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 Writer's Desk 

February 13, 2006
Vol. 3, No. 39



Sr. Antonia Ryan, OSB ‘I shall see wonders enough’

Antonia Ryan, OSB, NCR staff writer

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Now and then I like to go back through “The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” a volume we had around the house since I was a little girl. This is the 864-page Pantheon edition, with an essay in back by Joseph Campbell. It is now held together with duct tape and I’ve lugged it with me to college, graduate school and everywhere else I’ve lived as an adult.

A few days ago I re-read one called “The King’s Son Who Feared Nothing.” It begins: “There was once a king’s son, who was no longer content to stay at home in his father’s house, and as he had no fear of anything, he thought: ‘I will go forth into the wide world, there the time will not seem long to me, and I shall see wonders enough.’ ”

In his travels the young man comes to the house of a giant and begins to play with the enormous toys in the giant’s front yard. The giant sees him and cries, “Little worm, why are you playing with my balls? Who gave you strength to do it?”

“Oh, you blockhead,” says the king’s son, “you think indeed that you only have strong arms, I can do everything I want to do.”

A few lines later, the giant asks this remarkable youth to fetch him an apple from the tree of life. The giant says he has been traveling the world but has not been able to find the tree. “I will soon find it,” says the king’s son, “and I do not know what is to prevent me from getting the apple down.” The giant tells him of the dangerous beasts surrounding the garden. “They will be sure to let me in,” says the king’s son. The giant tells him how no one has yet had the luck to seize one of the elusive apples. The youth says, “That luck will be mine.”

* * *

I used to be like that, I thought, as I read the words of this brazen fellow. I still have a picture I drew when I was about 12. The picture shows me standing behind a podium in front of a huge cheering crowd. There’s a banner across the front of the stage that says: “Erin Ryan, Child Author.”

When I went to college, I majored in English literature, with a focus on creative writing. I did not care when people talked about how lit majors made no money. “That luck will be mine,” I figured.

When I was 20, I worked during the summer as an intern at a regional book publishing house where we lived in Winston-Salem, N.C. My dad thought I should probably have something practical to put on my resume. One day I was talking to one of the editors there about the short stories I was writing. He said, “Oh, I used to do that when I was in college” -- indicating that he no longer had time for such things. I bristled. I would never be like that, I decided. I would never sell out.

But now ... no longer do I think he was “selling out.” Someone told me recently that at 31 I “have just begun to live,” but I have lived enough to see that I’m still working on the same book I thought I would finish 11 years ago. There just isn’t time.

I have not given up the creative ideal that was so jarred when I left the encouraging environment of school, where the focus was still on my potential and not on what I had actually done. I do think I’ll finish that book. I just don’t know when. And I have become more and more aware that there are other things involved in my endeavors besides my own effort -- such as grace.

* * *

In the fairy tale, the king’s son succeeds fabulously with the apple of the tree of life, just as he predicted. Even the lion that was guarding the gate follows him to be his servant. Then the jealous giant tricks the king’s son and puts out his eyes, derailing everything.

The poor blind youth wanders around, helpless, but the lion guides him to a brook that has restorative properties. He washes in the river. “And when he arose he had his eyes once more, brighter and clearer than they had ever been. The King’s son thanked God for his great mercy, and traveled with his lion throughout the world.”

Soon afterward, the youth rescues a princess from enchantment and marries her in the midst of great rejoicing. I imagine the young man is going to have to stay in the castle a little more now, but I hope he holds on to some of his zeal -- and his awareness of grace -- even as he takes up the heavy duties of governing a kingdom.

Benedictine Sr. Antonia Ryan is an NCR staff writer. Her e-mail address is aryan@ncronline.org.
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