Dragooning the Dragon

WE ALL KNOW people who think it wicked to tell children fairy tales which they are not required to believe, though of course not wicked to teach them false doctrines or false news which they are required to believe. They hold that the child must be guarded from the danger of supposing that all frogs turn into princesses or that any pumpkin will at any minute turn into a coach and six, and that he must rather reserve his faith for the sober truth told in the newspapers, which will tell him that all Socialists are Satanists or that the next Act of Parliament will mean work and wealth for all. We ourselves have generally found that children were quite sufficiently intelligent to question the first and that grown-up people were quite sufficiently stupid to swallow the second. It almost looks as if there were something wrong about education; or something wrong about growing up. But the latest news in the educational world is that a more moderate reform is under consideration; and the reformers admit that there is a distinction to be made. One or two fairy tales about pretty things like flowers or butterflies, it is loftily admitted, may do no harm. But fairy tales about dragons and giants, because they are ugly things, may have a dreadful effect upon the delicate instinct for beauty. Schoolmasters discussed the question recently in the light of the most recent psychology of aesthetics. For our part, we have seldom seen a schoolmaster who was half so decorative as a dragon. And though a giant may appear gross or grotesque, he is not necessarily less so when (as in the case of one or two professors) he is reduced to the dimensions of a dwarf. The human race must be a very horrible sight to the human child, if he is really so sensitive an aesthete as all that. But it must be admitted that the objection was not exclusively aesthetic, but also partly ethical. On moral grounds also it was urged that the child may read stories about beanstalks, but not stories about giants; the learned educationists having apparently forgotten that they both occur in the same story. Children, it appears, are not to read about giants and witches because it will encourage cruelty; as the child “will certainly sympathise with the torturers.” This would seem to be an extreme dogma of Original Sin by the Calvinist rather than the Catholic definition of it. Why a little boy reading about another little boy pursued by a dragon should suppose himself to be a dragon, which he is not, instead of a boy, which he is, we have no idea; we suppose it is the dragon complex. Anyhow, psychologists suffer from what may be called the contradiction complex; and we need not say that they contradict themselves flatly even on that one small point. For they also say that the tale of the dragon will produce morbid terror and panic; so that it would almost seem as if the little boy were a little boy after all. But he is a rather curious little boy, who exultantly enjoys eating himself at the same moment that he is mad and miserable with fear of being eaten by himself; his complexity is evidently very complex indeed. Meanwhile, it might perhaps be pointed out that a child generally goes very eagerly to his father or his friend for the experience of fairy tales; whereas he can remain in complete isolation and ignorance, and still have the experience of fear. The child learns without being taught that life contains some element of enmity. His own dreams would provide him with dragons; what the legend provides is St. George.

~ G. K. C.
(Originally published in G.K.'s Weekly)

Saint George Killing the Dragon. By Bernat Martorell.
Tempera on wood, 1430-35; Art Institute, Chicago.