Burnt Bows and Torn Tapestries

“To change your fate, look inside and mend the bond torn by pride!” – Brave (Pixar 2012)

A defiant daughter swipes at her mother with a sharp sword then uses it to slash her family’s cherished tapestry in two.  The outraged mother clenches her teeth and retaliates by throwing her daughter’s beloved crossbow into a raging fireplace. Both women have now destroyed what is most precious to the other. The bow symbolized youthful strength and independence, while the tapestry embodied the elegant embroideries of family and tradition.

Merida and her mother Queen Elinor are the central characters in Brave, Pixar’s most recent mythic cinematic contribution. Apart from chronicling a mother/daughter’s journey to mutual self-realization, the beautifully animated fairytale deliberates the dangers of pride and rebellion and the reconciling powers of humility and contrition.

Merida is a skilled archer and the impetuous young daughter of the Scottish King Fergus. Bellicose to her mother the Queen, the redheaded princess prefers the wooden bow that comes with arrows to the dainty bob that most little girls use to bind their hair. While Brave provides a number of terrific lessons about mother/daughter relationships, the film’s primary concern transcends such mundane securities, seeking rather the treacherous highlands of loftier theological peaks.

The film’s initial scene depicts a loving, close-knit family. As Merida matures, however, the rapport between mother and daughter gradually disintegrates. When Queen Elinor informs her daughter that she must fulfill her royal duties by allowing the first-born sons of the kingdom’s three clan-leaders to compete for her hand in marriage, Merida rebels and flees to the forest. Disgusted by the idea of having her future determined in such a casual fashion, the princess obtains the assistance of a woodland sorceress. After tricking her mother to taste an enchanted cake, the mischievous young teen is shocked when the morsel does more than change her fate! The tasty pastry literally transforms her mother into a bear – the kingdom’s primary scourge. Alarmed by the unintended consequences of their respective actions, mother and daughter work together to undo the inconceivable.

The curse of the woodland bear is found in several mythologies. In the traditional Russian fairy tale Morozko, a character named Ivan tries to kill a mother bear and her cubs. The arrogant protagonist is punished and subsequently shunned by human society by having his own head turned magically into that of a bear’s. Like its Russian counterpart, The Brown Bear of Norway is the Norwegian version of the fairy tale typology, chronicling the adventures of a girl whose prince was magically turned into a bear. After many trials and difficulties, the princess manages to get her young husband back into human form through the power of her love. Remarkably, the recurrent motif in both stories was later adopted by the Church to symbolize the victory of Christianity over Paganism!

Pixar’s depiction of the woodland bear more closely resembles the Biblical account of Eden than the aforementioned mythical tales. In both stories, relationships are torn and identities disfigured by the skirmishes shaped by self-centered agendas. The contemporary viewer is left hoping that something can be done to undo the 3-D damage . . . but what?  For Brave, the remedy is clear. Like a stout crossbow, relationships are repaired when each party is willing to bend – and sometimes bravely bow to the breaking point. Only then can the arrow of love sail strong and straight towards its target – splitting the acerbic forbidden fruit of resentment cleanly in half.

The problem, however, is that tapestry tearing and bow burning is not the exclusive circumstance of mythology! Nations, ethnicities, political associations, religious communities and even families are all prone to ideological feuds that always end in catastrophe! Such an unfortunate situation is portrayed in one of Brave’s more insightful scenes. The three related Scottish clans resort to violence to secure the marital rights to the princess. The segment humorously conveys an alarming characteristic of society’s disfigured condition that tragically prefers to measure relational suitability in terms of muscularity rather than love!

Forgiveness is defined by Merriam-Webster as the ability to give up the claim to requital for an insult. It is the act of granting relief from payment of a debt, or to cease resentment against an offender.  According to the latest medical and psychological research (National Institute for Healthcare Research), forgiving is also good for our soul and our bodies. People who forgive benefit from better immune functioning, have lower blood pressure, and experience fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.

One of the best illustrations of such forgiveness concerns the famous sculptor and painter Leonardo Da Vinci.  Just before he started painting the “Last Supper,” Da Vinci had a violent argument with a fellow artist. Leonardo was so bitter that he determined to paint the face of his enemy into the face of Judas and, thus, take his revenge. In fact the face of Judas was one of the first faces Da Vinci finished.

When the famous artist tried to paint the face of Christ, however, he was unable to progress. Something seemed to frustrate his finest efforts. He finally came to the conclusion that his unforgiving attitude was vexing his ability to perceive Jesus’s facial contours. Resolving to forgive rather than take revenge, Da Vinci removed the face of his enemy from Judas. Only then was he able to successfully resume his work. It was this single action of contrition that allowed him the grace to paint a masterpiece that the ages have acclaimed!

Solutions to relational fractures do not require excursions to woodcarving witches, famous painters, or warlords. Interpersonal resolution is the consequence of courageous incursion into the bear’s den of self-distinctiveness. Honesty, humility and genuine repentance are the indispensable attitudes for realizing the miracle of reconciliation. Only in this fashion can individuals, families and nations mend their respective relational ruptures.

The valuable morale of Brave is not, as some pundits have suggested, fixed on the topic of family and traditional values.  While this may, indeed, be a secondary subject of discussion, the film’s primary focus concerns the betrothal of two apparent opposites – bravery and forgiveness!  The principal message of Pixar’s parable is highlighted by the film’s portrayal of the life transforming power of humble compunction.

When possible, Brave should be enjoyed in its superb 3-D format.  Aside from affording a way to appreciate Pixar’s noted wunderkinds, the special glasses safely conceal the tears that viewers will undoubtedly shed throughout the film.   In particular, the unique spectacles provide a useful paradigm for remembering the three vital disciples (3-D) that advance the process of reconciliation: (a) desire, (b) dialogue, and (c) dependence.

Genuine reconciliation always begins with sincere desire. This is the first and most vital step towards forging the requisites of forgiveness.  Only after an earnest desire for reconciliation is established, can the ugly consequences of alienation be addressed through the ardent process of honest dialogue.  Finally, grounded on sincere desire, authentic dialogue will lead to divine dependence.  This is perhaps the most valuable lesson of Brave. Through the intensity of her desire to reconcile with her mother, Merida learns that forgiveness is not a trifle or casual matter.  On the contrary, it is a priceless gift from a Donor that transcends the temporal. It is a most precious spiritual endowment that exceeds the abilities of both parties by making them both equal recipients!

Brave concludes with such high bravura.  While Merida desperately attempts to mend the slash in her family’s tapestry, the symbol of her torn relationships, by way of an actual needle and thread, viewers are treated to a more powerful curative technique! From the ancient mists of the Scottish Highlands the power of humility demonstrates its enduring influence over the lure of individual strength and would-be enchantments.  In the end, we must first learn to depend on a Higher Power to help darn the flaws and fractures of our respective inner character. Only then can we aim and successfully release the reconciling arrow of forgiveness.

This, indeed, is the archery that defines true bravery.


Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS Educational Consulting. He received a Doctors Degree in Adult Education (Ed.D.) from NOVA Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and a Doctorate in Ministry and Childhood Education (D.Min.) from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX). He is also a Certified Charitable Estate Planner (FCEP).

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