Category Archives: Literature

Modern Lessons from a Medieval Wardrobe Disaster

This week, I did a post on the patterns of life found in the tale “The Pied Piper of Hamlin.” Feeling (overly) satisfied with the piece and listening to Crispian St. Peters’ 1966 “Pied Piper” playing in the background, I thought I’d tackle another tale.

Today’s tale is “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” A high-level summary follows:

A very rich emperor has a wardrobe crisis and feels he needs some new royal robes. Enter a strange tailor from another land with his unusual assistant. He tells the emperor of a wonderful thread he has that can be used to create the most splendid clothes that only the wise and wonderful and smart can see. Of course, the emperor wants these clothes. He pays a king’s ransom to the tailor who sets up his loom and begins to move all the pieces. As the days and weeks follow, the tailor makes all kinds of statements about his progress and how the robes look. The king’s stewards, advisors, servers, maids, stable hands, and other household servants are called throughout the time of robe creation to review the tailor’s work (no, I don’t know what happened to the usual tailor). Of course, no one sees anything, but no one wants to admit they can’t see anything, so the robes are colorful and regal and have beautiful weaving patterns. At the end, when the tailor declares his work finished, he and his assistant dress the emperor in his new robes. While the emperor prepares a parade to show off his robes, the strange tailor and unusual assistant leave town. The parade steps off without a hitch. As the emperor goes along the parade either in his underwear or naked, no one says anything but how beautiful the clothes are, how colorful the robe is, how unusual the weaving pattern is, how utterly and stunningly regal the emperor looks. It isn’t until the end of the parade when a young child around the age of 5 or 6 looks at his father and in a whisper that could drown out the roar of a lion asks the man, “Why is the emperor naked (or in his underwear)?”

On to the lessons:

Pride is a powerful motivator

We all like to think we are wise, smart, rich, and wonderful to everyone around us. We don’t like to admit we are human and we have shortcomings. Through the power of pride, we try all kinds of things to make ourselves look at least as good as if not better than everyone else.

Peer pressure is also a powerful motivator

No one wants to stand alone. We all want to be part of the pack and run with the herd. It takes a lot of energy and effort to stand alone and think differently and act decisely. Sometimes, it’s easier to give in simply because everyone is doing or thinking or saying something and we don’t want to be challenged for being unique.

Group think cultivates deceit

If everyone in a group thinks and acts and speaks the same way, it’s very easy for a charlatan of counterfeit to ride in and paint the world not as it is but as he thinks it is (or wants it to be). No one will dissent and no one will see the pattern that the counterfeit is painting. However, in a pluralistic group with many views and opinions, deceit can be dashed because each perspective will see the scenario differently and a more reasoned view of reality can be achieved.

A king’s ransom may not be so

The emperor paid a very large price for the invisible robes without any proof. If someone wants to charge an exorbitant fee for what seems like an easy job and they want all the money up front, ask lots of questions. Things may not be what they seem.

Kids say the darndest things

This line used to be the name of a television show that collected and displayed the things kids thought and said. Usually they were cute and sometimes they were quite profound. In this case, only the child had the courage to speak the truth of the matter.

Modern Lessons from a Medieval Musician in a Children’s Tale

I’ve been thinking about children’s tales lately. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the lessons of patterns for adult life that are built into these old stories.

Through a series of unusual topics and non-sequiturs in a conversation with my oldest daughter, we covered mice and the Black Plague and finally we talked about “The Pied Piper of Hamlin Town.”

A high-level summary:

Medieval town is plagued by mice. Everyone knows it’s a problem, but no one seems to know what to do or how to get started. A stranger in every sense of the word waltzes into town. He dresses funny because his clothes don’t match, he plays an unusual flute, and he has a touch of oddness about him. He tells the town council he can rid them of their problem without giving any details, and then he asks an exorbitant price. Everyone agrees. He plays a waltz that has the mice and other rodents hypnotically boogieing out of town and jumping gleefully to their deaths in the nearby river. He comes back and asks for his pay. Everyone is so boggled by the oddity and simplicity of the solution and their lack of funds that they refuse to pay him. He begs and pleads. Ignored and unanswered, he leaves a deadline with an air of threat in it. When the deadline passes without a peep, he appears and plays a different tune that causes all the children to follow him out of town. The parents are powerless to stop the children. He leads them into a cave, never to be seen again. The sole survivor of this incident is a handicapped (disabled in modern parlance) child.

As my daughter and I talked about the lessons in this story, I thought of the following:

Count the cost.

Before you begin a project or enter into an agreement, you need to look at your resources–time, talent, and treasure. You need to be sure those resources will suffice to carry you through the entire project or agreement physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Sometimes the simple solution suffices.

Admittedly, in the real world, playing music doesn’t make the rodents or bad things disappear (I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried). However, the song was simple. As analogy, sometimes the best solution isn’t the latest drug or the most promising software or the newest gadget; the best answer is time or solid work or rest.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

In the old days, a man was as good as his word. If his word was good, people trusted him. Be sure you can keep any vow, oath, or promise you make. Like a Great Teacher once said (in my own inimitable paraphrase), “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Anything else is a crock and attempt at deceit.”

Different doesn’t mean stupid.

People, especially bullies and people who feel lousy about themselves, have a tendency of targeting those who are different as stupid or easy marks for fraudulent games. The hero of this story dressed funny and had a slightly different skill. The people of Hamlin tried to take advantage of his oddness. It did not end well.

Sometimes a curse is really a blessing.

I’ll bet there were days when the parents of that disabled kid felt really awful. I will bet the neighbors made fun of them or clucked their tongues about secret sins and punishment. On that day, when all the kids disappeared, the town’s treatment of the parents probably did not change, but those parents still had their greatest blessing alive and well to be with them.

Spiritual Warfare Lessons in “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”

Author’s Note: I admit it. I miss my college days. The papers exploring ideas; the journal entries connecting life to classwork; the late nights filled with coffee and laughter. I want to do something a little different here… call it a fusion piece. I want to look at literature and see if I can examine it under the microscope of theology, in this case spiritual warfare. Yes, it will be wild, crazy, and zany. Go ahead and check out at this point. I fully understand! =)

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In the mid-70s, Chuck Jones, creator of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Brothers studios, created an animated short TV show based on Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.” A high level summary of the show would be: Mongoose nearly drowns. Family finds mongoose and nurses it back to health. Mongoose expresses gratitude by taking out some nasty snakes, including main characters Nag and Nagaina (cobras), their eggs before hatching, and somewhere in the middle a deadly dust snake.

As a child, I loved watching Rikki-Tikki dart around exploring. The mongoose family motto of “Run and find out” became a subconscious battle cry for a curious, intelligent girl. I remember how Rikki-Tikki’s eyes got red and he snapped to attention in the presence of an enemy. I remember fearing for the life of the young boy. I hated Darzee’s instant presumption that Rikki-Tikki would never survive in the dark tunnel with the enemy cobra. I remember the thrill when Rikki-Tikki emerged triumphant.

My own kids now watch that show. I can hear their squeals of delight thunder through the house. They cheer on Rikki-Tikki and boo for Nag and Nagaina.

Older and more experienced, I see it differently.

I have learned that there is an unseen world of angels and demons. We don’t see them, but they see us. We can be affected by what they do, just as our righteous prayer or weak moment of sin can affect them. We need to admit they exist and can affect the seen world; as we do this, we need to remember that they can do no permanent harm if we are in the center of God’s will.

In watching “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” I see an extra layer. I see the spiritual warfare lessons, and this is what I see.

Lesson 1: When the storms of life nearly drown you, accept help from more sound brothers and sisters.

In the opening scene, Rikki-Tikki is half-dead, nearly drowned by a sudden deluge. He is found by a young boy and his family. They dry him and clean him. He begins to revive. As he revives, he can choose to bolt or he can choose to stay and get food and water. Obviously, he stays or we wouldn’t have a TV show (or the story on which the TV show is based).

As Christians, we need to analyze our lives to determine if we’re being drowned by life’s storms of unemployment or dealing with children’s issues at school or a health crisis. Once we ask for help, we have to graciously receive that help, whether it’s financial or emotional or spiritual.

Lesson 2: Just or unjust, in warfare, the young are hit the hardest.

At the beginning, the tailor bird family tells Rikki-Tikki that a baby fell out of the nest. Nag had a snack, and the fledgling is no more. Toward the end, Rikki-Tikki goes for the cobra eggs. In each case, the enemy sought to cut off a fighter by ending the family line.

We should pray daily for our children; we should also pray for those children that have no one to pray for them. More than that, we should look to be able to offer an encouraging word at the right time or provide a meal or ride in a crunch. We should know the children of our neighbors as well as we do our own. Instead of scrolling past the post from a parent about a child’s bad day or medical issue, take a moment to stop and pray.

Lesson 3: Help comes from the most unusual places.

At the beginning, when Rikki-Tikki is running to find out where his garden needed some effort, he encounters Chuchundra, the musk rat. Chuchundra is a scared, anxious, pitiful creature. Yet, in a moment of clarity, he hears the cobra trying to enter the house and points it out to Rikki-Tikki.

Toward the end, Darzee’s wife, a grieving mother, choose to find the courage to serve as a decoy for Nagaina. She diverted the cobra’s attention long enough for Rikki-Tikki to destroy part of the cobra’s clutch of eggs.

In both of these cases, the unusual yet ordinary served a purpose and provided assistance at the right time. Our still, small Voice so often provides help in His time through unusual earthen vessels.

Lesson 4: Because sometimes the enemy appears without warning, preparation and attention are key.

Karait was a snakeling. The story never indicates whether he’s a cobra or some other venomous beastly creature. It does indicate that Karait has a bite as dangerous as a cobra’s, and he was instantly ready. Rikki-Tikki had to ready even more quickly; without vigilance, Teddy the boy would have been dead.

We too need to be both ready and vigilant. Our enemy prowls about looking for opportunities to steal, kill, and destroy. He is also deceitful, making himself mesmerizing and pleasing in an attempt to lull us into complacency. We need to stay attentive to our still, small Voice. We have some powerful weapons in our arsenal: truth; righteousness; faith; salvation; and the Words inspired by our still, small Voice. When properly applied, these weapons strike a powerful blow. If we don’t have them, it’s difficult to succeed in battle.

Lesson 5: There will always be naysayers prattling about gloom and doom.

When Rikki-Tikki went down the hole to tackle Nagaina in her den, Darzee’s wife immediate wanted to sing a funeral dirge eulogizing Rikki-Tikki for all time in the garden.

Don’t get me wrong; there are times when, as Mercedes Lackey stated, “Glorious destinies result in glorious funerals.” However, Darzee’s wife gave up too soon, prematurely assuming there was no hope.

We must surround ourselves with positive, pragmatic people who will both encourage us with truth and wait for the right time to bring constructive criticism into our minds. When another seems to be sliding backwards into old lifestyles and choices, we must not assume there’s no hope and that’s the way things will always be. We must be friendly and prepared to offer both encouragement and correction in the proper proportions and timing. We must pray without ceasing and love without conditions.