Fairy Tale Life

Confused and sad, he gazed with sick eyes into the many angry, disturbed, and spiteful faces, and in each one of them, he saw a hidden charm and a spark of affection that glimmered from beneath the hate and distortion. All these people had loved him at one time, and he had not loved any of them. Now he begged their forgiveness and sought to remember something good about each one of them.
Herman Hesse, “Augustus,” The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse, Jack Zipes, trans; New York: Bantam Books, 1995, p. 95

It’s “hell hath no fury” from the perspective of the scorner, not the scorned. But now Augustus is aware of the damage he’s done – the turning point in a fairy tale about a mother’s anxious wish, a godfather’s patience, and the cost of becoming pure of heart in a life of excess wealth, power, and ease. If you have the time for this twenty-six page tale, I hope you read it.

This is Hesse’s answer, or at least one of his answers, to what happens when every wish is granted, nothing must be earned, and there are no consequences to cruel, hurtful actions. It begins when Augustus’ mother says, “I wish that everyone will have to love you.”
Augustus grows up to be a selfish, cruel, and desperately lonely man because of this wish. Surrounded by everything he could possible want, he enjoys and appreciates none of it. Beloved by everyone, he feels no love. He lives the opposite of Saint Francis’ prayer: is it any wonder Augustus’ life is a living hell?

Love isn’t a fairy tale wish. It’s the face of God and the birthright of every living thing. It cannot be killed and it’s available in endless supply. But it’s only found in sharing with another – a person, animal, plant, whatever. Even in solitude, it’s shared with God. If Augustus’ mother had wished for her son to seek such love and offer such love to others, could his life be anything but splendid and holy?

If I seek such love and offer such love to others, could my life be anything but splendid and holy? Could yours?

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I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

2 thoughts on “Fairy Tale Life”

  1. Intriguing last sentence in Hesse’s writing–now I must read this. Isn’t it strange how we take love for granted in the real world as well–and God’s love in particular? It’s very omnipresence can deaden our awareness. May this day be one in which I awaken to it.

    1. May we be awake every day. I’m enjoying the way Hesse’s fairy tales wake me up to see things in a new or different way. peace, Johnna

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