If you’re not familiar with the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, Maid Maleen, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
There is a push these days to retell fairytales so that the damsel in distress saves not only herself but also the not-so-valiant, usually bumbling, incompetent oaf of a prince. These efforts to empower young girls to not need a knight in shining armor to save them, while commendable from the perspective that girls are strong creatures in their own right, are misplaced and work to build animosity between man and woman, the lover and the beloved, and ultimately the Savior and the saved. Besides, there is no need to alter a story to fit the feminist agenda when fairytales already exist with strong female protagonists – locked up in dark towers by cruel kings – who rescue themselves and go on to save the princes. Maid Maleen is one such story.
Of course, it’s also more than that. The immediate actions of Maid Maleen reflect the bigger, unrecognized (by the world) actions of God to bring His people to Himself. It’s a story of Christ and His bride. While the Grimm brothers’ tale focuses on the actions of Maleen, it’s still a tale of the love our Lord has for His faithful bride, the church. Maleen’s willingness to suffer in the tower for seven years is akin to the Christian’s willingness to suffer all things for Christ. She says as much toward the end of the story when she, using language reminiscent of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3, 6), tells the prince who she is.
I am Maid Maleen, who for thy sake was imprisoned seven years in the darkness, who suffered hunger and thirst, and has lived so long in want and poverty.
The Prince and His bride will be wed. Christ and His Church are to be united at the marriage feast of the lamb (Revelation 19:7-8). There is nothing that can keep this from happening. The words of the fairy tale before us would appear to extend from the following Word of God found in Romans 8:35-39,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Who shall separate Maid Maleen from the love of the prince? Shall “the King who flew into a passion, and ordered a dark tower to be built, into which no ray of sunlight or moonlight should enter”? How about the ruin of the castle, the burning of the towns and villages of her kingdom, and the fields laid to waste? No, in all these things she is more than a conqueror through God who loved her. For we can be sure that neither the enemy that ravaged the whole kingdom, that drove away the king, and slain all the inhabitants, nor the hunger that forced her to eat the stinging nettle plant, nor being turned away from everyone from whom she sought help, nor being a maid to a betrothed bride who threatens to kill her, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate her from the love of God in the prince whom she will, before the end of the story, wed.
That’s the gist of the entire story. But, before we move on to the next tale, let’s consider some details. For instance, the darkness of Maleen’s tower. Apart from Christ we’re in darkness, utter and complete darkness. If we were cut off from our Lord, one might rightly ask, “What else could they do but lament and complain?”
We learn that the prince goes round and round the tower, calling the names of Maleen and her waiting-woman. Those who live in isolation from God, are separated from his Word, from Him calling their names. He’s there calling their names, but they do not hear Him. To be cut off from God is to be deaf to His calling our names (Isaiah 43:1), to not hear the preaching of His Word, which works faith in our hearts (Romans 10:14). We might as well be in a tower, cut off from all “sunlight or moonlight” (John 1:4-5, 9), unable to hear (Matt. 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8, 35; Rev. 2:7, 11, 3:6).
Maleen was imprisoned for seven years, which is a familiar length of time to the Christian. Jacob worked seven years to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage (Genesis 29:18). The reader who remembers this Old Testament story has an advantage in understanding where the Grimm Brothers are going with their tale. It foreshadows the plot that develops once Maleen escapes the tower, a three day effort to remove a stone where then “the first ray of light fell on their darkness.” Yes, you would do well to see an allusion to Jesus rising from the tomb on the third day by rolling back the stone that sealed him in, that blocked all sunlight. This is our story’s resurrection moment. Maleen, who the prince thinks long dead, is alive!
But how is it that Jacob and Rachel foreshadow the prince and Maleen? For starters, both couples must wait seven years before they’re united in marriage. Furthermore, it’s only after seven years that another woman enters the picture. In Genesis it’s Leah with her weak eyes (Gen. 29:17) in contrast to Rachel’s beauty. In Maid Maleen it’s a bride his father chose for him “whose face was as ugly as her wicked heart.” Jacob is deceived by Laban (his soon to be father-in-law) when in the evening, under the cover of darkness, he chooses to send Leah to be united with Jacob. It isn’t until morning, in the light, that Jacob discovers he’s been deceived (Gen. 29:21-25).
Similarly, the prince is expecting to marry one woman but is deceived and ends up marrying another. The difference is that the deception that the prince suffers in our story works to his benefit. He is finally married to his betrothed from seven years ago, to his true bride. Furthermore, darkness is involved in both deceptions to conceal the brides’ true identities. Jacob discovers the deception in the morning light (after he’s already married to Leah) whereas the prince brings in lights before it’s too late, discovering the gold chain he placed around Maleen’s neck at the church.
We see in both accounts (Biblical and fictional) that in a fallen world God is able to work through sin. He doesn’t approve of sin, but he does work through it to carry out His will. The fairyland deception leads to the prince (Jesus) and His bride being wed. What the ugly bride meant for evil (self-good), God used for true good (Gen. 50:20). This can even be extended to include the cruelty of Maleen’s father. His sinful imprisonment of his daughter was, after all, repurposed to bring the prince and Maleen together in the end.
In closing, consider this last thought. The prince’s true bride is the lawful wife he married in the church – Maid Maleen who stood in for the ugly bride. The ugly deceitful bride-to-be was the actual imposter as she has to continually go back to the bride to learn what she said during the wedding. The same goes for Christ’s bride, the Church. The bride consists of the faithful. I propose that the false bride in our story represents the unbelieving Jewish people who, though they come from the blood of God’s chosen people, do not have faith in Christ, and therefore are not truly His bride. Jesus is described as the head of the body, His church (Colossians 1:18), and the Jews have lost their head.
The false bride was rewarded for what she had done by having her head cut off.
God’s chosen people have always been those who trusted in His promise of salvation. Above I mentioned that this story extends from God’s Word in Romans 8:35-39. It does, and it continues with the verse that follow in chapter nine.
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (9:1-8)
It’s not the false bride who is the true bride, though she was chosen by the prince’s father. Maleen is the true and lawful bride because of the wedding promise that binds her in faith to her bridegroom. What a wonderful story of hope for anyone who believes in Christ. We are Maleen. When we have moments in life where we doubt the love of God, where we say to ourselves, “I am not the true bride,” we speak nonsense. The Prince has placed his precious chain around the necks of those whom he loves and he fastened the clasp. Those who believe are part of the Church and the Christian Church is his true bride with whom He has joined hands. We are truly, lawfully, His. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The next Finding Truth in The Story will be on The Skillful Huntsman. Click here to read the fairy tale in advance.
I’m reading the fairly tales from the Fall River Press publication, Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Click here to purchase a copy for yourself.
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