Wednesday, June 29, 2011

U is for Una

Time for Una’s own personal little article. She has been mentioned on numerous occasions throughout this series, but as the heroine, I think she does deserve a little special mention. So here we go!

Poor Una tends to get a bad report from fans. And understandably so, of course, there’s no point in trying to defend her. She is sweet enough, but immature with a naïve perspective on love and a healthy dose of selfishness to boot. In fact, she is very like your average teenage girl thinking that romance and marriage will solve all her problems and forgetting to focus on big picture stuff . . . like character and growth and concern for other people.

Una is a very real person, for all she is a princess. She has a distinct personality, but she also acts as a fine universal representation, not only of girls in general, but also of humanity. You see, the thing with Una isn’t that she is overtly evil. She doesn’t, on the surface, look like the sort of person the Dragon would want for his brood of transformed children. She’s just a silly, somewhat emotional, slightly nervous-tempered girl.

But look around you. How many people in your life do you know whom you think of as evil. We’re all just people, struggling through our daily lives, tending to put more emphasis on ourselves than on others, but then everybody does it, so what’s the big deal? And if we want our fair piece of the pie, well, we only want what’s fair, right? Don’t we all deserve to have our own personal Dream Come True?

The answer is no. For even by insisting on our own way, our own will, we demonstrate the sordid nature that hides just beneath our everyday veneer. We really are selfish to the core. Even our most unselfish acts are motivated from selfish desires . . . the desire to feel good about ourselves because we’ve done our good deed for the day. And perhaps the hope of seeing someone reciprocate because we deserve it, right?

We human beings are all about our rights and our just desserts. And we fail to look at ourselves—to look truly at the reality of our nature—and see the dragon inside.

Una is just a simple girl with a simple wish. She’s a princess and she wants her prince. What’s the harm in that? But by her consistent insistence on her own will and her own way, rejecting the truth of real love when it is gently offered her, Una opens herself up to the Dragon’s work and poison. And after the Dragon arrives, it is a matter of mere days before Una gives in to him and takes his kiss!

For Una is a young woman without foundation. Her own strength of will can only carry her so far. Then it must crumble, and she must face the consequences.

I love this story. When I wrote it originally, it was a very personal endeavor. I really felt that I was going through many of Una’s struggles . . . an outwardly picture-perfect, church-going, Sunday-school teaching girl, but with inner sins and struggles that were tearing me apart. I have been the dragon. Many of you have been the dragon yourselves. And if you haven’t yet, be sure that you will someday.

But True Love is ever ready to step in and save the day. Not in the form of Prince Charming the way we think of him. Romance, no matter how sweet, will never solve the deepest problems of the heart. Nor will success or “good works” or any of the things this world looks to as most important. Only the grace offered through Christ’s sacrifice. And that grace is completely undeserved. There is no “good deed” we can do to earn ourselves a place in Christ’s love. That love is a free gift and must be accepted freely.

No more than Una was worthy of Prince Aethelbald’s love. Even after Una realizes that she loves Aethelbald, as we hear her saying on the shore when she speaks to the Ocean Sprite, she still thinks it is up to her to make things right. She thinks to be worthy of his love, she must face the Dragon and solve her problem of sin. Then she will have earned her place, she will deserve to be Prince Aethelbald’s bride.

But this is impossible. Una cannot kill the Dragon. She cannot work out her own salvation and transformation. No matter how sincere her intentions, her own strength and power are not enough. Instead, she must come to a place of absolute humiliation. Only there can she finally see Aethelbald’s offered love for what it is . . . an undeserved gift that can only be accepted as a gift, never earned. Only then can she face the death of her old self and the renewing of her spirit and body.

Poor Una. She really is the most humiliated of all my characters. Which is difficult in a storybook heroine. People want strong heroines who can solve their own problems . . . I do too! But this is no more than wish-fulfillment. It isn’t truth. We cannot solve all our own problems, we cannot fight all our own dragons, and we certainly cannot earn love.

Love must be a gift freely given. It can never be deserved.

On a side note: Una’s name comes from Edmund Spenser’s epic poem Faerie Queen. The Princess Una in that story represented the Church in a highly allegorical context. My Una plays the same role, representing the Church or the Bride of Christ. Unlike Spenser’s Una, who is serene and brave and lovely, my Una is a representation of the contemporary church, easily distracted from the truth of the gospel, looking for quick-fixes, running after the next new and exciting idea, and falling into traps of worldly thinking, forgetting the truth of grace and love.

That’s a tough role for one little heroine . . . not only serving as the main character in a story, but also bearing the weight of that much symbolism! So thanks to you, dear Una. I appreciate your efforts within this debut novel of mine. May you find a readership that understands your role and appreciates the purpose you serve in the story! And in the meanwhile, I love you dearly.


Anonymous said...

Oh!I was wondering where the name Una came from. Not exactly commonplace you know. Wow, the symbolisim in your book is astonishing, and very deep. I must admit when I read Heartless, I thought it was a kinda strange story, and never though much of it. But since reading your blog, I see how it all has a point, and how this story is much more then a simple fanticful fairy tale. So, I'm apologizing for judgeing you book too quickly, and look forward to re-reading it with a different perspective!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Thank you! My hope for Heartless and for all of my stories is that they are re-readers. That everytime you pick one of them up, you get something new out of the story. These stories work as simple fairy tales, but there are many layers of symbols for those who might like to dig deeper.

I also think that those who read Veiled Rose will find themselves wanting to reread Heartless . . . VR sheds light on certain aspects of H that might have been unclear before. The two books deepen each other.

Thanks for your kind comments and I do hope you will enjoy more Tales of Goldstone Wood! :)

Anonymous said...

I was wondering when I read the book if you were Christian or not. I picked up on the allegory, but didn't know if you meant it to be that way or not. Thank you for writing such WONDERFUL Christian fairy tales. Fairy tales are my favorite to read, but I don't get to read too many of them, because they just get too witchy and...bad. Please understand that I will read every single one of your books and will be a life-long fan! My name is Clara, by the way, and I'm sixteen;)

P.S. I knew when I saw the front cover of your book that it would be excellent!!

Kimber said...

I loved Una!! She was such a wonderful example of Humanity!! It took a painful experience in my life to be able to relate to the shallowness of her, and now she is a treasure in my memory! Looking forward to the new book! Congrats on its release this weekend!!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Thank you, both Clara and Kira! What a blessing to have such sweet fans writing me encouraging notes! I am so glad to know that Una's story spoke to both of you. :) I hope you will both find Rose Red's tale in "Veiled Rose" equally compelling!

Anonymous said...

Christa here.
I found a song that seems to fit perfectly with some of Una's story in the book(before and when she becomes a dragon). The first and second verses seem like Una is talking to Leonard(in her mind) and the chorus and bridge seem to me like the singer is talking to Una. At least that's what I think. It's called "Let It Burn" by Red. Here's the link:

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Hi Christa, that is a cool song! Very dark, but very suited to Una's story. It also makes me think of the Bane of Corrilond's story . . . the complete story that no one has read yet, but which, someday, I hope to share with everyone! I love it when I find songs that make me think of my stories and characters. After Moonblood comes out and everyone has read it, I'll have to find a link to the song that really inspired some strong aspects of that story!
Thaks for sharing! :)

Al said...

Hi Ms. Stengl,
When I first read this novel, I had absolutely no idea that it was Christian fiction, yet it was a pleasant surprise when I found out! This book truly touched me with its poignancy; Aethelbald was such a wonderful prince, very Christ-like in his love for Una. I believe that Una's growth as an individual was realistic and filled with trials, so as to end up more resilient. Seriously, this book made me cry; at first, I was upset that Una did not see that Aethelbald was amazing and that succumbing to the dragon would end inevitably in destruction. Then, after Aethelbald declared his love and Una reciprocated, I was so touched that I immediately teared up! I just discovered your blog and I really enjoy it for your frank and kind comments! The world needs more Christian writers and I look forward to reading your other books in the near future! Thank you for your wonderful contribution to the literary universe.

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

What a lovely comment, Al! I'm so pleased to hear that God used this story to touch your heart. I remember crying myself when writing certain scenes because, as I wrote them, I began to understand better how undeserved is God's grace in our lives, and yet how gentle and loving He is. I always hope that this message will be communicated to my readers, and I am so blessed to hear that it was for you.

Al said...

Hi Ms. Stengl,
As I was writing my comment last night, I knew that there was something else I meant to say; of course, I remembered as soon as I posted my last comment. There is a song that I love that truly represents this book to me. It is a rock song, which many would scoff at, but if one looks at the lyrics, it makes sense. The song is "No Matter What" by Def Leppard; this song's lyrics seem exactly like what Aethelbald would say!
Have a lovely day,

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

I really love it when readers find songs that make them think of my work! :) I love music so much, and I love the connection to fiction . . . and it's so fun to see connections drawn to my stories! Thank you for sharing, Al.

hannah♥joy said...

Anne Elisabeth,
I love your writing so much :) You have amazing talent! I'm also really glad that you make it so obvious that Christ is the center of your writing. Thank you so much for posting!
I find every time I read a book like yours that I love, that I want to be in a movie as the heroine, and I think that comes from my desire to be like my heroes, but I always have to remind myself that life is not about me, but about Christ, and your post describes that. It wasn't Una who saved herself, but Aethelbald. Thanks for posting!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Thank you, Hannah! What a sweet and encouraging note! I could totally see you portraying Una in a movie. ;) Hope you are enjoying Veiled Rose as much as Heartless. It was great to see you at the booksigning last week! :)

Martin LaBar said...

I guess my takeaway from my first reading of Heartless was "Why did Aethelbald want to marry Una? Why would he want her?

But, of course, there is a real Son of a King who is taking a bride for Himself, an immature and unattractive bride, mostly, so why not?

I applaud your vision in putting in this aspect of the novel, without being preachy in the slightest.