Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Boy Who Knew No Fear

The following adapts the Grimm's fairy tale, The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear . The poem was written for the Poetics prompt at the dVersePoets Blog

This power in the soul, then, this unfailing conservation of right and lawful belief about things to be and not to be feared is what I call and would assume to be courage... – Plato, Republic, 429e-430a-c

There was a young boy whose father
thought he was stupid and dull.
His brother was smart and made
straight As in school, but the boy cared
for none of these. He did not cry,
and neither rod nor laugh
could stir him, since he knew no fear.
His body never shook, his teeth did not
chatter. They called him a sociopath,
whatever that means.

This lack of fear ate at his heart
for he knew enough to know
that people who shuddered
lived lives that made them happy,
and their love brought them joy
after sorrow, laughter after years of tears.

So the boy who did not know fear
set out on the road one fine day, with
nothing in his pockets and a smirk
on his face. He lived in the movie house
and watched months of guts, blood,
and gore splattering the screen.
He slept for years in haunted homes,
where ghosts and goblins sucked
his bones. But he simply yawned
and fell asleep, there to dream
of a land where people quake
and tremble and bend on knees
to find solace from terror.

He marched to war where he saw
grown men become children and piss
their pants, then turn to monsters eating brains.
His soul did not scar, his eyes did not blind
from nights of shake and bake bombs
and bodies burning to bone for hours
on end from the phosphorous.

They gave him medals for courage
because he could walk through fire,
but the boy who had no fear shook his head
and sought once more the road,
dumb and innocent in ignorance of fear.

Through jungle meetings with the jaguar,
down city streets filled with knives and bloody bottles,
he walked until one day he arrived at a kingdom
whose princess cried as spirits tread
heavily on her spine at night.

By that time, the boy who knew no fear
had become a man who felt none either,
sad and lonesome but dumb to sorrow.
The king of that realm gave him seven tests
of courage to see if he could quell the demons
at his daughter's soul. In the story, the boy
who'd become a man knowing no fear
threw out each evil wraith, seven times
facing horror after horror without shuddering.

The challenges met, the princess gained peace,
and they marry amid wide acclaim and festal lights.
But the man without fear is unhappy still,
his heart empty of love, laughter, or joy. His wife's
adoration only gnawed deeper still
at the hollow pit that was his soul.

Things would have stayed this way, the man
become a bored king reigning in a joyless house,
until a lowly maid replied to the princess' cries,
and said she'd cure the king of his ill heart.
That next morning, while he still slept,
they pulled the covers from his warm body
and spilled a kettle of flapping minnows
on him. His body shuddered at the chill
and he opened his eyes to their laughing howls,
and he laughed too once and forevermore,
awake to trembling and shivers and laughter.

And then the man who'd been a boy who knew
no fear became a spirit with awareness,
for he now knew what joy was and sorrow too,
and smile and tear, and shaking joy
filled his heart all his life, each in their time.

(c) Copyright Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.


  1. Terrific piece Charles. Love how you wove a nifty philosophical discussion in here, the necessity of fear, as I see it. Wonderfully illustrated love the narration you used, exceptional storytelling. Thanks

  2. this nearly made me tear up sir charles...i dont know that i knew this one...and what a life to grow up so different...many i imagine would love to live without fear, but i guess it ties to many of there things as well...and speaks to growing up incomplete...i am glad he found joy in the end...a remarkable rendition sir...

  3. and no word verification....yay! smiles.

  4. i like this much often i wish i was more courageous and less afraid of things...but after reading this i think i changed my mind...fear is an emotion that serves us well many times because it also keeps us from doing stupid things..had to laugh at the flapping know my mom used to feed her little brother pollywogs to keep him quiet...mean eh...but he survived it...smiles

  5. I would imagine someone who knew no fear would also not know many other emotions too because fear gives rise to courage, anger and such. What a deep and philosophical write. So glad he finally found joy and laughter at long last :) I do love a happy ending ;)

  6. Love the storytelling...his journey, his childhood background, he felt no fear until the ending when his spirit became aware and he felt all the joys and sorrows of life. I believe our spirit thirst for completeness, not found in what people think of us and how we should fit into their idea of being "perfect or excellent". Enjoyed this much ~

  7. I think a person who knows no fear is a pretty hard-hearted person. I knew Vietnam vet once, came back mentally scarred from the war. He sought out danger in the war, volunteered for the scariest assignments, just to test himself. He did come home, but damage had been done. I do wonder where he is now and if he is still testing himself against the things that ordinary people fear. I am glad this person in your tale eventually found love and joy. I do wonder if the man I knew in real life ever did.

  8. Fairy tale but such realism, a striking journey from boy to man.

  9. What an elaborate, complex and beautifully told piece. You managed to capture a life cycle from boy to man- and- after. This made me think of war- of Afghanistan and Moreso - Vietnam. We think we know fear, but I can't imagine what going to war is like. I couldn't help but read that at the end he had gone- been killed- and finally realising his spirit he realised the fragility and value of life. Yet again- probably got the Wong end of the stick- but this is what it did for me. Fine work again my friend!

  10. I like how the tale is stuck in a cycle of larger and greater terrors, each time they wonder if this will be the one to break the numbness. It takes a new approach, and from a humble source, to cure the king. Excellent work!

  11. I love this Charles. It really reads like a legend. I really like how he became aware of tender emotions at the end, and how that came to be... made me smile.

  12. What a wonderful tale. The ending is priceless and so well done!

  13. Great juxtaposition of the fear gene
    being absent leaving also the ability
    to feel joy, happiness; the boy was
    an empty husk, absent of spirit,
    sick of soul. Love the lines:
    /He marched to war where he saw
    grown men become children and piss
    their pants, then turn to monsters eating brains./

  14. See--isn't it amazing what a little fish can do? i always apply a minnow compress to my wounds when I'm not burning fish for biofuel.

    Seriously, Charles, I loved this--it has the irony and tension and childlike straightforward narrative of a fairytale, with sprinkles of contemporary flavor and texture. An excellent fable for an anesthetized society.

  15. This is incredible, smart writing.

  16. I was glued to the end. I am always fighting fear. This makes me rethink it.

  17. Wow you used many a fairy tale concepts too, can't say I ever heard the one you adapted it from. Yeah living without fear is a fate I wouldn't wish for, may be nice sometimes but without it you are less self aware. Glad he saw the light in the end after going through all the turmoil to get around the bend.

  18. Such an interesting tale, Charles! And odd/simple/complex in the way that a fairy tale often is. I think it's especially interesting that you have fear and laughter hand in hand. Personally, I find the greatest fear comes when one suddenly has something to lose, so, of course, a big treasure there. K.

  19. when i was a kid, my grandfather and used to net minnows...what a surprise it was to see what we had netted...each time a new surprise full of little fishes...redfins were the best and prized...i'm sure you remember them being from pennsylvania and how the smallmouth bass loved them; but all the redfins are gone; they disappeared one summer; someone said they were overnetted, someone said chemicals did it. i haven't thought about them much until i read your poem and now i remember the terror in their little eyes as they flopped around in my net; i wonder if they knew they would soon be on my hook or were they telling me to take one last look for soon they would be gone.

    1. I remember the small mouth bass, which I used to fish for with my gang of budfies on the Conodoguinet Creek. We went mostly for trout though. I never learned the names of the minnows we saw. Maybe I was so immersed in the experience at the time, I never asked. My memory is pretty contextualized though, so maybe in direct conversation I might recall their names. I wasn't too much into naming stuff in those days, which is weird now that I think about it since it seems I might've even had an odd aversion to doing that. As if naming something somehow violated the innocence or essence of the thing or experience.

  20. Interesting story of the sociopath.Also a good commentary on the modern world. I like the lowly maid and the kettle of minnows, something remarkably simple curing the ails of a progressive world. Worth another read. thanks.

    1. wow, i didn't see the sociopath until i read this. you are so right. the way i saw it was that once you know joy and know it can be taken away from you, you have something to be afraid of. but now, i kinda want to take that back, and agree with Cressida

      once upon a polar bear

  21. This I weaves so well and you ache for him towards the end, and fear for the cure, and then find it is in the absurdly silly and fun. Wonderfully done!

  22. Fairy tales are Neolithic myths of gods shrunk to the size of our modern child's psyche, the childhood that haunts us personally and collectively. This is a great update on Grimm, with all the narrative elements intact. (I didn't read the original, but the tropes weave very well into the deep old voice still reading this out loud.) This sociopath has the power to conquer but not to love and achieves nothing of great account to himself, having risked nothing, having no knowledge of the soul. Those seven labors in hell are taken on in the style of Herakles, clubbing his way through the Otherworld, ego besting all comers, thus learning nothing from the experience. It's a surprise bath in the power of the small that baptises this fella into fear, as if a childhood door finally opens, finds a crack in the armor and then sheets it with icy terror. Then he can begin. Loved the telling, Chazz, you blend the mythic and poetic and contemporary into a wonderful skein through the psyche's labryinth. - Brendan

  23. Fascinating. It ended with a much better ending than I thought, given the word 'sociopath' in the first stanza. It is a true tale with a happy ending for all!

  24. Really loved your tale Mr's the small things,'minnows' that bring us alive to feel, substantial elements occuring & layering here, from a brief scan of the comments much already has been talked, when he stopped looking & someone looked for the whole of him, he found himself in the smallest thing...

  25. To laugh at oneself is definitely the golden rule of life