While on my first trip to Vietnam, I found out the shocking truth about one of little girls' favorite stories! This is from Octber 9, 2011.
During my twenty-six day trip to Vietnam, I became close to the Christians who stayed in the house which doubled as a church building. Besides Tom Tune, the American missionary who I worked with, there were about ten others living in this upstairs and downstairs apartment. All except one are related and most are young ladies in their late teens and twenties. One of my chief responsibilities was to work with these young ladies on their English. If they are bi-lingual, it opens doors so even though I am not an English teacher per se, we had an English lesson most nights. The first two times, I engaged them in conversation but then I did what I should have done from the first; I asked what they wanted to study. The young ladies had a ready answer: a very simplified version of The Little Mermaid. It was a brilliant suggestion! This particular book has vocabulary sections/questions at the end of the five chapters. Up until this point in time, I had no idea it was a work of Hans Christian Andersen, who was Danish like my great grandparents. The girls pored over it like it was AP Calculus. You know what I've found? The original, which I perused on WIKIPEDIA, bears almost no resemblance to the Disney movie. Instead, it's dark, gruesome, violent, and extremely depressing! But, the version we worked with was a terrific way to learn. I helped them with their pronunciation, probably their biggest hurdle, and asked them my own questions at the end of each chapter. It was an eye opener for me.
Andersen's fable was penned in 1837 and inspired the famous Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen's harbor which was unveiled in 1913. I would guess I saw the Disney film, which was released in 1989, at my brother Scott's house with his (and Karen's) kids. Most girls I've coached could quote it and sing its songs and I have, in the last several years, coached three girls named Ariel. But, in Andersen's original, the mermaid has no name, has her tongue cut out by the witch in exchange for legs, and is encouraged by her sisters to murder the prince on his wedding night. Did I miss something or did those details not make it into the movie? Of course, the plot and facts of the story were revised- who wants to scare small children to death? In fact, when I spoke on the trip to Vietnam to my church family, I was very vague when I discussed this as part of telling about our English lessons; I didn't want to cause confusion in the minds of our little ones. The movie has a happy ending. It's Disney and it should have a happy ending.
When I look back at my career in teaching and coaching and, to some extent, in mission work, I find myself falling under the spell of what I call The Ariel Syndrome. Subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, I think I can will everything to work out with my students, my players, and those I meet overseas. Not every story has a happy ending or are we ever promised it will. Some kids fail and some kids drop out and some kids never break away from the entanglements which keep their lives in turmoil. And when there is failure, I tend to blame myself. I want the fairy tale finale while forgetting not everybody envisions the same closing act as me. When we finished reading The Little Mermaid, I asked my Vietnamese students what we should study next. Their answer: the gospel of Luke from which I preached my first Sunday there. That sermon focused on the Parable of the Rich Fool in which a wealthy farmer makes plans for days he will not see based on his riches which would not last. That's what the girls wanted to learn because that is life, at least life on this earth. But the good news is that as believers, we have a happily ever after story. We just won't see it on this side of life's curtain. And that's no fable.
Applicable quote of the day:
"If only I could make him understand. I just don't see things the way he does. I don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things, could be bad."
Ariel (from the movie, The Little Mermaid)
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