About twenty years ago, I wrote this story. It was part of a writing prompt in which I was given random words to place in a narrative. I found the piece today and thought the message had a surprising relevance. The tale is filled with folktale motifs, as are many fantasy stories. We’ll discuss how these elements apply, after the telling.
Once upon a time, there was an old woman. She might even be called a crone for she lived in the forest in a small cottage in the center of a clearing. Light surrounded her home, but the forest itself was dark and foreboding. The woman was afraid to leave it. She felt like she had been there for years. Her cottage was quite cozy, in fact, it was filled with all the objects she loved: dried flowers and grasses, feathers and bean pods, pine cones, and mica. These objects found their way into the clearing and then into her life.
It was both a mystery and a miracle that the old woman could survive in the forest all alone. But somehow no matter what the problem or how difficult it became; the solution or resolution would magically appear the next morning. If she were hungry, food would appear. If she were lonely, an animal or traveler would appear. All her needs were always met. She expected nothing less.
One day, she awoke to darkness. It was so unusual; the crone was puzzled. It was day, but the light was gone. “Where could it be?” she thought. She waited inside the hut – hour by hour, minute by minute looking for a change, but none came. Day after day, she stayed inside in desperation. Finally, she became hungry and knew she had to leave the cottage to see what she’d find in the clearing. It had never been this dark before, and the old woman didn’t know what she would face when she opened her door. Even so, she summoned up her courage and went outside. From the threshold, she looked up at the sky that was now black. Much to her surprise, she saw an enormous creature whose body was blocking the sun.
Was it a giant? “No, my goodness,” the old woman thought, “it can’t be.” On closer inspection, she discovered it was a cyclops. “Cyclops!” she cried out to the clearing. She started to run back into the cottage but caught a glimpse of the cyclops’ face. His one great, large eye was crying. Drop, by drop, tears fell on the roof of her cottage. It sounded like rain. So instead of running away, she stayed.
“Why are you here?” she asks. “Are you waiting for me?”
“Yes, he replied. “I need your help. I’ve been angry for a long time. I’ve destroyed homes and towns, taken animals, and trampled crops. Everywhere I go, I bring chaos. One day I discovered that no matter what I did, I never felt better. All that destruction never brought me any joy; it just fed my anger.”
“You aren’t here to hurt me then?” the crone asked.
“No,” he replied wearily. “I was on my way back to the cave, the place of my birth. I planned to spend the rest of my life there, alone, and miserable. But instead, I found your home, and I began to watch you from the forest. I saw how each day you would find a blessing in the clearing. I saw how miracles and abundance were a part of your life. I wanted to discover why that was true and if I could find it for myself.”
The crone sat down on the ground and looked up thoughtfully. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “I believe in good and good comes to me. You have believed in anger, and so destruction and chaos have followed you.”
“Is there any hope for me?” the cyclops inquired.
“Hope always,” she answered. “But first I must bring back the light.” She went into the hut and brought out a crystal. The crystal reflected the single beam of light that remained free of the cyclops’ shadow. It acted as a prism sending colored rays of light throughout the clearing; red here, indigo there. A single beam of white light struck the cyclops’ eye. Instantly, he turned into a tiny mouse. The crone held out her hand, and the mouse climbed on it.
“I will never again block the sun,” he said. “Now, I can live my life in the forest in harmony with the rest of nature. I’m sure I can lead you out of the forest, if you’d like to tag along.”
“No, thank you,” she said. “This is my home. All I need will always be provided for me here.” The crone gave a knowing smile and walked away.
Surprisingly, the story seems to match the tenor of the times. An old woman is living in isolation, alone deep in the forest. She’s afraid to leave, surrounded by unknown darkness. Feels a bit like the pandemic, doesn’t it? But she’s lucky (even if she doesn’t’ realize it), for she has all that she needs to survive and more. She is the crone, after all, and wise enough not to grumble, whine, or complain. She merely accepts what is.
One day, the darkness that had continued to grow surrounded her world. All the light was gone. She waited in fear until her hunger overtook her. Then she made her way into the clearing. Many of us feel today that we live in a world ever growing darker. The growing risk humanity faces from pandemics, social unrest, corruption, climate change, and divisiveness can feel dark and overwhelming. It may even be dark and overwhelming and at risk of surrounding us one day and leaving us in darkness.
But what is the threat this old woman discovers? A giant cyclops! Cyclopes are mythical Greek entities: male giants with a singular round eye in the center of their heads. They were the sons of Greek gods (although which god is the subject of debate). Cyclopes have no fear of the gods and no regard for law and order. They live wild and savage lives, sometimes as cannibals eating those humans who get in their way. They are brutal and single-focused. They have only one point of view and are unwilling or unable to see beyond their ideology.
There is no doubt that Cyclopes are the “Other.” The characteristics of the Other is the state of being different from those in a society or group. The Cyclopes see humans as the Other, and humans see Cyclopes in a similar way. Cyclopes have no desire to build unity or peace. Yet, the Other is simply a construct or an idea. In reality, there is no Other no matter how often groups and individuals argue their differences.
Cyclopes would find today’s environment quite familiar. Chaos and destruction breeds fear, and fear leads to isolation and divisiveness. As we continue to separate from each other, labeling and blaming, demonizing everyone not exactly like us, they become the Other. But as the story holds, it doesn’t lead to happy times. The cyclops is crying. He’s discovered that separation only leads to despair. The crone, who sees beyond the external and to whom there is no Other, engages him in conversation. “Why are you here? Are you waiting for me?” she asks. She might just as easily have said, “Is it my time?” For darkness brings forth questions of life and death.
It seems the cyclops has discovered that a life filled with hate, is a life filled with sorrow. And such is true, for no matter how many wars are fought, shootings occur, lies and words of hate are spoken, only anger remains. The cyclops is frozen at the moment between life and death. Not the life and death of the body but of the soul.
Until able to move forward from his past, he continues to block out the light, searching for another way and looking enviously at anyone who has found it. He stands in the forest peering into the clearing. In analytical psychology, the forest represents femininity, an unexplored realm full of the unknown. It represents the unconscious mind and its mysteries. The forest has a great connection with the symbolism of the mother; it is a place where life thrives. From the darkness, the cyclops watches as the crone receives what she needs without any effort. It seems both mysterious and magical.
Sometimes, that envy causes as much trouble as anger. “The Other is not supposed to be happy or have as much or more than we do,” the cyclops thinks. “There is only so much stuff to be had, and if “they” have it, we can’t!” But the crone knows better. “I believe in good and good comes to me. You believe in anger, and so destruction and chaos have followed you.” There are more than enough resources in the world if only we learn how to share.
This story could easily have ended there, but the writing exercise required me to add the word “prism.” Hence, the crone doesn’t stop at hope. Trouble has come to her door, and it’s time now to fight. She can’t move the cyclops; the darkness is too big for a single act. She must bring back the light. She does so with a prism that captures the only ray remaining and transforms it into all the colors of the rainbow. Problems are not resolved in our singularity but only in our magnificent human diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and the multitudes of knowledge and ideas. In the real world, problems are best solved together bringing to light all points of view.
She zaps the cyclops with a single beam of white light, a singular moment of Truth. Once seen, the cyclops is transformed into something much smaller. No longer the Other, the cyclops and the problem he represents disappears. He becomes manageable as a pet mouse. The crone holds out her hand and the mouse climbs on it. The wisdom he seeks can only be derived from a connection with nature. It’s a reminder that the earth can resolve many of its problems when left to its own devices.
As for the crone, she now understands her power. She no longer fears the forest or the unknown. She sees the good and the good comes to her. “This is my home. All I need will always be provided for me here.” It’s a simple story with a simple solution. Or perhaps it’s not such a simple solution. It comes down to two options: hate or love, sharing or greed, unity, or the “Other.” The crone always helps those who are worthy who make their way to her door. This time it was the “Other,” a sad but troubled cyclops. Next time, it might be you or me.