Monday, January 30, 2012

What "The Soldier's Tale" Teaches Us About Temptation

            The story of “The Soldier’s Tale” is based on the age-old Faustian legend of a man who sells his soul to the devil. While the hundreds of tales that have been written deal mainly with adults, I find that it is a cautionary tale that can lead to very important discussions with children.
            Often children deeply desire something that they cannot have, and this leaves them vulnerable. Temptation. Will they simply take it and be forced to live with the guilt that follows, or will they be tempted by someone else who agrees to get them the desired item in exchange for something else.
            In “The Soldier’s Tale” the Soldier is tempted by the offer of a book that tells the future and can make him rich. What makes this story even more tragic is that the Soldier had not really thought about being rich and as he sat by the roadside, he was dreaming of his girlfriend, his mother, his home, and his 10 days leave. But when the prospect of wealth raised its head, he was tempted.
            In the beginning, these deals never seem like they will be so bad. After all, the Soldier’s violin was old and not of great value. In time, however, he discovers that it is the symbol of all happiness for him. He discovers that he has lost his financée, his family, in short, his life. In this tale, he is given the opportunity to recover his happiness. The Soldier cures the Princess and marries her. But the Devil is not so easily defeated, and says while he has let him off the hook this time, there is one condition: he must never leave the Princess’ kingdom.
            The Soldier and the Princess live in happiness, but the Soldier is tempted again. He wants to see his mother once more and hopes that he can slip out of the kingdom, thinking that no one will ever know.
            How often in life does one hope that no one will ever know?! (Cookies from the cookie jar – how did mother know? Wet the toothbrush instead of brushing – how did father know?) As the Soldier crosses the frontier, of course, the Devil does see him and turns him into stone.
            “The Soldier’s Tale” is a morality piece, a cautionary tale that appeals to all children because they have a visceral sense of wanting something that they occasionally cannot have. The lessons to be discussed with children after listening to "The Soldier's Tale" are many: Don’t make deals that you know are wrong.  Don’t hope that you won’t get caught. Discuss offers and trades that you have been offered with parents so that you can understand all the implications. And finally, if it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. 
           Stravinsky's magnificent music will make this morality lesson both pleasurable and memorable.

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