Rose Red has several strange influences on her life, several voices that speak to her and draw her various ways. The first of these is Beana, her goat, who is a voice of practicality and homey love to the poor, rejected girl. The second voice is that of the Mountain Monster in the cave. This is a far more seductive voice, whispering lies and half-truths, working guileful persuasions to manipulate the girl according to his will.
But the third voice is that of Rose Red's Imaginary Friend.
He was a prince, of course. Rose Red, being a romantic child at heart, would hardly imagine anything less. But he always appeared to her in the form of a wood thrush (p. 44).
She assumes he must be imaginary, however. Just as she assumes that she must imagine Beana's talking, and that she only dreams of the Mountain Monster. But all these various voices are so real and so strange, poor Rose Red must sometimes wonder if she is a little mad.
But they make a distinct three-way influence on my little heroine's life. Beana speaks to the practical, the earth-bound, the sensible side. The Monster speaks to the dangerous, the lurking evil that hides in the heart of every living creature. And the Imaginary Friend calls to the spiritual heart of her. These three influences, while three distinct characters on their own, also form for us a complete picture of the girl herself. Through these influences we see Rose Red in her entirety, simple country girl, dangerous goblin, and spiritual warrior.
But especially the voices of the Monster and the Prince grow confusing in her mind as time goes on and the dangers mount.
"You left me alone," Rose Red accuses the Prince at one point.
You are not alone, my child, he assures her.
"You're no better than the Dragon," she says. "You want me for yourself."
I want you for yourself, he replies. I want you to be everything you were intended to be before the worlds were formed. Everything this death-in-life has prevented you from becoming
"You sound like the Dragon. He calls me a princess."
I call you my child.
There is a distinct difference between the Monster and the Imaginary Friend. Both call her to walk certain paths, both urge her to live a certain life. But the Monster constantly demands something from her, he demands that kiss. While the Imaginary Friend, by contrast, gives her protection, first in the form of Beana (whom we later learn is one of the Prince's knights), and later in the Asha lantern, a gift of Faerie make that protects her in the dark places of the Netherworld.
We both want your love, your loyalty, the Prince tells her. And you cannot give it to both of us.
Nevertheless, Rose Red struggles to believe that the Prince can be anything more than imaginary. How often have I too found myself in unhappy circumstances and immediately leaped to the conclusion, "God doesn't care," or even, "God isn't there." It is the most human (and most sinful) reaction, and it doesn't matter in the moment how many times God may have proven Himself to me in the past. My human nature still rallies to fight the spiritual nature being nurtured in me.
The same is true for Rose Red. Even as she journeys through the Netherworld with the protection of her Imaginary Friend actively surrounding her, she still doubts. And her doubt leads her to the point of desperation and even despair.
The beauty of the story is the way in which the Prince doesn't abandon her, however. Even when she rejects him, basically throws his gift back in his face, he remains constant, true, and present, though she cannot sense him. Hers is a story that reflects the truth of:
"Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil." Psalm 23:4
In the end, the Prince whispers encouragement to Rose Red once more, and she knows at last that he is not imaginary.
"I will always protect you," he promises. "But that does not mean you will not know pain." (p. 339)
In the struggling times to come, we must hope that Rose Red will remember that moment, when she was rescued from the clutches of the Dragon in the very stronghold of his kingdom. We must hope that when the darkness descends once more, she will know the truth of the Prince's promise and there find comfort and strength. But it is a hard lesson for any of us to learn, a battle that must be fought again and again . . .