Kill it with your sword!

Sasha and the Dragon is one of Ancient Faith Publishing’s very beautiful children’s books. Laura E. Wolfe based the story on one of my favorite anecdotes from Fr. Stephen Freeman. When his son was four years old,

“He had a small statue of St. Michael the Archangel beside his bed on his nightstand. He liked it so we bought it for him. It was a very manly Michael, with a great and terrible sword drawn, and the devil, stuck beneath one of Michael’s feet, writhing helplessly.

My son’s prayer (still a family favorite):

Dear St. Michael, guard my room.
Don’t let anything eat me or kill me.
Kill it with your sword. Kill it with your sword. Amen.

Now that’s a fine prayer, particularly for a four year-old. I’m not certain what made him think of things that would eat him, but when you’re four, it’s good to cover all possibilities. The prayer worked. He has been safe all these years. The only thing eaten in his room have been several tons of pizza.”  (From Fr. Stephen Freeman’s Glory to God For All Things blog)

I have long loved this prayer for its honesty, its innocence and its faith. He knew two things: that St. Michael would protect him and that he could protect him.

Laura E. Wolfe takes that beautiful idea of a young boy, afraid of the invisible things that go bump in the night, finding comfort in his faith and in the protection of the angels, and writes a lovely children’s book to spread this faith to the next generation of young people.

Nicholas Malara’s illustrations are lovely — dragons and angels and dark corners come to life! Of course, for the wrong child, that could pose a problem. Some children love adventure and battles, and for them this book is a great joy and treasure. Some children shudder at the thought of such things and might find the book too scary. Parents will have to discern which children would benefit from this book, and which would not.

The story is told from the perspective of Sasha, a young Russian emigre to the United States. He sees unfriendly faces and shadows everywhere, and dragons live under his bed. The story never intervenes to correct Sasha’s perspective; no narrator declares the monsters imaginary.

Instead, Sasha prays to St. Michael who comes to his bedroom and battles the dragon, leaving concrete evidence of the fight (the monster’s claw marks remain permanently on Sasha’s bedroom floor.) After his encounter with St. Michael, Sasha’s perspective on America brightens — the shadows are illuminated, people seem friendlier, and Sasha is convinced that the angels indeed are among us, even so far from holy Russia.

I’m torn about the way that the book embraces the dragons that live under our beds. On the one hand, we in the Church believe in the evil one and his demons, we know that spiritual warfare is real. On the other hand, we don’t believe that there are dragons under our beds — but if there were, St. Michael would be a good angel to call on.

Wolfe writes, “But at night, when Sasha lay in his bed, staring at the streetlight outside his window, he was the most afraid of all. He trembled because he knew that dragons skulked here in this new land, monsters of gloom and loneliness that had never heard of warrior saints or special signs to drive away the evil one.”

As a Russian coming to America, Sasha is correct in his assessment that for the most part, the people here don’t know to invoke warrior saints to protect themselves; our culture doesn’t even believe in the demons that torment us. On the other hand, in the Scriptures we see that the demons know Christ very well:

“And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs.
When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!”” (Luke 8: 27-28)

The demons know Christ by His name: “You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God”. Even in America, we can be confident that the demons and all hellish powers are well aware of Christ, His Saints, and His angels.

I don’t blame a young boy for fearing that the monsters that lurk in America have never heard of Christ and His legions of angels; it seems quite likely that a child would make this mistake. My only concern is that within the book, the only correction to this idea comes the day after St. Michael’s battle, when Sasha and his mother walk outside in the glittering morning: “Truly God and His angels were close, wrapping peace around His heart.” Certainly this implies that Sasha’s fear that the angels had no presence here was incorrect, but it would be wise for parents to tease this out of the story, to discuss with their children and make sure that they note it. The happy ending is somewhat subtle, and may need emphasis from parents and caregivers.

Overall, this book is a delight to the right child. In my years of teaching Sunday School, I have found that most boys and some girls especially in the elementary school years adore the image of St. Michael leading angels in an epic battle against evil; “Kill it with your sword! Kill it with your sword!” is a perfect prayer for them as they face their fears in this dark and scary world. I have a seven-year old daughter who is delighted by this book, and for whom a whole new love for St. Michael has opened up in it!

Not to be missed: Laura E. Wolfe’s website, where she has written three useful lesson plans to enrich children’s experience reading this book. My favorite is about “Arrow Prayers”, short and powerful prayers that get straight to the point.

May this book give many children the gift of a great love for St. Michael, who will surely protect them and answer their calls.

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