Often fairy tales, myths, and legends carry dim echoes of important truths…truths that are universal across time and culture. One such element, common in fairy tales, is interdiction (the forbiddance or prohibition of a specific act, whether explicit or implicit, upon which everything in the tale hinges). The concept of interdiction finds its roots in the the Garden of Eden and God’s instruction to Adam and Eve “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17, NIV). Adam and Eve failed to hold fast against temptation to break the command, and so suffered a terrible cost.
This scenario plays out in countless fairy tales. Little Red Cap, a variant of Little Red Riding Hood, exemplifies the violation of an explicit interdiction. Little Red Cap’s mother warns her not to leave the path to her grandmother’s house, but when the wolf tempts her, pointing out the beauty of the woods and the lovely flowers blossoming off the path, she strays. As a result, the wolf devours both her and her grandmother. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the bear cautions the girl not to speak alone to her mother for it would endanger them both. But at her mother’s persistence, the girl gives in, and in consequence, she dooms the one she loves. In Beauty and the Beast, Beauty’s father breaks an implicit interdiction by stealing the rose, at the cost of either his life or his daughter’s life. And so the tales continue, one situation after another reflecting this reality. If a fairy tale has an interdiction, it will certainly be violated, just as it was in life–and following that violation come dire repercussions.
Chesterton summarized this eloquently in his essay, The Ethics of Elfland, “the true citizen of fairyland is obeying something that he does not understand at all. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.”
But that is never the end of the story. Through heroic deeds and often by painful sacrifices, the consequences of the broken interdiction are overcome. In Little Red Cap, the huntsman rescues Little Red Cap and her grandmother, and they go from death to life. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the girl undertakes a long difficult journey, fraught with danger, to free the one she loves. In Beauty and the Beast, through the giving of Beauty’s life and love, the curse is broken and harmony restored. Again, we have the echo of the real-life redemption story, which restored that lost in the violation of the command. Though this violation inevitably brings death, we have the beautiful hope of restoration, and not just the dim reflection found in fairy tales, but the deep and true reality of Christ crucified. Our hope and our redemption.