“But how can it be a good story if it’s so sad?” It was hard to make out the words because she was burying her face in my belly, but I understood exactly what she meant.
It seems impossible that we could love something that awoke our darkest fears and left us in a weeping puddle. It seems like madness that we would subject our children to such pain. But, like countless parents since the beginning of humanity, I’d merrily offered up some entertainment that would terrify as much as it delighted.
Within thirty seconds I figured out the basic plot of The Song of the Sea, the fantastical animated Irish film about the silkies - those seals who came to shore and became human women for a time. This is another mystery of story - why would we devote so much time and lavish so much emotion on something so predictable?
Well, I could predict that the pregnant mother singing so sweetly to her young son wasn’t going to make it into scene two. What I couldn’t predict was that wondrous journey and the magical images that would pull us along for the next hour and more.
These tales of otherworldly parents and children on a quest for happiness in the real world pretty much always end up the same. When I kept reassuring my six year-old that it was all going to end well I was pretty sure I was telling enough of the truth. After all, everyone was smiling in a sweet family tableau at the end. But my daughter couldn’t see all that through her tears.
While the credits rolled I reminded her of how much she’d loved the rest of the movie. I told her to think of how the children were so happy with their daddy even if their mama was off with the other fairyfolk in the sea. Most challenging of all, I tried to make her understand that the best stories are those that open our hearts to experience something powerful and meaningful. Considering that now, two days after that initial viewing, she wants to see it again, I can only assume she heard me. More likely, it’s just a testament to our devotion to stories that transform our everyday view of the world and make us feel.