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Disney: 100 years of waiting for Prince Charming

Lauren Windle is a author, journalist, presenter and public speaker.

Reflecting on the Disney centenary, Lauren Windle finds herself dis-enchanted with Prince Charming and reflecting on what might be a better kind of attraction.
A plastic wind-up Snow White toy stands to the right of the photo, with hands clasped waiting
Photo by King Lip on Unsplash.

Picture the scene: you’re outside running an errand; maybe you’re taking the bins out or cleaning your car in the street. The sun is blazing and you’re in a great mood. Bolstered by the good weather, you start to sing to yourself. Maybe you’ve got Spotify on or the car radio’s playing. Just as you’re getting your groove on to Gaga, someone comes up behind you, about a foot away and joins in with the song . . . Startled, you stop singing and swing round to see the other half of your unsolicited duet.  

The other person also stops and says: ‘Hello, did I frighten you?’ Clearly concerned, you back away towards your house. The person continues: ‘Wait, wait, please don’t run away.’ As you dash through the front door and slam it behind you, you hear your uninvited singing partner pick up the song where the two of you left off in an attempt to serenade you as you flee. 

They never made a Snow White 2. Maybe that’s because watching the slow and agonizing breakdown of a relationship that was entered into prematurely isn’t very ‘Disney’. 

Menacing, right? No one’s stopping to swap numbers with the creepy crooner. Except this is the exact interaction between Snow White and Prince Charming in the Disney film (1937). Word for word. I sat through it to check. Did she call the police? Was she embarrassed and uncomfortable with his invasion of her personal space? Did she drop a message to the other princesses to tell them to watch out for the crackpot future king? None of the above. The next time we hear her speak about the prince, Snow White is talking to the seven dwarfs and explaining that she’s ‘in love with him’, he’s ‘the only one’ for her and ‘there’s nobody like him anywhere at all’. Those are actual quotes.  

When the prince and Snow White are finally reunited, she is woken from her unconsciousness by his kiss and he leads her away, wordlessly, into the sunset. In the whole film Snow White doesn’t say a word directly to the prince. 

They never made a Snow White 2. Maybe that’s because watching the slow and agonizing breakdown of a relationship that was entered into prematurely isn’t very ‘Disney’. I, for one, would pay to watch as Snow White grows to realize that marrying someone who looms up on young women and breaks into song isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; and as the prince gets fed up with all the woodland creatures leaving their droppings as they traipse through the house to help with all the various daily chores. 

Now this is key so listen up: there is no ‘the one’ and you do not have a ‘soulmate’. 

The relationships we saw as children to model our hopes and dreams on were fundamentally flawed and Disney was at the heart of what I will be calling from here on in ‘The Great Deception’. In our treasured childhood films feelings of love didn’t grow from a deep and mutual understanding of who the other was. It was an encounter that sparked love at first sight, followed by some questionable courtship practices. It’s a sinister day in the magical kingdom when you realise Belle was a hostage with Stockholm syndrome; Ariel changed her species and gave up her voice in order to gain favour with the prince; and Sleeping Beauty was given a non-consensual kiss while unconscious. 

We know all these are fairy stories, but the material we surround ourselves with has a tendency to stick, no matter how impervious we believe ourselves to be. Somewhere between Cinderella’s pre-midnight Waltz and Aladdin and Jasmine’s market stall encounter we fell for the idea that instant attraction is preferable to that which builds and develops more slowly over a longer period of time. The reality is that some of the best, most fulfilling relationships don’t kick off with irrepressible feelings of chemistry. In some cases, that chemistry wanes over time and in others it develops with greater engagement. 

That said, those of us who are conscious that a pretty face or a banging body aren’t all they’re cracked up to be when contributing to a lifetime-length relationship, do forget that attraction is still important. The best depiction of a healthy attraction I’ve heard is Will van der Hart’s on The Dating Course. He compares a relationship to a church candle – one of those fat pillar ones. The attraction is the wick; you need it to get the thing going. But if you’re all wick, you’ll burn out quickly. The wax is the substance, the friendship, the deeper understanding of each other, the experiences you share. But if you’re all wax, you can’t get the flame going. However, if you have both, you’ve got a candle that will burn brightly and for a long time. 

Another glug of Kool-Aid that Snow White had guzzled down was this idea of ‘the one’. Now this is key so listen up: there is no ‘the one’ and you do not have a ‘soulmate’. Neither of those things exist. Mr/Mrs Right is not out there. Get on with your life. 

The entertainment conglomerate has done its best in recent years to repent for the generations of young girls with unrealistic romantic expectations. 

Back in the ancient days of Athens, Plato shared some questionable insight into the origin of humans. Turns out, way back when, people had four legs, four arms and a head with two faces. Zeus, despite being king of the gods, was afraid of what these eight-appendaged, double-faced people could do, so he split them down the middle. Humans, now incomplete, walked the earth pining for their other half, throwing their arms around each other and intertwining their bodies in an attempt to grow together. In summary, the idea of a missing person to complete you is not founded on any scientific or biblical truth. It’s misinformation from Plato and Jerry Maguire. It is not a great premise to build your life and expectations on. It’s a waste of time. 

What someone should have told Walt was that there are a number of people Snow White would meet in her life who would be a suitable marriage partner for her. She would have a different but fulfilling life with each. A person would become ‘the one’ when she chose to commit to them, because she would be making a promise to them to eliminate all others from the equation. Leaving just one. 

The entertainment conglomerate has done its best in recent years to repent for the generations of young girls with unrealistic romantic expectations. They’ve produced a slew of powerful and sassy women, out for adventure with no love interest in sight; see Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon. But for myself and my millennial peers, the stage has already been set. If he doesn’t rock up on a valiant steed, quite frankly, we’re not interested. 

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6 min read

For want of better words... the impact of the indescribable

Henna Cundill is a researcher with the Centre for Autism and Theology at the University of Aberdeen, and editor of the But… Bible Study Series for Young People.

Confronted with a question about belief, Henna Cundill found herself stumbling for words. She contemplates the link between our self-identity and what we can communicate.
A woman stops in her stride down a street and pensively runs her hand through her hair as she looks to the side.
Joseph Frank on Unsplash.

I recently got into conversation with a young man who asked me, “Do you believe in God?” When I replied, “Yes,” I almost regretted it, because his next move was to ask, “Why?” and I found this question troublingly difficult to answer.  

Of course, I could have dredged up the old philosophical arguments for the logical existence of God – but none of that would have really captured the thing I have no words for. Belief is like… Oh, what is it like? A glitch… no, a glimmer… no, like a glimpse of… No. Goodness. What is it? I’m lost for a word or even a metaphor that will somehow express what it feels to say “yes” and “I believe in God” and in that moment, even if only for a moment, to feel oneself transported or transposed out of this tiresome, human existence and into something that is... well, it’s something…  

I think it's fair to say that conversations about believing in God are unusual these days, especially when the circumstance is an 18-year-old lad talking with a woman in her late 30s – albeit the lad in question was a philosophy undergraduate and we were at Cumberland Lodge, where such conversations are welcomed amongst those of all faiths and none. Even so, it still felt rather unusual to be asked a question like that, not out of hostility but just casually over dinner, and to see him genuinely and respectfully interested to hear what I might have to say in response.  

Eventually I did come up with some kind of an answer; I can’t remember what. And naturally, I turned the question back on him. Turns out he did believe in God, in fact he was Jewish, so he stumbled out some kind of answer too, but I think it's fair to say that he was hardly more erudite than I was. Eventually, we both agreed that it was rather difficult to describe the indescribable, and our conversation turned to rather easier topics - the food, the weather, geopolitics... 


There is a loneliness to the feeling that there is a bit of ourselves that cannot be valued because it cannot be shared, and it is hard to recognise a part of our inner world as ‘real’ and valid if it cannot be communicated and affirmed. 

The question of believing in God was done with. Yet here I am weeks later, still pondering why it was so hard for me to articulate what it means to live with that belief, and why that part of the conversation ended, but still felt so unfinished.  

Has faith always been so indescribable? I suspect it rather has not. These dark evenings always tend to lure me to my bookshelves, seeking out my “comfort books” that I read and reread year after year. Mostly cosy fiction of course, but alongside those, a non-fiction favourite is Sheila Fletcher's, Victorian Girls: Lord Lyttleton’s Daughters. The book is a fascinating study of a family of young women in the Victorian era, faithfully compiled from their own real letters and diaries, so that the voices of Meriel, Lucy, Lavinia and May Lyttleton themselves can all be heard clearly on every page. I just love to read this book over and over again, entering into the hopes, sorrows, loves and ambitions of these young women – so similar and yet so different to my own.  

One thing that stands out particularly is how clearly and easily they each articulate their sense of faith. They were, of course, heavily schooled in Victorian public piety, but there is most certainly a real faith there too. A favourite passage of mine is an excerpt from the teenage diary of Lucy Lyttleton, recounting the day of her Confirmation. She speaks of a ‘nice and stilling’ drive to church, with her parents either side in the carriage, and then:  

I seem to remember nothing very distinctly till I went up and knelt on that altar step, feeling the strangest thrill as I did so… and I know how I waited breathlessly for my turn, with the longing for it to be safe done, half feeling that something might yet prevent it. 

Oh, to be so thrilled by a religious ritual, and to have both the words and the courage to write about it. After all Lucy, what if someone might be reading your diary 150 years later?  

In mainstream society nowadays, most of us simply don't talk about faith, religion, and what it all means to us personally in that way. It’s not the done thing in a (presumed) secular society. Consequently, it is now very hard to write about it too. Yet, many philosophers in the past century have observed a link between our self-identity and what we can communicate. For example, philosopher Charles Taylor describes how our sense of ‘self’ is formed in “webs of interlocution” wherein what we take to be “good” relies on what we can effectively talk about, and thus have affirmed by those we talk to. If we turn Taylor’s idea around, might we say that when there are parts of ourselves that we cannot talk about, parts for which we cannot find social recognition and affirmation, then we cease to value those parts of ourselves as good, or may cease to recognise them at all? 

 With that comes a sense of isolation. There is a loneliness to the feeling that there is a bit of ourselves that cannot be valued because it cannot be shared, and it is hard to recognise a part of our inner world as ‘real’ and valid if it cannot be communicated and affirmed.   

To me it feels that, as we talk about faith less and less, and as the language of faith becomes ever more confined, not even just to private conversations but to our own inner worlds, our “webs of interlocution” are beginning to shrink and disintegrate – until believing in God can feel more like dangling on a loose and solitary strand than being part of any kind of web. It’s a lonely place to be – there is a part of me that feels important, but no one can affirm it.  

And yet, by simply asking the question of each other, and being ready to listen respectfully to whatever answer was forthcoming, it seems that me and a teenage lad managed to connect two lonely strands together. It was of no consequence that we worship in different faith traditions, or that neither of us really found the words to say what we wanted to say – a conversation took place, and a certain web of interlocution started to form. For some, reading this, there may be a feeling of resonance, or a moment of understanding, and perhaps that too adds a little to the web, as different people’s words and thoughts and experiences begin to connect across different times and places.   

Webs do more than just create connection; webs capture things too. Perhaps, as this web spreads between different readers and thinkers and speakers, that’s what will happen to this question of believing in God. After a certain point, such a web may even become large enough and robust enough to finally start to capture some useful words, or an apt metaphor, that will really help me to say something about what it means to have faith. To be able to say it is to be able to share it, and in these lonely times, being able to say something is really not nothing.  

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