*The following is an article first published on the Truth and Charity Forum website (truthandcharityforum.org/articles/)
THREE WISE ANIMALS: A NEW STORY TO THE CHRISTMAS TRADITION
By Joe Kral
There have been numerous stories over the centuries regarding the birth of Christ. Over the years, however, many Christmas stories have become more secular. Children tend to be more familiar with the stories of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” than “The Little Drummer Boy” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Much of the modern secular Christmas stories are lackluster and dull in their storytelling and ignore some of the most basic principles of storytelling. Hence the famous quip by CS Lewis, “It is my opinion that a story worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” However, just recently, a new children’s book regarding the Christmas story has been published which should prove to be beneficial to both children and adults alike.
Three Wise Animals, by Mr. Robert G. Seal, centers on the journey of three young creatures who take a perilous journey to present gifts to the Christ child born in Bethlehem. Each character is symbolic of some element of Christian theology. For example, Louis, the main character of the story, is a lamb who wishes to give a wool blanket from his ancestor who was the lead ram for King David. Firstly, Louis’s nature as a lamb is important symbolically since it alludes to not only as Jesus as the “Lamb or God”, but also that Jesus is a shepherd. This lamb is returning to the flock of his ancestor’s descendant shepherd. But Louis’s name is also of importance. Louis is obviously an allusion to Saint King Louis IX of France. This name hints at not only Louis’ royal heritage but also that of Christ’s, who is the King of Kings. Louis also hints at the sacrificial nature of Christ. Lambs, as many Christians already know, were common animals sacrificed at the Temple. They were particularly important for the Passover Feast. Lambs were important to the ancient Israelites not only as a food source and a clothing source, but also as a source for religion practices. As a result, the book helps bridge the gap between the Old and New Testaments and gives parents an excellent opportunity for adults to explain it to their children.Louis, by no means, is alone in his journey to the Christ child. He is accompanied by his friends who also help bridge the space between Old and New Testaments. Joshua the ferret (symbolic of the Ten Commandments and Moses) and Mahmoud (which means “praiseworthy” and is symbolic as a reversal of the golden calf in the Exodus story) the bull. But just like every good story there needs to be an antagonist which comes in the character of Caviel (the last four letters can be used to spell “evil”), a wolf intent on thwarting the Divine mission that the three young animals are on.
The book also has the capacity to use storytelling to explain some difficult theological concepts to children. For example, in many ways modern culture has humanized angels to such a point that many tend to think of angels as merely as another form of humanity. Modern shows such as “Supernatural” and “Lucifer” detail angelic creatures who suffer from jealousy, greed, lust, and other very human traits. However, the character Sarah, the angel who leads the three young beasts, presents an opportunity for the adult to explain that angels are indeed spiritual creatures, but that they can appear in any form they choose; that these creatures are not human, but rather different spiritual creatures altogether. But Sarah also offers the adult an opportunity to explain the celebration of Easter which she foreshadows. Mr. Seal makes an interesting twist on the secularized Easter Bunny and returns it to its proper place within the Christian tradition.
It is not often that a children’s story can have such deep meaning. The vast majority of these types of stories are devoid of such mystery and our world has suffered because of it. Three Wise Animals brings back such mystery and joy. It shows the importance of truly good storytelling for both the reader and the one who is being read to. This idea corresponds nicely to what JRR Tolkien thought about “Fairy Stories”:
“Among those who still have enough wisdom not to think fairy-stories pernicious, the common opinion seems to be that there is a natural connexion between the minds of children and fairy-stories, of the same order as the connexion between children’s bodies and milk. I think this is an error; at best an error of false sentiment, and one that is therefore most often made by those who, for whatever private reason (such as childlessness), tend to think of children as a special kind of creature, almost a different race, rather than as normal, if immature, members of a particular family, and of the human family at large” (see On Fairy-Stories).
Three Wise Animals is able to transcend the modern misperception Tolkien writes about. It follows the principles as spelled out by two of the greatest story-tellers of the Twentieth Century and that is that children’s stories should appeal to adults as well. The intrigue for the adult not only lies within the story itself, but the intellectual meaning that can be drawn out from the story. As a result, the adult should see the deeper meaning of the story and should explain the deeper meaning to the child.
For those Christians who wish to not only discuss the story of the birth of Jesus but explore the mysteries of the Faith, Three Wise Animals should prove to be an excellent vehicle in which to accomplish that task. Stories should engage the culture and this tale engages the problem of a secularized Christmas devoid of the Christ child. In a world that has become increasingly devoid of Christian thinking, this book gives the Christian the opportunity to contemplate higher things. As the author of the Narnia stories once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
The author of this post, Joe Kral, currently serves as a voluntary legislative advisor to Texas Alliance for Life, is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, taught as an adjunct professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, teaches as a Forward Toward Christian Ministry instructor for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and is doing doctoral studies at Harrison Middleton University where he is specializing in the ethical and legal theory of St. Thomas Aquinas. He has been married to his wife, Melissa, since 2004 and they have 2 children together.