The truth about dragons

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Revelation 12:9

Slaying the dragonOne thing I wish we could teach young people is the truth about dragons. It has to be taught indirectly, through metaphor, because the unseen world is–well, unseen. Some people who read this might become a little annoyed because something doesn’t want them to believe it. I think that sort of anger is the dragon’s breath, warning them away.

The primary mission of dragons is simply to keep people from the truth, particularly those truths that lead most directly and surely to joy. This is mainly because dragons are not themselves happy, having chosen to follow the theory that joy could be theirs as an entitlement rather than as what it always has been and always will be–a momentary balance requiring eternal care.

So now they wander the dark regions, trying to vindicate themselves by blocking the way of others to rather simple moments that unaccountably become forever.

I’ve acquired a taste for meeting dragons–often quite suddenly–because I’ve learned, slowly and after long, torturous detours, that, first, dragons are a sure sign of treasure–some truth that’s new to me is close at hand–and, second, dragons are mainly bluff. They have no real power–except the power of illusion and dread. It’s true that they often trick people into doing awful things, which is their only way to make anything happen. The easiest way to defeat a dragon (though not always the people who have been deceived by one) is to ignore it, and boldly to step forward as though endless joy were your right. I admit that it isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s simpler.

The treasure, as I said, is always the truth–though I don’t mean truth in the way that scientists usually use the word. Their brand of truth is okay–very useful and very powerful–but it’s concerned with inventing props and manipulating the setting–it cannot discern the plot.

The kind of truth I mean is the truth of stories, the truth for which we live, the sum and good of our desire.

Truths of this sort have to be created–not out of nothing, but out of the stories we become, out of life itself. Is it true that you live in a happy family? Is it true that you have faithful friends? Is it true that you are kind and generous? If so, then these are truths that you have helped make more than they are truths that you have discovered. The important truths we create, mainly by using now to bind the past and the future into a pattern we choose, by making and remembering promises–some of them to ourselves, some of them to God, many of them to people we want with us sharing the special kingdom we are making of our lives.

Dragons may be found anywhere, but one predictable abode is near the hearts of young girls. The truth they are guarding has to do with what young girls want. What young women want most is to be loved by an admirable man–who sees and acts with his whole self. This is not a selfish or a petty thing, properly understood, so much as it is one of the attributes of godliness–every good kingdom is held together by love, and so being lovely is part of God’s design for our joy.

Unfortunately, the desire to be lovely makes some young girls vulnerable to insinuations that loveliness must be bought–all the fragrances, and face paints, and costly costumes. Or, it leads them to settle for attracting counterfeit forms of love–attention, lust, and all that–by dressing and speaking immodestly, as though the treasure of their truest being were some sort of joke.

So for them, that’s what it becomes.

Fortunately, the counterfeits are only that. Love is also real. This is what most torments dragons. They come here from a reality before the world where they believed that power alone was enough to create a kingdom worth having. What really enrages them is when an admirable young man enters the story who wants the young woman for more than a game–who sees in her the source of a better life, a true partner in making of the world a kingdom governed by love.

The reason that dragons are so often associated with knights is because nothing upsets them more than an admirable young man. The very existence of such men gives the lie to everything dragons have stood for, because what such young men truly want is not power or money or a high score in Modern Warfare but the admiration of a lovely woman, one who’s not too easily impressed, too soon made glad.

Unfortunately, this desire to be admired leaves young men vulnerable to all sorts of foolish ambitions. Where there is a chance to demonstrate their strength, or skill, or smarts, or daring they are likely to be found snowboarding off cliffs, sticking their heads in the mouths of alligators, or strapping themselves to rockets. Dragons enjoy such spectacles but they don’t get involved.

Dragons do get involved when an admirable young man sets out to demonstrate his worth to a lovely young woman. Trouble comes, often through the usual human weaknesses: doubt, fear, selfishness, pettiness, impatience, deception, jealousy.

Such moments, properly understood, become little or nothing.

Which is not the same as saying the tests are not real, or that they require of us less than courage, nobility, and genuine heroism. Dragons, remember, work through dread, and though dread is an illusion it is an illusion as deep as consciousness itself, and it can only be dissolved by a faith that is equally deep.

There is no avoiding it. A moment will come when wisdom requires us to move past the point of no return, push all our chips to the center of the table, put everything on the line, and risk it all. That’s our fundamental choice: dread or faith.

Dragons are dragons because they choose dread. Knights and princesses live happily ever after because they don’t.

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