Early on in high school, my English teacher introduced our class to U.A. Fanthorpe’s poem, “Not My Best Side.” It’s a snarky modern piece inspired by Paolo Uccello’s painting of St. George and the Dragon, and it features the perspectives of St. George, the damsel he aims to rescue, and the dragon who brings them together.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string?” —The dragon
So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery,
On a really dangerous horse, to be honest
I didn’t much fancy him. I mean,
What was he like underneath the hardware?
The dragon got himself beaten by the boy,
And a girl’s got to think of her future.” —The damsel
I have diplomas in Dragon
Management and Virgin Reclamation.
My horse is the latest model, with
Automatic transmission and built-in
Obsolescence. My spear is custom-built,
And my prototype armour
Still on the secret list. You can’t
Do better than me at the moment.” —St. George
Who tells your story for you determines the kind and qualiy of story it is. In her book Our Lives Matter, Pamela Lightsey explains that minoritized groups need to speak their own stories, not just for their own sake but for all of us:
No one person can be that privileged voice for any group of people/culture. Every class is made up of different ways of being… Even with the best intentions, womanist scholarship has rarely put its finger on the pulse of what it means to be a Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender [person] living in America.”
If people don’t tell their own stories, Lightsey argues, “we run the risk of our people’s history and theology being shaped primarily by our allies.”
Vantage point can both reveal and obscure. So it does matter that the winners narrate history, and that the stories of the Canaanites, Moabites, and Ninevites are still largely told by their Israelite peers and not read with their own priorities in mind.
Fanthorpe’s poem recognizes the possible motives of each main painting character. Each becomes more sympathetic or less so, and the standard myths and assumptions about each one are overturned because we learn their perspective on the scene.
How do we read each other’s stories, and how do we ensure that ours are rightly told?