I’ve always wanted to be the hero. Even more than that, though, I wanted to be her hero.
It’s the oldest fantasy in my childhood memory. I have no idea how it started. I don’t remember what could have put the idea into my thoughts, but I was still a very small child when it became an obsession for me.
The girl was always in trouble of some kind. I made up all sorts of stories each night as I went to sleep. The specific dangers changed, but the pattern was always the same. The girl I loved was in trouble. She needed to be rescued. I came to her rescue in her moment of need — and she adored me as her hero and rescuer.
As an adult, this sort of story comes with all sorts of baggage, of course. Mature adults aren’t supposed to take such stories seriously. Some even claim that this historical and mythological imagery is sexist — that a woman shouldn’t need to be rescued and that a man shouldn’t want to be her hero.
But I don’t care. At my core, I still want to be her hero. When my princess is deepest in distress, she calls out for help and I rescue her. It’s a need that’s deeply embedded in culture and possibly genetics. And even though it’s ridiculous imagery from a child’s fairy tales, I still want to rescue my princess.
I used to put myself to sleep each night creating a theater of the mind. The stories really were all variations of “the knight protects and saves the princess.”
I remember stories in which the girl was in a burning building and I save her. There were others in which I commanded a spaceship that rescued the girl from various sorts of danger. And I can remember one variation in which she didn’t even love me anymore, but I still risked my life to save her and get her to safety — and she found out that I had saved her only after I was gone. (And that made her regret not having loved me, of course.)
It might sound odd to say, but I guess I assumed that every little boy was having the same fantasies of saving the girl — the princess who would grow up to become his one true love.
I have no idea why this old imagery is on my mind tonight, but it’s been powerful, almost as though something had awakened one of the old stories.
Even when I strip the medieval imagery from the stories, I still find myself wanting to play this role in a modern setting. The truth, though, is that there’s very rarely a princess who needs rescuing from a dragon today — or even from a burning building or space creatures or an invading army.
The adult version of the old story is far simpler. More mundane. It’s more about rescuing someone from an unhappy life or from circumstances which seem impossible to escape. These sorts of “dragons” are far more likely to threaten the heroine today. They’re far more realistic stories.
And there’s something else which I never realized when I was fantasizing about being the brave hero rescuing my love when I was a child. I really did want to rescue my love for her own sake, but I also wanted to rescue her so she could rescue me.
I’ve argued before that the best relationships are a form of mutual rescue, and I still believe that. Everybody needs something. Everybody has emotional holes that need to be filled. Everybody has hurts which mostly go unseen and unhealed.
But if two people can ever be honest enough — with themselves and each other — about where those hurts and needs are, they can find healing that neither could ever find alone. And I think that’s the real underlying truth of all those tales of rescue.
Even though our legends are about the princess who needs the brave knight to come rescue her, it’s obvious beneath the surface of the story that he needs her just as badly as she needs to be rescued. I think these stories survive in our culture and in our collective unconscious because they represent something which is deeply true for many of us.
I need my own kind of rescue. I need to be good enough — worthy enough, valuable enough, brave enough — to rescue my princess. And I need to rescue her so she can be my cherished queen who rescues me in her own way.
I don’t know if I’ll find the princess who wants and need me to rescue her — the princess who matters enough for me to risk it all on her behalf. Maybe it will forever remain just a piece of cherished romantic imagery from my childhood. Maybe.
But there’s part of me that is still childlike enough to believe in magic. Part of me still believes there’s some truth in the old legends. Part of me still believes that my princess is still out there somewhere — waiting for me to slay her dragon and rescue her from evil.
And part of me even still believes that we can live happily ever after.