of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret, or imagining the gifts Joan may have left for the fairies at the fairy tree, but they could not comprehend why the priest would banish the fairies. And there's the essence of childhood - they delight in believing in God and divine missions, visions of saints and fairies, but they cannot wrap their minds around prejudice, hunger for power, or why a priest would banish fairies.

I think Mark Twain would say my girls are 'developmentally' right on target. 

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