“Who’s the hero?” asks someone in my writers’ group.
“There isn’t one,” I admit. “The father character is slightly less greedy than everyone else, so he’s the one that rescues his grandson from being eaten by the dragon.”
We’re discussing my first-born story. I wrote it ten years ago. The words enchant. The plot, well, my Brothers Grimm fairytale is too grim to sell. This story is my problem child.
My other short stories matured nicely. One of them made it modestly in fantasy fiction. Another’s interviewing even now. This one, however, says it has principles: the characters’ metamorphoses must be true to life, and dragons, not to mention people, are greedy.
So, the problem child’s been living in my basement these ten years, while I explore other dragon characters.
Last weekend, I found a new one. My fiddle-friend Hanneke Cassel debuted her album Dot the Dragon’s Eyes. The liner notes explain the title idiom this way: “to bring a picture of a dragon to life by putting in the pupils of its eyes—add the touch that brings a work of art to life.”
In China, so the story goes, an artist loved to paint dragons, but she always left the eyes blank.
Eventually the emperor hired her to embellish his palace walls. Onlookers were amazed at how life-like the dragons appeared. Nevertheless they wondered, “Why does she always leave the eyes out?”
Finally the artist told her secret, “If I dot a dragon’s eyes, it will fly away.”
The people mocked her for claiming her work could grant life itself. Hard pressed for proof, she painted in the pupils. Sure enough, empire walls cracked as dragons crawled forth and flew away.
To this day in China, if someone does exceptional work, people say, “Draw dragon; dot eyes.”
I wish my first-born story, with all its principled angst, would hurry up and qualify for dragon’s-eye punctuation. I want it to succeed. Or at least compete.
That is how it came to fall under the scrutinizing light of a writers’ group interrogation (again).
“Redemption,” my fellow writers agreed, “the characters must be redeemed once they repent of their greed.”
Matthew 6:22–23 suggests that covetousness is redeemed by generosity. “The eye is the lamp of the body,” Jesus says. “So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil eye, your whole body will be full of darkness.”
According to Robert Mounce, “evil eye” is the gaze of envy when someone else does well. “Sound eye” is the opposite: a generous glance (60).
James and Paul describe the contrast between the dark glint of greed and a life-giving gleam. “You covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war,” James narrates. “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:2–3 RSV).
Paul is less circumspect: “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” he commands. “Do not be haughty in mind. Associate with the lowly.” (Rom 12:14–17 NAS).
The contrast is even more explicit in Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard. At the end of the story, the vineyard owner demands, “Is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Matt 20:15 NAS).
God is the hero of that story. It’s his asymmetric generosity, not his “slightly less-greedy than everyone else” character, which casts him in that role.
Perhaps if my problem child had such a generous hero, then it would finally crack the basement walls and launch to life, too.