Thursday, March 10, 2011

Waking Dagobert

Yesterday I posted on my Prince Valiant blog a panel from a February 1981 installment of the famous adventure strip.

This particular illustration is from an adventure that chronicles Prince Valiant's quest for humility – a quest that leads him to an old hermit who dwells in a deep chasm in the Swiss Alps. Here, according to the old man, lie all of humanity's follies and sorrows.

In one underground cavern, Prince Valiant is shown hundreds of scribes who, day and night, busily record the good intentions of everyone in the world.

But what of that one sleeping scribe?

"Poor Dagobert," the old man sighs. "His job is to record the good intentions people actually fulfill. He has not much to do."

I was a teenager when I first read (and collected) this installment of Prince Valiant, and I have to say that it made an indelible mark on me. Indeed, to this day, I can still find myself thinking of the sleeping Dagobert whenever I promise someone that I'll do this or that; whenever I pledge to myself to complete some noble intention.

Will I follow through? Will I be true to my word and thus wake Dagobert so that he can record the fulfillment of my intention in his book?

It seems to me to be quite easy to tell myself what I need to do – for myself and others – so as to live a better life, a life more aligned with that loving and transforming presence at the heart of all things. It can be quite another thing, however, to actually take action on these things. I don't think I'm alone in this. And the fact that the creators of Prince Valiant (who at that particular time were artist John Cullen Murphy and his son writer Cullen Murphy) included such an archetypal tale in their Sunday newspaper strip says a lot about their awareness of the human condition. Who wouldn't feel a tinge of remorse when confronted by the sleeping Dagobert?

The purpose of such powerful stories, however, is not to paralyze us with guilt. What good would that do?

No, I think these stories, like the season of Lent, are all about inspiring us to, yes, acknowledge our shortcomings and failings, but, more importantly, to seek renewal and healing by reconnecting ourselves to the sacred presence that is both within and beyond us.

Of course, sometimes, like Prince Valiant, we have to be led to some deep, dark place where we're confronted by our "follies and sorrows," by uncomfortable truths, before we can recognize the need for renewal and re-commitment. But the story should never end there. It certainly didn't for Prince Valiant. From that deep chasm with all its strange denizens, he emerged humbled and that bit more enlightened about himself and the way of the world – yet also determined to continue seeking and striving to discern and do what is true and just. Yes, that prince named Valiant definitely was (and remains) an influential role model for me!

I enter this Lenten season with all kinds of good intentions. I've thought and prayed about them, and I believe they are grounded in clarity, hope and courage. My prayer is that their fulfillment will, in turn, generate in my life and in the world yet even greater clarity, hope and courage. I've devised and committed myself to a number of simple yet challenging practices so as to keep me on task, to keep me focused.

In short, I guess you could say I intend on waking Dagobert by awakening myself.

Recommended Off-site Links:
A Prince Named Valiant
Ash Wednesday and the Value of Tradition – Christopher Cocca (The Huffington Post, March 9, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Valiant First Effort, Wouldn't You Say?
Journeying Into the Truth . . . Valiantly, of Course!
Lent: "A Summons to Live Anew"
Our Memory of Eden
Now Is the Acceptable Time
Ash Wednesday Reflections
The Lenten Journey
"Here I Am" – The Lenten Response

Image art: John Cullen Murphy (February 1981).
Image text: Cullen Murphy.
Source: The Sun Herald (Sydney, Australia), June 12, 1983; from the collection of Michael J. Bayly.


Mareczku said...

A good Lenten message. Thanks for sharing.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, as always, Mark, for you positive feedback!