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    {Mis?}Judging Heroism

    March 23, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    In the juvenile fiction piece Redwall, the hero, Matthias, risks life and limb for a symbol. A portion of the abbey tapestry containing the portrait of the abbey’s savior, Martin the Warrior, has been stolen by their enemy, Cluny the Scourge, and his hoard of rat warriors (this being an animal story and all). Matthias slips out of the abbey during the night and crosses the meadow to the ruins of the Church of St. Ninian, which Cluny has adopted as his headquarters.

    Redwall (Redwall, Book 1)Matthias sneaks in, but the abbey’s standard is nowhere to be found. Instead, Matthias spends his time freeing the Vole family, who were being held hostage by the enemy. Matthias leaves the Vole family under the protection of Basil Stag Hare and returns to the abbey empty-handed.

    Was this worth the risk?

    This question has been haunting me for a week or two now, and it came to the forefront upon viewing the (excellent, by the way) movie, Stone of Destiny, this past weekend.

    **Spoiler Warning**

    Stone of DestinyStone of Destiny deals with real events (embellished though they probably are). Four young Scottish university students, desiring to awaken national pride in their kinsmen, sneak into Westminster Abbey to retrieve (some would say steal) the Stone of Destiny and bring it back to its rightful home: Scotland.

    If you are unfamiliar with Scottish history, the Stone of Destiny is the Stone of Scone, used for centuries in the coronation of Scottish kings. The stone was taken to England by King Edward I when he captured it in battle in the late 1200s. In the movie, we learn that the stone has been fitted into the chair that is used for the coronation of English kings. By sitting in the chair, the new king is effectively sitting upon both the English coronation chair and the Stone of Destiny at once, which coronates the king as both King of England and of Scotland Scots, according to the traditions of both nations.

    To the Scots, this was a symbol of their repeated subjugation to the England, to their status as a conquered people, disallowed from ruling themselves.

    I do not doubt the necessity of heroics. The question I have been struggling with, however, is how one goes about choosing the appropriate heroics.

    In regard to the movie, I found myself so nervous for the four students. If they failed, would they still consider all of this worth the risk? Because they succeeded, did this make it worth the risk?

    Or was its worth revealed when, upon Christmas morning, news of the theft spread over the country, and citizens were dancing in the streets, waving Scottish flags? That this small victory revived a sense of nationhood and the attendant hope of liberty–is this the litmus test?

    As I read the story of Matthias to my children, I wondered what it was teaching them. Is it worth risking one’s life for the sake of a tattered piece of tapestry? Or, much like the Stone of Destiny, did the retrieval of an artifact represent victory? And was this symbol of victory of the utmost importance?

    I wonder.

    And if symbols are inherently worth defending, what symbols are of such value to our own culture? What symbols ought we to defend? And are we defending them?

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts March 24, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I’m pretty sure that I agree–that the risk is worth it. I think why I had such a hard time with the subject is because I am hard pressed to find such a symbol in my own world. Out here, most of the folks who sport a Southern flag are just trying to annoy others. (As a general rule.) I have come to an understanding, after reading blogs by Southerners, that much was lost in the defeat of the South, so I respect the idea that true Southerners might still hold on to their symbols–after all, the Scottish are holding on to symbols for CENTURIES rather than DECADES!

    It bothers me that I don’t have a symbol. Ought I to have a symbol? Is the lack of symbol a sign that my culture has already lost something? Or did California never really have her symbols? Or am I blind to the fact that something here is a symbol?

    Does the USA currently have symbols? Perhaps her own flag?

    I just don’t know…

    I DID find it interesting that the Tea Party resurrected the Don’t Tread on Me cartoon.

  • Reply Erin March 23, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I understand what you are saying, I’ve pondered those thougths myself. Short answer, I concluded, is ‘yes’:)

  • Reply Kelly March 23, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Those are very good thoughts. We watched The Stone of Destiny a couple of months ago and loved it (strong streak of Scottish blood in my family and my husband’s). I’m very romantic on these subjects and not very objective. I thought it was worth it… the people who did it were willing to take the consequences if they were caught. I also sympathized with Billy Boyd’s character — he wasn’t willing to take the risk because he was about to be married, but then he stood with them at the end.

    It’s been so long since I read Redwall that I don’t really remember what I thought at the time, though since I’ve taken Constance the Badgermum as my online persona you can see that I’m very sympathetic. 🙂

    And, as a Southerner, I feel very strongly about our symbols — the Bonnie Blue flag, the Stars and Bars, the battle flag, the song Dixie… Even though I’ve never felt compelled to fly those flags, I do resent it enormously when people are vilified for doing so, and hate that Dixie is not allowed to be played at public events any more. Also the way we tend to be portrayed as stupid (Southern speech and ways are generally mocked in the media) — it reminded me of the way people were treating the Scots in The Stone of Destiny. Remember how the cop said something snarky to Ian while he was sketching the Abbey? I don’t know if it’s still like that, but a very long time, the Scots were the hicks of the British Empire and the butt of jokes.

    I shall leave off now before I begin ranting. Like I said, I’m not at all objective about these matters.

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