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Into the Woods

Today’s post comes from Jennie LaFortune, who is a prose editor for Segullah journal.

“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brené Brown

Repeat after me – “once upon a time …. on a dark and stormy night…. and then, the knock at the door”. C.S. Lewis said that eventually you’ll be old enough to read fairy tales again. I guess this is why it wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw the darkness in tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel. They are dark and magical. Fast forward a few hundred years or so and we have dementors, Voldemort, and the Capitol in Panem. I remember trudging into class my last year in college for a seminar in Gothic literature. See, I wanted the coveted courses on the Renaissance, Early American Art, or something equally as pretentious. But they were full with the other idealistic seniors who also had convinced their families that a degree in liberal arts and humanities would in fact be very practical. I joked with my roommate that I should borrow some Gothic clothes and black combat boots with a blood red lip to go to class the first day.

I’ll save you the suspense, disappointment, or embarrassment, and say, no, I didn’t dress up, but I was put under a spell of wonder and enlightenment instead. I walked into the secret woods of BYU in a hidden classroom where we talked (or more like they talked; I was too spell bound to speak) about monsters, haunted houses, chainsaw murders, the supernatural, and wait for it – how these are not only of merit but also have deep meaning. And, might I add, the professor is exactly what you are picturing right now- a breath of fresh dark heavy metal air; a regular Ichabod Crane. I had remembered hearing someone nervously joke once that bad things always happen to girls in the woods. As I sat in this class I remembered that saying, but now it was not only girls, but Young Goodman Brown, Brom, Freddy K., and a host of others who were beckoned to the woods. If your instinct was like mine, you run away from the dark woods and into the light.

I wanted to stay in the dark – at least for the duration of this course- and it made me curious why. I began reading “Young Goodman Brown” by Hawthorne for the course, and with the foundation set in class I began to see how, from the beginning of the story, a fog surrounds the mission of Young Goodman Brown. He does not want to leave his love, yet something inside him beckons to go into the dark woods. Hawthorne creates a feeling that it is time for Brown’s test, a test of “faith.” Ironically Faith, his love’s name in his reality, or physical realm at the time, represents a certain idea of the spiritual soon to be tested in the darkness. I was beginning to be enlightened by the darkness. All these people had to be tested. Often in the woods, or down the dark basement, or wherever darkness lies, there is also some sort of monster. Bad, run, scary, right? Not so fast. I learned that “monster” is a derivative from the Latin verb monere, which means to warn, remind, or instruct. Those things, whatever or whomever they may be, that we are straining so hard to run away from, whether in our own supernatural dreams or our reality, are there to warn us and instruct us. Why then are they so hideous to look at?

Fear. It is not faith. Our own faith as Latter-day Saints has taught us there has to be opposition in all things, so why are we so afraid of the darkness, or the unknown, or of being imperfect? Brown, although consumed and nervous, still takes his journey into the woods,the dark abyss, to find out what he needs to know about himself. The woods in many horror stories, fairy tales, and our own life represents what we need to face to find the light. Look inside yourself, as scary as it may seem. Some critics, especially from the Protestant perspective, saw Brown as walking in the dark woods and simultaneously cutting himself off from God and the light. Others, however, said it was the ultimate challenge to find God again, to walk through the hardship and learn who he is to find true light. The truth. “The light and the truth” is a familiar phrase to us. What may not be as familiar is that we sometimes find our God in the dark as we journey toward the light.

The darkness may always be scary, but we have to look up. Many of the people in these stories are survivors. They look at the monster or fix their focus somewhere else and go through the darkness to the light. For Brown, he looks up at the sky, remembering the heaven or God he once knew, representing his “faith” he possesses. In this same moment he feels damned and judged by his townspeople. Sound familiar? Unlike some who triumph over the darkness, Brown ultimately chooses no supernatural grace or wonder, but accepts only the terror of his experience. I don’t want to feel like that. I think Hawthorne warns us to find a hope in the possibility to accept the sinner, of a dark soul, and triumph in a sense in the face of darkness, holding onto faith. So, if the woods are beckoning you, choose faith over fear and find your light.

9 thoughts on “Into the Woods”

  1. When I read the title of your post I thought that it was about a play of that name. I was fortunate enough to see my youngest daughter in that play a couple of years ago. It was an amalgamation of several fairy tales, including "The Baker's Wife", "Cinderella", "Jack and the Bean Stalk", and Rapunzel, if I remember correctly. which took the dark side of those fairy tales and embellished them.

    Prince Charming was unfaithful, and when confronted, he admitted to it, saying "After all, my name is Prince Charming, not Prince Sincere."

    A snappy line to be sure, but also a microsm of today's morals where dark has become viewed as light.


  2. this was a poignant, beautiful message and perspective for me today. that whole opposition in all things aspect of the gospel isn't one we give much attention to. we go on as though there should only be light, only be good and only be true. so much so that it's somewhat terrifying to let go of the iron rod and walk via faith and the old liahona. we might get muddy, dirty, lost. we may hurt people we love. but there is that whole atonement part, too. and there are things we can only learn on our own roads — and the older i get, the more i believe that there truly are many different roads. i don't think alma junior would have had quite as much impact in his service had he not known the depth of the darkness that could have been his without the savior.

    no one ever advocates for intentional "sin", but i do think that we judge others for making choices we disagree with. we forget that god loves them and has provided for them. and some people need that twilight or midnight solitary walk to learn the things they need to learn. our job is to just love and love and love.

    i loved this post, jennie ♥

  3. I have a fascination for fables and fairy tales which have been taken from a different angle (like this picture: http://www.imaginismstudios.com/images/artThumb.jpg.php?id=13102243280.jpg).

    I think my fascination with the slightly askew fairytale is having recognised nobody goes into the wood and comes out the same, with the dark and light different for everyone. I'm not one for the 'happily ever after' ending shoved on the end of so many fairytales, but a continuing epic of adventure and surprises suits me just fine.

  4. Jennie: I love fairytales and fairytale elements in other genres, and I do think there is value in entering the dark. The darkness in fairytales might represent the chaotic side within the individual, conflict with others, or the terror of the cosmos. Luke Skywalker can't move forward until he confronts the darkness within himself in a kiva-inspired scene. Jane Eyre has a madwoman in the attic, showing the fear of female energy gone haywire. Moby Dick has the whale represent nature, God, the Sublime, the Cosmos–the enormity of Everything Out There that we don't understand and can't control. The Heart of Darkness addresses fear coming from all of three of these venues: self, other known people and the immensity of it all.

    Kellie: I don't know if you've seen Kate Bernheimer's collection of contemporary fairytales (some written just for this collection, some published previously), but I loved, loved, loved it. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/137307585

    Jennie, thanks for throwing a little light on the topic of darkness.

  5. I like this post. However, I dislike the short story that I read in an anthology about a person going to the woods and finding everyone he knew worships evil. And yet, I do not want people to fear they need to hide in shame from that which they were innocent victims. Also, I don't want those who committed offences to believe they are beyond the arms of God's love and that after much sorrow and repentance can be forgiven. Also, I want to prevent crimes by being aware of the risk.

    Some of the great examples in my life have lived through the darkness and let their light shine.

  6. Thank you for all your comments and additional insights! Glenn and Blue, you're both so right about the importance of remembering the value or saving power in darkness. It's a hard concept to remember or even have faith in when it is so dark at times. I think fairy tales are so intriguing as some of you above mentioned because they are a microcosm like Glenn pointed out. So many possible layers to examine that point to the human condition.

    Of course there wasn't even room or time to go into our own scriptural account of Joseph Smith in the woods and darkness before the vision.

    On a much lighter note having to do with fairy tales, this artist's site is pretty funny, but also steeped with commentary!

  7. Oh – and a few more things… KDA thanks for mentioning Jane Eyre and other literary findings that show this dark/light interaction. I hadn't extended it out that far! That fairy tale book sounds awesome – and the title is so true. Grimm's and Perrault fairy tales are dark! Disney cleaned it up a bit:)

  8. Real life example? The true story "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand.

    He didn't voluntarily go into the woods and went through unbelievable atrocities and subsequent heartwrenching consequences afterwards – but ultimately did find the light, the light of Christ.

    Perhaps, though, this post is only about fiction.

  9. It seems to me that this whole venture into mortality is "going in the woods." For some, there is more darkness to overcome, but certainly we all have periods of darkness that require us to seek the light. How blessed we are to have the gospel light to brighten our way.

    My father's funeral is in a few hours and I see the light and dark of his life as I reminisce. But we'll just focus on the light today. Doing this helps forgiveness of his darker side. Seeking for the healing balm of Christ's light gives me strength to be better and not bitter for having experienced walking in the woods with my dad. We are both imperfect mortals.

    Fairy tales lighten the mood.

    Thanks for this post and for a place to say something.


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