Cinderella

I don’t write about films that often–I’m much more of a reader than a film watcher, after all–but how can I resist telling you about Disney’s new Cinderella? What can be better than a good and beautiful girl, a handsome and noble prince, and a happy ending?

Visually, it’s stunning. Of course. Disney, I think it’s safe to assume, has the money to do what they want in that area. The palace, the dresses, the magic–gorgeous.

As for the storyline, the joy is that they’ve kept it classic. They haven’t made it darker. They haven’t made it inappropriate. In short, they’ve been wise enough to know that if something’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it. Rather than changing a much-loved tale, they’ve concentrated on telling it well.

I particularly appreciated how well-nuanced the characters are. Here, perhaps, they’ve made a few alterations, but if so, it’s for the better. Cinderella herself is as sweet and innocent as you’d expect her to be, and yet–without in any way making her some sort of fairytale feminist–they’ve also ensured that she’s not a doormat. She doesn’t stay with her horrid step-family because she’s content to be abused. She stays–however hard it is–because she promised her parents she would care for her home. She’s sweet, but underneath that sweetness is strength, not weakness. And that’s admirable.

In this version, Cinderella and the prince accidentally meet in the woods prior to the ball, when he’s hunting. The prince tells Ella he’s an apprentice (“an apprentice king”, he has to clarify later at the ball–ah yes, that does make a bit of a difference…..), which means, as a review I read pointed out, that Ella doesn’t fall in love with him for mercenary reasons, since she gets a chance to meet him when she thought he was just an ordinary guy (though really, Ella dear, what apprentice dresses like that?)

That same scene also gives the prince a more substantial reason to love Ella than merely her breathtaking beauty at the ball. He sees something of her kindness and her courage, and that attracts him too. I’m so glad they did it that way.

As for the prince himself, he’s more substantial too. We see him mature in the course of the film. I love his words to Ella when they finally find each other after soldiers have been shoving her glass slipper on the feet of women all over the country: “Will you take me as I am,” she asks, “an honest country girl who loves you?”, to which he replies, “If you will take me as I am: an apprentice still learning his trade.”

I was also impressed by the way the wicked stepmother was portrayed. She’s certainly a nasty woman, but we know why she’s the way she is, and can even–gasp–feel sorry for her. And that’s important, because people act the way they act for a reason. That doesn’t excuse wrong behaviour, but it makes it more understandable, and it narrows the gap between us and “the baddies”. We’re not as different from them as we’d like to think.

In this post-modern culture, it’s a delight to see a film that portrays a world where there is real good and evil and where goodness–courage and kindness–does win in the end. A world that does contain sadness, but also a world that believes in happy endings. And a world where the heroine’s parting words to the villain are “I forgive you.”

I get two opposite feelings after encountering something like Cinderella. The world isn’t really like that, I remind myself. You’re not beautiful. You’re not going to be the belle of any ball or the sweetheart of any prince. Your life is dull and drab compared to that world. And in a sense, that’s absolutely true. Let’s be realistic here: I’m an ordinary girl living a fairly ordinary life and if I marry, it will be to an ordinary guy.

But then I remind myself that in another sense, our world is much more like the world of Cinderella than I give it credit for. It is full of beauty and wonder. Goodness will win the day. And every good fairytale is only a reflection of the incredible story God is writing, with the ultimate happy ending. It’s hard to believe that when I turn from the glamour of the screen to the frustrations of daily life. But Ella had her burdens too, and they only enriched her happy ending. Indeed, her happy ending would not have been possible without them.

So, yes: I loved it. So much so that SJ is going to humour me by accompanying me for–ahem–my second viewing later this week….

 

Advertisements

Huntingtower

For fifty-five years, Dickson McCunn has lived an uneventful and respectable life as a Glasgow storekeeper. Outwardly, at least. But in his imagination, he is “an incurable romantic”—a lover of adventure—and the books he reads give him the material for his daydreams.

When an early retirement and comfortable means leave him with time on his hands, he decides to do something different, and gleefully embarks on a walking holiday in the countryside.

It is then that he discovers that living in a real adventure is very different from living in an imaginary one, and not nearly so enjoyable. But real adventures also bring responsibilities that cannot be ignored, unless you are willing to be—in McCunn’s words—a coward and a cad.

I’m not one for scary stories, so I was glad that Huntingtower had enough excitement to keep me turning pages eagerly, but not so much that I became jittery. It’s delightful to re-read old favourites; it’s delightful in a different way to read something totally new and to stay up late so that you can see the princess safely rescued before you go to sleep.

I enjoyed seeing how McCunn matured in Huntingtower—how he saw his daydreams collapse in the face of reality, how he saw, in his response to that collapse, who he really was, and how he ended his adventure a better man than he began it. And I love this insight (“romance” here being used in the older, literary sense): “Perhaps all romance in its hour of happening was rough and ugly like this, and only shone rosy in the retrospect.”

I’ve blogged about this before, I know, but it’s worth repeating—as a reminder to myself, if to no one else. We envy storybook heroes and heroines (and real-life ones too), don’t we? Our lives seem boring, or they seem painful, but they don’t seem glamourous, beautiful, or noble. They don’t feel like adventure stories or romances (most of the time, anyway!). They just feel hard. But if we’re where God has put us, doing what He’s given us to do, then we are in an adventure story, and it will shine rosy in retrospect, however dull or however heart-breaking it feels now.

Because living something is always different from reading about it. We might enjoy reading about Elizabeth Bennet’s disastrous home life. It wasn’t fun for her. We might get carried away with the drama of Frodo and his ring. The experience nearly killed Frodo. But the happy endings came in time, as they will come for every Christian, so let’s be patient through the rough and ugly happenings. As Lewis says in The Great Divorce, “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards”. It’s only with the backward look that we’ll be able to see our life for what it truly was.

There were only two things I disliked about Huntingtower. One was the generous amount of Scottish dialect throughout the story. It’s not that I dislike the Scottish; it’s just that it interrupts my smooth flow of reading with unfamiliar language like this: “The lassie wasn’t muckle the easier for getting’ rid o’ them.” Personally, I’m quite content simply to know that a set of characters are Scottish. I don’t need to hear that they are—not for more than the occasional word anyway. But that’s just me!

The second was the liberal scattering of profanity throughout the story. I don’t mind occasional strong language, but I can’t condone mindless profanity.

On the whole, however, Huntingtower was a fun introduction to John Buchan (thanks, Suzannah!), and perhaps it’s an acquaintance I shall pursue further…..

On Singleness

I’m honoured to have a blog post published on the Boundless blog today.  (If you’re a young adult and you’re not already familiar with Boundless, you probably should be. Just saying.)

Click here to read “I’m Single. Is Jesus Enough?”, while I cringe at the thought of how badly I practise what I preach….

And if you’ve arrived here via Boundless, welcome!

 

Keep Us Here

My mind has been hard at work thinking about the future–or worrying about it, more accurately. I feel the urge to think of all the “what if’s” and then try to plan for them, blithely ignoring the fact that the things that do happen in my life are often things I’ve never envisaged.

In the midst of this, a beautiful poem by Robert Frost came to mind. Listen to this:

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

That’s a beautiful prayer for this time of year–this lovely season when trees are bursting their hearts out in blossom and daffodils are saying shy hellos. It’s also a good prayer for the season of life I’m in now, and a reminder for me to focus on the now rather than on the “what if”s”.

Lewis puts it well (no surprise there):

Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

Elisabeth Elliot has a book called Keep a Quiet Heart. I haven’t read it, but I know the title is what I need to do. Keep a quiet heart that focuses on today’s tasks. And today’s flowers.

 

Of Writing and Roving Eyes

(A slightly adapted version of an essay I wrote for my creative writing class.)

I don’t find writing that difficult when I know what to write about. It’s the not knowing, the trying to choose a topic, that’s tricky. Ideas line up before me in a row and I inspect them. “Too hard,” I might say to one, “too obvious,” to another, and “they won’t like you,” to a third. I’m leery of commitment until I’ve found the perfect candidate—a topic that will display the consummate taste and skill of me, the writer. A real catch.

Sometimes, however, I have to make do with a less-than-enamouring topic. Perhaps that’s because, as in my college days, I’ve been assigned the topic and I have no choice but to make the best of it. Perhaps it’s because what I consider the ideal candidate never appears. Whatever the reason, sooner or later I have to say, “Come on then,” and set off with my rather plain topic to make the best of our life together.

And once I’ve made that decision, I find that—somehow—writing happens. It no longer matters whether or not I like my topic. Not really. I can start writing, even if I feel I have nothing to say. Write a line, scratch it out, write another line, write until I have something, however far that something may be from the beautiful assignment I’d hoped for. Because as long as something is there, it can be improved. Add this sentence. Remove that sentence. Polish that paragraph. You can’t make “nothing” beautiful, but there’s always the hope that, with patience, you can make “something” beautiful.

And it’s not always as hard as I thought it would be. Sometimes I find that when my topic and I are facing each other eye to eye, conversation doesn’t flag as badly as I’d feared. I find we have more in common than I’d thought—that there was more to my topic than I’d imagined on initial inspection.

Sooner or later, the assignment is finished. Sometimes, the only consolation at the end is that I have tried. But there are also times which bring the joy of seeing the beauty under the surface, of nurturing something until it becomes worthwhile, and of glimpsing the secrets that are hidden from roving eyes and come only to the committed.