Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see.
(Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods)
Readers of this blog know that I love musicals. Today Suzanne and I saw Into the Woods. It’s a fascinating pastiche (what we sometimes call a mash-up) of the familiar fairy tales from our childhood, framed in an overarching story by James Lapine (writer of the book of the Broadway version and the screenplay of the movie version) and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. We meet Cinderella, Jack (from “Jack and the Beanstalk”), Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel, among others. There are even two princes involved.
The movie boasts an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Christine Baranski, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine (also known for his role as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies), James Corden, Tracey Ullman, and others.
There was a village on the edge of the woods. Among those who lived there was a witch (Streep) and her neighbors. When a woman becomes pregnant, the greens she needs are only available in the witch’s garden. Her husband begins to visit the garden in order to get the greens. One day, he is caught taking the greens and some beans from the garden. To rectify this, the witch demands their firstborn daughter (whom she names Rapunzel) and lays a curse on the house that they shall be barren. Their son is born, becomes a baker, gets married, and he and his wife wish to have a child. But the curse of barrenness has fallen upon him as well; so to reverse the curse, they must travel into the woods to get the witch a specific list of items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.
To get these items, the Baker and his wife come into contact with Jack, who is selling his cow Milky-White, Red Riding Hood, who is traveling through the woods to her Grandma’s house in her red cape, Rapunzel, with her yellow hair, and Cinderella, with a pair of golden slippers.
Much of the plot from that point will be familiar, as it encompasses the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. However, the characters find that their happily ever afters are not as anticipated. Yet they manage to make a happy ending while slaying the giant who is terrorizing the village.
What do we learn from all this? Well, for one thing, who knew these characters knew each other?
But on a more serious note, as one of our Center’s founding ministers, Rev. Noel McInnis, used to say, “We have freedom of choice, but not of consequence.” In every moment, we choose what to say and do, what goals to seek — and if we’re committed to them, wishes come true — but not free. There is always a price to pay. There are usually unanticipated consequences. We get where we’re going, but often not without getting lost in the woods along the way. And when we’re lost in the woods, the only thing to do is keep walking. If you don’t go through it, you’ll never get past it.
The woods represent our fears and doubts. They can be frightening, but we must walk through them. We have to walk through the woods, not around them. Once we master these fears, they’re no longer frightening. When we come through the woods, through the fear, things turn out for the best — but mostly not in the way we anticipated. They are not as anticipated for the Baker, for Cinderella, for Jack or Little Red Riding Hood, but they wind up in a happy place despite the unhappy circumstances. New chapters are unfolding, and things are working out for them in a new and different way.
We also learn a bit about blame and how it prevents us from taking necessary action. The characters’ releasing of blaming each other finally enables them to defeat the giant and create a new way of life for themselves, one that they could not have anticipated.
And then there is that lush score, including “Children Will Listen”, from which I quoted above. This is an entertaining, profound, bittersweet, and extremely entertaining movie.
Into the Woods — you have to go.