One of my favorite books from childhood is The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. The theme has been described as “Be careful what you wish for” — a common thread in Nesbit’s fantasies. The four child protagonists start out by playing at magic, and end up with a real magic ring whose properties take them in unexpected and sometimes frightening directions. At the end, they find their heart’s desire, which has to do — as so often in fairy tales — with reunion, harmony, marriage.
Learning to manage the powerful forces found in and through our own desires is an adventure for a lifetime. Depicting this struggle requires an image not merely found in nature, but built by human ingenuity and labor. The enchanted castle is our body, a mysterious and perilous construction full of wonders and dangers. It is is also the structure of our social life, a place where we meet other people in different “rooms” according to our roles and relationships. It is a stronghold that can be defended against our enemies, or opened up to welcome in the world. In its fullest reality, it is where the unity and health of the kingdom is focused and celebrated.
Restoring health to the world is our struggle and our opportunity, for which our castle-adventures are meant to prepare us. The castle of the Fisher King in Parzival embodies an image of this. Only found when you are not looking for it, it presents a challenge: Can you not only see, but understand what is before your eyes? Can you ask the right question at the right moment? And what will you do when you’ve completely and utterly failed, when all hope seems lost?
Such questions are the ones that preoccupy me right now, and that I’d like to explore on this blog. I’m not entirely sure where these ruminations will take me, but I know this is a quest worth going on. I’d love it if you’d join me, and share your own thoughts about your favorite “castles” in literature, or in your own life.