Saturday, February 11, 2006

Peter Pan is a very deep movie. It contains what I believe are the most horrifying words I have ever heard spoken by a woman. Peter and Wendy are fighting:

Wendy (angry, shouting): Sir, you are both ungallant and deficient!
Peter (arrogant): How am I deficient?
Wendy (whispering, in sudden realization): You're just a boy.

Watch the movie; this exchange is simply awful (not artistically; artistically I adore it). Of course, the ways in which Peter is just a boy are myriad - he is Peter Pan, after all. But the immediate way in which Wendy means what she says is that he is afraid. She is calling him a coward.

I saw The Vagina Monologues tonight, and their 2006 spotlight is on the case of Japanese comfort women in World War II (I hope that your WWII education covered this, but in case it didn't, the Japanese military abducted or deceived a great many young women for servicemen to use as sex slaves during that war). They had a new monologue about the experience of those women.

If you know me well, it will come as no surprise that that monologue made me think of the servicemen's experience. What had they gone through to precipitate their participation in the serial rape of these women? How did they feel about it now? Were there any heroes among them who had done what they could for these abducted girls? How many of them had a moment of clarity where they recognized the barbarity, the utter smallness of what they were doing, and were driven by other horrors into doing it anyway?

I don't mean to excuse the institution, or the actions of those who participated in it. I do mean to call attention to two facts. The first is that the evils of rape go both ways. It is horrible to be raped. It is also horrible to rape someone. I should not wish either experience on my worst enemy.

The second is that this monologue made me think of something which I have wrestled with for at least a decade now: that people get hurt when men give in to fear. More simply put: cowards kill people. Each of the men who drove their Arrows into those women (thanks for the book, Blue Rose) had their own story. Like as not their psyches were battered by their own horror stories of the awesome calamity that was the Second World War. I expect that many of them, deep down, were driven to these proferred women for the animal comforts of sex and control.

I can sympathize with such a story (even feel sorry for the men in it) but it is ultimately a boy's story, ungallant and deficient. A man does not face his fears and rape an abductee. He faces them and overcomes them by grace through faith.

This basic maxim, that cowards kill people, is the reason that Alanna is one of my literary goddesses. It is the reason that Keladry became one, later on. Anybody willing to be halfway honest with himself can see that the world is full of girls seriously wounded (or being wounded) by the cowardice of one or more men. Men and knights (a knight is not a man, but I think a man will be a knight in all the ways that count) don't do that. As Tortallan knights are instructed: You will be sworn to protect those weaker than you. To wear the shield of a knight is an important thing. It means you may not ignore a cry for help. It means that rich and poor, young and old, male and female may look to you for rescue, and you cannot deny them. You may not look away from wrongdoing. The world is full of males ungallant and deficient, mere boys who never grew up into the Narnian kings they were meant to be. And God help me, I'm one of them.

This is why I say that this maxim has dogged me ever since I first apprehended it. So far as it goes, I think it is merely a statement of truth: cowards kill people. Cowardice (being ruled by fear) pertains to death. Courage (acting despite fear) pertains to life. God has not given us a spirit of fear, etc. But he has not just given us the Spirit of power and love and sophrosune. He has given us the Spirit of Life Himself. So far, so good. But what am I to make of the fact that cowardice pertains to death? The obvious answer is that I must be brave. I might even instruct myself as Alanna was instructed: You have learned the laws of Chivalry. Keep them in your heart. Use them as your guides when things are their darkest. They will not fail you if you interpret them with humanity and kindness.

I have made that mistake often enough to be utterly convinced it is a mistake. For one thing, it's acting out of fear - fear of cowardice, but fear nonetheless. But more importantly, I cannot make myself courageous by act of will or moral effort. Anybody who has tried to be courageous will know the truth of this, and the greatest of the historical knights testify (I know, I just read one of them) that both courage and chivalry come alone by the grace of God. If I cannot be courageous by trying, what then? What is there but to admit that I am ungallant and deficient, and just admit that I'm going to kill people?

I think the answer is that courage - indeed, manhood itself - comes only by grace through faith. Isaiah 35:4-6 says,

Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
"Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you."
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.

Then, boys will be men.

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