I found the book to continue the theme of Captivating from a quality standpoint. While not as outwardly terrible towards the nature of men as Captivating was in lifting women up, it was horrific from a theological standpoint (he warps the first Scripture he uses to make it fit his theme), as all the one star reviews will attest. At points the book seems almost balanced in how it deals with men. But in a way, it’s been fortunate that I’ve gotten to deal with the books in the order I have, because it puts the whole narrative of traditional feminism out there. To that end, I’m considering this Part 5 of the series compared to a new one, because both books fit together. How?
No, we have not been poisoned by fairy tales and they are not merely “myths.” Far from it. The truth is, we have not taken them seriously enough . . . If masculinity has come under assault, femininity has been brutalized. Eve is the crown of creation, remember? She embodies the exquisite beauty and the exotic mystery of god in a way that nothing else in all creation even comes close to. And so she is the special target of the Evil One; he turns his most vicious malice against her. If he can destroy her or keep her captive, he can ruin the story. (1)
The Basis Of The Fairy Tale
In a way, Eldredge is defending the typical fairy tale narrative in the course of both books, which is consistent with traditional feminism. To that end, it is constructive to review. First, it is mindful to remember that tradition is something that we do habitually without understanding why we do it, or even think about it. Eldredge habitually places men and women into the narrative roles in both books, seeing them as natural when they are not. People generally accept what they are presented with without question, and people aren’t aware they are even being presented with it. A fish doesn’t know anything about water, for instance, because it’s just part of the fish’s existence.
In the eleventh century the worship of the Virgin Mary became widely popular; the reverence bestowed upon the Virgin was extended to the female sex in general, and as a vassal owed obedience to his feudal overlord, so did he owe service and devotion to his lady.
They were closer to God and more like God (reflecting the substitution of Mary for Jesus), since they were the brides of Christ. Women were brides of the Lord, while men remained mere servants. This core theory was extended into practice by the idea of chivalry, or that since women are spiritual betters (holy), that the men (profane) are there to serve them. This is reflected in rituals such as The Ring and the practice of genuflection in a man asking a woman for marriage; these are reflections of the vassal pledging himself to his lord.
Deconstructing The Fairy Tale
Why is this story so deep in our psyche? Every little girl knows the fable without ever being told. She dreams one day her prince will come. Little boys rehearse their part with wooden swords and cardboard shields. And one day the boy, now a young man, realizes that he wants to be the one to win the beauty. . . From ancient fables to the latest blockbuster, the theme of a strong man coming to rescue a beautiful woman is universal to human nature. It is written in our hearts, one of the core desires of every man and woman. (2)
Eldredge reveals that he has fallen to tradition in this passage (how do they get these ideas?), as has most everyone. But he relays the pattern of the fairy tale too. We all know it: Once upon a time, there was a princess. She was the most beautiful maiden in the land. But she was a prisoner in the dark keep with a big bad dragon guarding it. But she got saved when the heroic man braved the elements and injury and slayed the dragon and rescued her. And they lived happily ever after. This is literally how a large number of stories go, both of fantasy like fairy tales, and more reality-based stories. As the older literature is described:
Many medieval romances recount the marvelous adventures of a chivalrous, heroic knight, often of super-human ability, who, abiding chivalry’s strict codes of honor and demeanor, goes on a quest, and fights and defeats monsters and giants, thereby winning favor with a lady.
A perennial theme was the rescue of a lady from the imperiling monster, a theme that would remain throughout the romances of the medieval era.
Having the conceptual plot of the fairy tale established, it’s useful to look at the principal actors:
If we lived back in Ancient Greece, Rome or anywhere else we would view sexual intercourse as little more than a bodily function. . .After the Middle Ages, however, it developed into a commodity to pimp and trade [interesting], and the new cult of sexualized romance that arose from it resulted in a frustration of our more basic attachment needs – a frustration aided and abetted by social institutions placing sexual manipulation at the center of human interactions. This development entrenched a new belief that beauty was the native possession of women, and only women, and conversely that the desire to possess beauty was the lot of males alone, thus creating a division between the sexes that remains in place today.
Woman is the absolute beauty and pearl of great price, and man is to desire the possession of that beauty.
It is important to remember that the concept of romance was invented in this same time to describe this dynamic, as well. Song of Solomon is often brought up as an ideal of “romantic love” (Eldredge does too – 3), but it is well to note that the fairy tale dynamic and hence romance does not apply to it:
Another example comes from the Biblical Song of Solomon, in which the appreciation of beauty and associated longing flows both ways between the man and women, whereas in romantic love beauty is ascribed only to the female, and desire only to the male – the roles are radically split. Moreover, in the Song of Songs there is no hint of the gynocentric arrangement; no appearance of man as a vassal towards women who are both Lord and deity. For the lovers in Song of Songs there already exists a God and so there is no worshiping of the woman as a quasi divinity who can redeem the man’s pathetic existence – as in “romantic” love.
Concluding The Matter
This is only a reflection of the typical narrative men are faced with in life when it comes to women. Unwittingly, man is made the play the role of unworthy liege in these fairy tales, chasing after, pursuing after, rescuing, and fighting for the beauty, the pearl of great price – in other words offering himself (4) and making her feel loved as her Personal Jesus loves her (5).
She’s even to play hard to get, hide herself away, and continue to put up barriers before men that do find her. In other words, she continually recreates the fairy tale in her head and uses her absolute moral authority to demand men to play their part in the fairy tale properly or else. The concepts of headship and submission are even redefined in the tradcon feminist mindset to meet these roles.
It’s so easy to be blind to these dynamics (the power of tradition!) in action, but in looking at both of Eldredge’s books with this in mind, the entire content begins to make sense (and you see why I had to go back to pick up the beauty passages). According to Eldredge, a woman has “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty” (6), and a man has “a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue” (7). What both books teach fit right into the fairy tale narrative of traditional feminism. Woman is the Queen, Princess, Beauty. Man is the Knight in her service, the one sent to rescue her and offer his strength to her. The one to battle all odds, slay the dragons, and generally sacrifice himself for her glory. The one so many do not see being played out repeatedly, again and again. The one that keeps showing up in numerous books, shows, and movies for a reason. It’s because society, steeped in traditional feminism, demands men and women to play these roles.
(1) Wild At Heart by John Eldredge p 183-184. (2) ibid p 182. (3) ibid p 34-35. (4) p188. (5) p192. (6) Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge p 8-9. (7) Wild At Heart p9-10.