Last night, I watched an old childhood favourite: Disney’s ‘The Sword in the Stone’. Apart from quite distinctly remembering a set of rather creepy looking animals and instruments, watching it as an adult seemed to teach me a whole new set of lessons.
If you’re not familiar with the film, Young Arthur is destined for the throne of England, however in preparing him for it, Merlin desires to give him a proper education. Merlin, the wizard, takes him on many adventures, transforming him into different animals and letting him experience for himself lessons that teach real wisdom.
When Merlin transforms Arthur into a fish, Arthur marvels, exclaiming that he has become a fish. Merlin points out that he is not a fish, he merely looks like one, and that he needs to learn to think and do like a fish. So off they go into the mote, when suddenly they meet the big, hungry pike. What is Merlins advice?
“Use your head!”
And sure enough, in the moment, Arthur the fish swims away, and soon finds the arrow on the water-bed which he uses to trap the pikes mouth open and impained.
In a later occurrence when Merlin has transformed Arthur into a squirrel, he is again faced with new challenges, that of meeting a female squirrel who is drastically in love with him, and a wolf, who would love him to constitute tomorrows poop. While Merlin ends up dealing with the middle aged and clingy ‘buddy’ who has found him, Arthur is left to run, jump, and try to deal with both his new found friend, and the wolf below, and he very often comes within inches of his life.
Merlin teaches true wisdom. He will never tell Arthur the answers. He merely puts Arthur in the situation to learn the answers, by his own experiences. He puts Arthur in the real world, where it’s not fair and it is dangerous. But Arthur is a good learner, and very effectively advances from being dependant on Merlin to forming novel solutions on his own.
Arthur is someone special. From the very start he is keen to help his brother Kaye, he runs in to the dangerous forest to fetch the arrow, he longs to be Kaye’s squire at the tournament. He loves taking chances, he thinks using his head and he never becomes disheartened through the degrading treatment he receives from his adopted family. While all around him are just happy to keep within their traditions, living in the castle, eating fine banquets, and measuring success with the sword or the lance, Arthur comes to learn about the real world, and takes on discoveries that will aid him in making wise decisions.
To sum it up, let me share these words from the song sung my Merlin as they swim around the mote, as I think they particularly demonstrate the principles in this film:
You must set your sights upon the heights
Don’t be a mediocrity
Don’t just wait and trust to fate
And say, that’s how it’s meant to be
It’s up to you how far you go
If you don’t try you’ll never know
And so my lad as I’ve explained
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
You see my boy it’s nature’s way
Upon the weak the strong ones prey
The human life it’s also true
The strong will try to conquer you
That is what you must expect
Unless you use your intellect
Brains and brawn, weak and strong
That’s what makes the world go round
The Sword in the Stone, Disney, 1963