Saturday, September 1, 2012

I Will Remember You Fondly

How do we know our friends are our friends?  How do we decide to put our faith into another individual when we can never truly know that person's actual thoughts?  It all has to do with selective memory.  A relationship is nothing more than a series of memories reminding us how to feel about the other person.  The more pleasant the memories, the easier it is to trust them.  And, if they have similar positive memories about you, then a friendship can be constructed.

But your mind can always deceive you.

Jim Henson personally directed two episodes of The Storyteller, "The Soldier and Death" and "The Heartless Giant."  It is in this second tale that the themes of friendship and trust are explored.  The story is straightforward, as most folk tales are, but it is the ending of the tale that suggests there is more at play than a simple fable about loyalty.

The story concerns a fearsome giant who has sealed his heart far away so that it no longer troubles him.  He is locked in a dungeon for wreaking havoc throughout the land.  The king's youngest son bonds with the giant, who in turn manipulates him into freeing him from the castle.  After the boy's brothers disappear hunting down the giant, the boy sets forth, searching for the beast whom he once considered his friend.  He discovers the giant's hut surrounded by his brothers turned to stone.  The giant threatens to do the same to the boy, until he realizes that the boy will not try to harm him.

And the boy probably couldn't do much damage anyway.

The boy agrees to become the giant's servant so that he can gain knowledge about the whereabouts of the heart.  His plan is to restore the heart so that the giant can undo his wrongdoings and start being an actual friend.  The two bond over time, despite each one continuing to manipulate the other.  The boy eventually locates the heart, which is kept inside a duck's egg.

Don't ask how he managed to get it in there in the first place.

Although the giant doesn't want his heart restored, he could still die should it be destroyed.  So, the giant frees the brothers and the kind boy decides to give the egg to the giant, because he trusts that the giant will do the right thing and accept his heart again.  Unfortunately, we never get to see if this is actually the case, because the brothers immediately destroy the egg since, from their point of view, the giant cannot be redeemed.  The giant dies and his body turns into a hillside.

And this is the odd part.  The boy eventually grows up to be a king and has children of his own.  And when he tells the story, he changes the ending so that the giant willingly took back his heart and left the kingdom of his own accord, so as not to cause anymore trouble.

So, why didn't Henson just end the story that way in the first place?  Why have a sad ending and then have the main character deliberately make up a happy one?

And why does everyone look so confused about it?

Because, despite the title, the story wasn't about whether or not the giant got his heart back.  The story was about the boy's memory.  His entire relationship with the giant was based on manipulations and untruths.  So he created a false memory for himself.

Our minds are highly suggestible.  There are many cases of people claiming to vividly remember situations that did not actually happen.  This isn't a disorder.  This is just a normal coping mechanism.  And it occurs on a daily basis.

Think back to some of your best friends from long ago.  If you parted on good terms, chances are you'll remember your lives together positively.  Any petty fights or disagreements you may have had are gone from your memory banks because that isn't how you want to remember them or yourself.  We like to think that we always use good judgments, and part of that comes from choosing the right people to acquaint ourselves with.

The lonely boy in the story never learned what the giant intended to do with his heart.  At the end of his life, he was certainly humbled and worried about the well-being of his heart.  But he gave no indication either way of returning the heart or hiding it again.  The boy chose the happy ending for himself because it helped him get through the rest of his life.  Either he was the kid was was constantly tricked by a giant, or he was the kid who managed to make a monster have a change of heart.  He had to be the  hero of his own story.

Sometimes the lies are what keep us going.

The truth just takes away the magic of the memories.

No comments:

Post a Comment