What is Homer’s Odyssey about?
Homer’s Odyssey is the story of a powerful and good king who leaves the comfort and security of his home to rescue a hapless, beautiful lady from the spell of her moral captivity, a tragic figure lost in a faraway land. In doing so, he embraces bitter exile, faces temptations and wilderness spaces. Yet this good king so wants to be with his people and his own beloved that he is willing to do anything to get there—even if it means exchanging immortality for mortality, even if it means going through literal hell. In a bitter, ironic twist, while the good king is gone, his own people set themselves up as faux-rulers of his household, squandering his gifts, attempting to steal his bride. But this king initiates a dazzling rescue mission for his family. First, he returns to his people disguised in meekness. Nobody recognizes the good king. (To quote another great epic, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”) At the right time, however, the king reveals his true identity as the rightful ruler, now to execute judgment. All the servants in his house who are faithful to his kingship are vindicated; all the cruel and malicious rebels who reject his kingship are lost. Finally, this great and good king is reunited with his long estranged love and is greatly rewarded for her faith. And the story of restoration ends where it began years before: in a literal paradise, a garden in a city.
What is Beowulf about?
Beowulf is about a great hero who comes from a far country to rescue a race ravaged by the sins of Cain, a people helpless under the impotent headship of an aged, feeble king who, by his own works, is powerless to keep away evils and monstrosities. This hero is a paradox: on the one hand, he is full of glory, peerlessly perfect; and yet at the same time he never seems to think about himself, always putting his own life on the line for others. A dark evil wants to destroy the joy and fellowship of the helpless race, but this strong hero brings peace to the sin-ravaged land. At the end of the story, on a mountain, he gives his life to defeat his people’s greatest enemy, a terrible serpent, and he is pierced through, thereby securing an unimaginable treasure for his people.
What is Cinderella about?
Cinderella is the story of a prince who lifts his beautiful one from the ashes of servitude, rescues his princess from the cruelty of petty tyrants. In Cinderella, we learn that nothing can stop the love of the one she dances with—not her impoverished condition, not her estrangement, not even the fearful midnight hour. He finds her; he makes her his bride.
What is the point?
Simply this: All great stories are biblical stories because in the biblical story all stories become true. The Gospel is the monomyth from which all other myths are derived—the rock from which all imaginative goodness is cut, the quarry from which all true heroism is hewn. Great stories are echoes of the Gospel. Consequently, J.R.R. Tolkien would tell us, the story of the Scriptures does not dispense with human storytelling, but instead baptizes that human heritage in divine meaning:
The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.
If all stories are biblical, then we can view epics, lyrics, myths, legends, and fairy tales as the human “effoliation and multiple enrichment” of the one true story. They are the leaves of nature on the tree of grace—both a picture of what we are and what we will become.