I have come to realise that I have something of an aversion to tragedy in stories. I know deep down that these stories are the gourmet meal of art. And yet, when I sit down and choose a film or book to read in an evening, I’m not sure I want to put my heart through the wringer and so I often I opt for the takeaway snack instead.
Here’s a case in point. I have a tape sitting in my bedside draw that I’ve never played to my children. It’s an episode of Adventures in Odyssey. My kids love Odyssey, just as I did as a child, but this episode made me weep when I first heard it. I was beside myself. It tells the story of a girl called Karen who contracts cancer and eventually dies. Weaved throughout the episode is hope – hope of life and eternity. It is deeply moving (no cheap kiddie menu here). There’s a beauty to the story that’s almost too painful to repeat. But perhaps that’s the issue. I fear that it will be repeated one day; maybe even with one of my own children as the central character. Given this, why would I want to put my daughter and sons through the aching pain of this drama? Why would I cause them to cry? And so I haven’t played that episode to my children.
Enter ‘The Neverending Story’.
I’m a child of the 80’s but I had never seen this film. In fact I think I’ve avoided it deliberately. There were two things I knew about it; 1. It has an incredibly catchy theme song and 2. The horse dies. That’s it. Oh, and it seemed to mentally scar a generation of kids. Given my aversion to tragedy it’s not high up on the list of films to put my kids through.
However, last Sunday we did watch it. I had seen the DVD at a jumble sale and thought ‘maybe it’s time – maybe we need to go through this together’ all the while thinking ‘am I going to mentally scar my children for life?!’
You get a sense of what is to come from the very start of the film. We find that Bastian’s mother has died. Ok. Not going well. Once we get into the land of Fantasia the tragedy just keeps on rolling – literally. ‘The Nothing’ is destroying life. The only hope lies in Atreyu carried by his faithful horse Artax. It’s not long before that hope seems to be in ruins. And when it came to that scene? My 8 year old son was in tears (though he later denied it). How could they do this?!
By the end, I knew why. As Bastian makes all things new and we see Artax alive again, riding freely across the plains with Atreyu across his back, my son couldn’t help himself but laugh!
And there it was, hitting me square between the eyes. This is why we need to read, watch and enter into stories of tragedy. This is why we must teach our children to cry. It’s the loss that brings out the utter beauty of new creation. It’s the darkness that frames the splendour of the dawn. Where there were tears in the face of the darkness, there is now laughter at the joy of life. That’s why this gourmet meal is so satisfying.
Bastian himself puts it best. As he’s flying on Falkor the dragon, he looks at his friends once lost, and delights ‘it’s like the Nothing never was’.
None of this takes away the pain of tragedy. But perhaps that’s the point. Our hope in the future doesn’t remove the pain now, but the pain now seems to enhance the glory later. As we see the devastation of ‘the Nothing’ won’t we whoop with even more delight when God makes a new Something? And not just a new something, but a new world that sadness can never touch. We will laugh with delight that God’s Something infinitely outweighs the Nothing.
As Gandalf says “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
Perhaps I’ll go upstairs and get that tape.
*Cover picture by Jennifer Trafton Peterson – what an incredible artist!