Monday, September 19, 2011

Jesus: "The guy who killed the dragon who killed Cinderella."--Confusion and Creativity

As I child of about 5, I'd been asked the question by a Sunday School teacher, "Who is Jesus?"  My five-year old answer? "He's the guy...who killed the dragon who killed Cinderella."  When asked who the Devil was, I answered, "Oh he's a cowboy!"

These highly unorthodox answers wound up being something that adults in my life, especially my mother, mentioned for years to follow.  If you were put it in a box, it would go under the label "Crazy Things Travis did (or said) When Little."  These were stories my mother enjoyed repeating well into my teenage years (the box was far from empty), and without such repetitions I perhaps would have forgotten the entire incident.

I do have a fragment of my own memory of my answers...I remember feeling a bit of goofy pride in myself when adults around me laughed and repeated the story.  But years later, I found myself wondering, "What in the world had I been thinking?"

The Devil answer is stranger than it may first appear, because of my personal backstory:  After I had been born in Deer Lodge, Montana, while I was still a baby, my parents had moved to Olney, MT, several hundred miles north.  About 30 miles or so from the Canadian border, my parents had settled on 60 acres of mostly-forested land.  Some of the land my father cleared and he grew hay on it.  The hay he used to feed our cows and horses through the winter, other land was summer pasture; we also had chickens and rabbits and an enormous vegetable garden--basically a sort of "Perry Little House on the Prairie."  My parents divorced when I was 9 and after that I lived in town with my mom (first in Whitefish and then Bozeman, MT) until I graduated from high school, during which time lost my connection with the life of our small farm.  But my father had grown up working as a ranch hand and always  wore a cowboy hat and boots and still does.  As a matter of fact, so did I as a little kid and I thought of both my father and myself as being, well, "cowboys."

So what had I been saying then?  That the Devil was one of us?  Or maybe that my father was the devil?  The latter explanation may be tempting, given that my father was known to over-indulge in alcohol on a regular basis, but I think the actual answer is far more simple:  There was a Western song (as in Country and Western) called "Ghost Riders in the Sky," which portrayed the devil as having a herd of cattle in the sky and tormented ghost riders forced to herd them.  I think I had heard the song and because of that it seemed reasonable to say, "The Devil is a cowboy."

Mind you, when Mr. and Mrs. Munter drove north 30 plus miles from Kalispell to Olney every Sunday, volunteering to start a Sunday School and a church service, there wasn't a church of any kind in that town.  My parents had some religious knowledge but like typical Montanans, didn't talk about it much.  So I hadn't been educated in any of the proper "churchy" answers to religious questions.  So I'm not even sure I knew the Devil was supposed to be one of the bad guys...but I think I did remember the song.

On the other hand, I'm sure I did  have a sense that Jesus was a good guy.  Which is why I identified him with a dragon-slayer.  I'd like to claim this idea as entirely original, but I think I know where it came from:

Not in Cinderella, but in the Disney film Sleeping Beauty, the witch queen, after casting a death-like sleep over the young princess, transforms herself into a dragon, which is fought and slain by the dashing young prince (with some fairy assistance).  I think I had probably seen the film before I gave my answer, thought of that dragon-slaying hero as the most awesome guy ever, and when asked who Jesus was, I decided that He must be that same man.

So my confusion of the details of the movie, mixing up who the heroine actually was, confusing sleep for death, confusing who was the referenced hero, all wound up creating a kind of original story in which Cinderella most definitely does NOT live "happily ever after."  And my confusion of the details of a song made the Lord of Evil of the same basic type as my own father...though he would wear a black hat, naturally...;)

This leads me to conclude that confusion, an enemy of accuracy, is a friend of creativity.  Many stories--most, even--qualify as other stories retold, with certain elements mixed up.  If as a story teller, you're stumped at coming up with something new, take a look at stories that have already been told.  Tell them again, with the elements confused.  You might find yourself producing something that strikes people as altogether new.

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