The princess in the tower fairy tale

The cult classic movie Shrek highlighted an ingenious fantasy world built on many generations of myths and fairy tales. In the first movie, Shrek steps up to become the proverbial knight in shining armour. His quest? To rescue a princess held captive by an evil dragon in a remote castle tower.

A princess held captive.

A dragon guarding his prize.

A knight in shining armour.

This story still courses through the social bloodstream because it resonates on several levels.

  1. Women really are princesses in disguise. The Bible says that when we give our lives to Jesus, we’re adopted into his royal family with all the rights and responsibilities that brings.
  2. Far too many princesses really are held captive in towers of a thousand kinds—prisons of fear, self-esteem, poor body image, inequality, sin, lies, addiction, and more.
  3. Men really do want to be knights in shining armour. Deep down, guys are wired to come through—or, at least, to try. We long to leave the mores of safety and boredom behind for nobler quests.
  4. There really is a dragon guarding people held captive. The devil is a bloodthirsty, cruel taskmaster hellbent on preventing us from all we can be—knights and princesses alike.
  5. Men really are called to give themselves sacrificially to love and serve their wives. According to Ephesians 5, we’re called to play a “Christ-figure” role in our marriages, loving our wives like Jesus loves the Church. Shauna often calls me her “knight in shining armour.” And I like it.

So there you go. Your life, in a nutshell.

But I also have real problems with this myth, for several reasons:

  1. Far too many women are waiting for their knight in shining armour to ride up the hill, defeat their dragon, and whisk them away into the sunset of future bliss. This is an abdication of their calling, role, and power as a woman. No one can fight our dragons for us. Our bondage is our own. The reality is, a knight is called to ride up alongside a woman to help, to support, to pray, to bleed for her as necessary. But her battle is her own. I think some princesses have rejected this entire motif because it makes them feel weak and inferior to men.
  2. If men identify too closely with the knight in shining armour role, they will see themselves as superior to the poor, helpless princess in the tower. In a healthy relationship there are moments when the knight is the one stuck in the tower and the princess is fighting her way up the hill to give him the support he needs in the battles he’s facing. In my marriage, I really do fight battles and bleed freely and whisk Shauna away in my arms from time to time. But she does the same for me when I need it.
  3. The marriage bond is obviously a primary building block in kingdom life, but what about single knights and princesses? The nuclear family is vital, but the wider community of faith is just as important in our hills, valleys, battles, and victories. A princess should never put all her trust in a single knight unless he’s Jesus Christ—and even then, he’s going to use other people. Dragons fall to teams more easily than to single warriors swinging for their own moon.
  4. In my experience, the dragon is one thing… the princess is another. Someone locked up in a tower for a long time is used to being up there. They may even like it. This is why Jesus asked the lame man, “Do you want to get well?” I’ve found that as I ascend the hill to the tower, some of the more precisely aimed arrows that strike me aren’t coming from the dragon. They’re coming from the princess. And sometimes I end up shooting her back.

How many of us have tried to serve someone only to watch a door slam in our face? If our goal really is the liberation of the captive princess (or the captive knight) we won’t give up, stomping away muttering, “Fine then. Rot in your stupid tower.” Our true prize doesn’t lie in the glory of victory, but in the gleam of triumphant grace.

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Does this myth resonate with you? What about my reflections on it? Comment below!