Mimetic Crises and Children’s Books
While this is a cute little children’s book with pleasant illustrations and my kids like it, there’s a (mimetic desire) reading that is pretty dark.
There is a knight and a dragon that haven’t had a proper knight-dragon battle, so they read up on how to do it and prepare. Once ready via a training montage for each they challenge each other to a duel and commence battle. It ends badly for both of them, more embarrassing than anything else, but in silly incompetence at their role. The librarian who helped the knight shows up and gives them business books on running a barbeque joint and they live happily ever after.
But what I heard:
However, after reading much René Girard and Gil Bailie and spending years thinking about mimetic desire, I hear in this story mimetic doubles in a demythologized atmosphere – the knight and the dragon are really mirror images of each other – with barely enough willpower to carry on the mythologies that should provide the differences.
They both haven’t participated in the sacrificial rituals in that they acknowledge they haven’t performed their sacred duty as yet. Neither have they developed the links to the relevant mythology other than the basic outlines. They seem only superficially aware of their roles and half-heartedly prepare for their roles without the urgency or energy to make it convincing. It seems also that while they are willing to take the outward steps necessary, they lack the cultural resources to commit to the ritual. A librarian is the sole source of information for the knight, and apparently the dragon’s ancestors have sacked enough castles with libraries to have a collection of their own. Without these historical touch-points not much was ever going to happen. Without a connection to the past, ennui is the most pressing danger.
In the end, they can’t go through with the ritual. But hidden in the ending scene is one not unlike the story of Cain and Abel. I don’t know which brother (I am prompted to say both) maps onto Cain, but really neither provide an adequate sacrifice. The illustration of their battle and the aftermath is nothing but smoking tree trunks and broken lances with both rivals in self-defeating positions. The sacred violence is both satisfied and hidden in the ending scene… where the two rivals now are joined in peace and harmony via a barbecue. The victim of which is never even hinted at and we are left clapping for the miraculous peace that has descended on the kingdom. Suspiciously, the librarian seems to be the prompter of ritual action, both to spur the knight to his side of the ancient conflict as well as the inspiration for new rituals.
But you can’t read it like this to your kids. Not when they are under 10 years old.
I recommend listening to Gil’s talks on The Emmaus Road Initiative (restoring a whole-hearted faith in a half-hearted world) or on Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (the challenges of passing on a tradition).