Most of the comments have been negative, though that verdict is by no means unanimous. Leaving aside the specifics of agreement or disagreement, what's striking to me is not only the sheer volume of response—evidently an astonishing number of our readers saw Shrek almost as soon as it was released—but also the degree of engagement. Movies, for better or worse, are the lingua franca of our culture, or as close to a common language as we come.
Below are two letters selected from the many we have received. The first is from the Idaho-based founder of the classical Christian school movement, the second from a reader in Georgia.
I read Eric Metaxas's review of Shrek with interest and appreciation. His argument that we should resist all such forms of what I have called metaphor-morphing was cogent and well-taken. But at the same time, his bio noted (and apparently without embarrassment) that he works for the very worst offenders in the world of metaphor-morphing, which is to say, the makers of VeggieTales. And then, in the same issue, another article undertakes to praise VeggieTales, despite a minor quibble here and there.
Let me see if I have your argument down. We should take great care not to twist or distort our ancient images of ogres, princesses, and the like, so as not to mess with our kids' heads. Scriptural metaphor and image, however, is fair game, so long as we are trying to impart "biblical values." Notice the implicit assumption that a scriptural, literate, aesthetic sense is not a biblical value to be imparted to children. King David as a broccoli, or whatever it is they have him as, changes nothing essential about the story—if you are an evangelical.
This issue shows, despite your name, that cultural soul and modern evangelicalism still go together like whiskey and ice cream.
Christ Church, Moscow
How do I hate this review? Let me count the ways. Shrek did not "dwell in the swamp happily alone," he struggled with bitterness and depression because of the xenophobic persecution forced on him by the "normal" world. Shrek is not "grotesque"; he's just a big, strong, homely guy with a sense of humor and loyalty—in other words, a catch for any woman with the maturity to overlook the "defect" of his failure to somehow endow himself with Chippendale good looks. And thank goodness Eddie Murphy is the donkey; for my money, he is light years funnier than Ms. Goldberg.
Shrek does not "subvert the glorious and mysterious and ennobling idea of fairy tales themselves." Many fairy tales are frightening, violent, and depressing, and often encourage children to long for unrealistic and unwholesome "magical" solutions to their problems. E.M. says Shrek is "tiresome in its unalleviated puncturing." Tiresome to whom? My husband (age 50) laughed his head off, our 16- and 14-year-old sons roared, and our nine-year-old daughter told her little friends "it's really funny." Of course I, the Mom (age 47), loved it also. And evidently so do millions of Americans. (Don't get me wrong, millions of Americans can be blind as bats, as shown by '92 and '96.)
Nevertheless, Metaxas claims that Shrek is "disturbingly inappropriate for children." The normal adult humor in Shrek is typical of all the best cartoons through the last four decades. Eric, are you one of those blighted souls who think there is nothing funny about sex? Like the political/social commentary and humor of, say, Rocky and Bullwinkle (more of our faves), the psychological/sexual commentary and humor of Shrek flow over the heads of the children in the audience. Also, Robin Hood is not oversexed, he is just cheerful and mildly randy. His sex drive appears to be markedly less than my oun husband's, but excuse me—I see that I have strayed unwittingly on to that offensive topic: cheerful sexuality appreciation.
And then there is Mr. Metaxas's "worst example," his "most ugly moment"—when the robin explodes while reaching for the high note, and Fiona, instead of trying to sit on the eggs herself, thoughtfully fries them up for Shrek and the donkey in an attempt to atone for her former selfish ways. God forgive us! My own family had eggs this morning. What are you E.M., a vegan?
But let's settle down to the serious and tragic paucity of Mr. Metaxas's position: Fiona and Shrek are not "ugly" by any but the shallowest standards of Disney and Playboy. Fiona and Shrek as ogres are merely homely in a cute sort of way, a condition that God in his wisdom has chosen to bestow liberally upon the human family since our beginning. And how heartbreaking that Mr. Metaxas can actually claim in all seriousness that "neither she [Fiona] nor Shrek is transformed." Both Shrek (formerly a gloomy, lonely, self-hater) and Fiona (formerly a bratty, self-centered, dominatrix) are sweetly and beautifully transformed by humility and love. 'Tis not the gospel truth we find in fairy tales, O Eric Metaxas. The gospel truth is that our blessed saviour Jesus Christ died once for all, and even the "grotesque" and "ogres" are beautiful and beloved in his sight and their sins are covered by his precious blood if they will but call on his Name. Magical (and easy) solutions plus riches (another fairy tale staple) are not the answer to life's ills. It is the love of God and death to self (e.g., Fiona turning her back on fantastic beauty for the love of a good man) that leads to life.
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Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at ChristianityToday.com. Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:
Debutante Fiction | The New Yorker should have paid less attention to the novelty of its writers and more attention to their writing. (June 18, 2001)
Saint Teddy? | Yes, Roosevelt paid the usual presidential respects to Christianity, but didn't show much explicit personal devotion to it. (June 11, 2001)
History Bully | Christian scholars speak not-so-softly over a big sticking point: Theodore Roosevelt's faith. (june 4, 2001)
'Taken Up in Glory' | The Ascension has been forgotten in many Protestant churches, jettisoning an essential part of the Christian story. (May 21, 2001)
Who Won? Who Cares? | Skip the latest ballot reviews and read Italo Calvino's brilliant election novella "The Watcher." (May 14, 2001)
Infamy Indeed | John Gregory Dunne suggests imperialistic Americans got what they deserved at Pearl Harbor. (May 7, 2001)
Rantings of a Not-So-Primly Dressed Person With Too Much Time | The Chronicle of Higher Education infuses some not-so-subtle bigotry into its fetal-tissue research coverage. (Apr. 30, 2001)
Big Numbers, Big Problems | Christianity is in the midst of a massive global shift. But how much of a difference is it making in its new homelands? (Apr. 16, 2001)
DiIulio Keeps Explaining, But Is Anyone Listening? | At a media luncheon in Washington about Bush's faith-based initiatives, answered questions get asked one more time. (Apr. 9, 2001)
Public-izing Faith | Recent articles in Touchstone, Commonweal, and The New York Times serve as reminders that faith is not merely "a private thing." (Apr. 2, 2001)
How Can I Keep From Singing? | Arne Bergstrom has looked suffering square in the eye all over the world. Now he sings about hope. (Mar. 26, 2001)
To Poland, for an Evening | Once in a great while, a film like Kieslowski's The Decalogue discovers how to transport an audience. (Mar. 19, 2001)
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