“The Sword in the Stone and How to Overcome Bullies”

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“… Now now wait just a moment don’t you start thinking that magic will solve all your problems!”
-Merlin

 

 

I have now watched The Sword in the Stone five times in 48 hours. It’d be hard to explain myself to people who don’t have kids. Parents of very young children will know that kids tend to get hooked on movies and they just want to watch them over and over again. I had some downtime recently with my own children while my wife spent time in the hospital visiting her dad, so Sword in the Stone was the movie of choice.

It’s been one of my favorite Disney films since I was a boy, my 2nd favorite Disney film of all time to be exact, so I didn’t mind. This is one Disney classic which I wouldn’t mind seeing regurgitated in the Happiest Place on Earth’s current fetish for uncreative live-action remakes! I love this old era of animation in the Disney canon, the stuff from the ’50s and ’60s. I love the organic pencil lines, the voice actors, the occasionally episodic over traditional storytelling. However, and this is likely due to having watched it so many times in just a couple of days, I feel like I finally know what Sword in the Stone is about!

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Yes, of course it’s about a young Arthur (known as a youth as Wart) who learns a bit more about the world from the prognosticator Merlin. The boy eventually pulls the legendary sword from the stone and is crowned rightwise king, born of England.

Aside from the setup at the beginning about the miracle of the sword and its appearance again at the end of the movie, the actual sword in the stone barely features in the animated movie that bears its name. The story plays out in segmented episodes where the magic of Merlin attempts to intervene in Wart’s rather horrible existence and teach him a few things. It’s seemingly a case of the film being about nothing, thematically, as the conclusion just sort of happens and the film’s major scenes seem nearly random.

However, what ties The Sword in the Stone together is learning to cope with bullies. Think about it: in almost every scene in the film there’s a bully that confronts or tries to harm young Arthur. Kay (later Sir Kay), the wolf in the woods, Arthur’s foster-father, the bullfrog and the barracuda in the moat during the fish scene, the bird of prey when Arthur becomes a sparrow, Mad Madam Mim, of course. Merlin has to face down the witch, his own bully, in the film’s best scene: the wizard’s duel. Even Merlin’s owl, the lovably cranky Archimedes, bullies Wart at one point when trying to teach the boy his alphabet.

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Merlin’s goals with Arthur seem to be in prepping him for his future kingship but I never really stopped to wonder why it seemed like Merlin wasn’t teaching him anything. Truth is, he was giving Wart the opportunity to stand up against bullies and to face real trouble, from a variety of viewpoints (that’s of course considering that Wart’s life already had its troubles). What could a king learn better than to know as a leader who bullies are and how to navigate them in order to protect his kingdom? Further, any king could become a righteous one by learning not to become a bully themselves!

The only major scene that doesn’t fit into this lens of interpretation is the squirrel scene where Arthur (and Merlin, too, hilariously) are persecuted by lovey-dovey female squirrels. Arthur is forced to learn about the all-encompassing and sometimes blind power of love in that scene, yet another lesson but not necessarily one about bullies.

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“That love business is a powerful thing. Greater than gravity? Well, yes. In its way, yes, I’d say it’s the greatest force on Earth.” Good wisdom Arthur needs to understand.

The theme of bullying culminates in one of the more confusing scenes (at least I always found it to be confusing). Toward the end of the film, Wart becomes Sir Kay’s squire but when he announces this to Merlin, the grumpy old man loses his temper yet again and magically blows himself to Bermuda. Mages are apt to do that, just so you know.

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This is the tried and true “removal of the mentor” trope you can find in entertainment from Gandalf the Grey to Obi-Wan Kenobi; the protagonist cannot truly blossom and become their own person until they’ve been removed from under the shadow of their mentor, just as in real life when we grow from children to independent adults.

But it was the realization that Merlin too had become a kind of bully for young Arthur in that moment which really set this theme in stone for me. Wart argues with the wizard. He stands up to him. He’s learned independence. He’s outgrown his mentor. All that’s left is to remove the mentor from a narrative standpoint so that Arthur alone can embrace his destiny and ascend to the throne. It’s only after Arthur’s coronation that the soothsayer returns to become one of Arthur’s companions, no longer his sole protector and guide.

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Ultimately, it was the miracle from heaven that chose humble Wart to become King Arthur. That’s the loudest and clearest death knell for bullies in the movie. The miracle chose the smallest, the weakest, the humblest, and the purest in all of England to become king, just as David had been so crowned so many centuries before Arthur. Humility is not the most paraded virtue in our culture today, but it is nonetheless one which displays a power of restraint that’s quite unlike anything else in this world. Humility is not letting other people walk all over you (recall that Arthur stood up for himself against his wizard), but it does mean caring for the needs and wants of others and not being selfish, the difference between being Arthur and being “Sir” Kay…

So then, how do you deal with bullies?

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According to Sword in the Stone, there are several choice methods. Sometimes you’ll need to face them (Madam Mim). Sometimes you’ll need to pick your battles (the bird of prey). Sometimes you’ll have to suck it up and deal with it (the foster-father); enduring criticism can be a positive thing. Sometimes you’ll need to say your piece and be done with it, let people know where you stand (Merlin himself). Sometimes ultimate justice will deal with vindication for you (the Sword).

I do like one piece of advice in the film: “No sense going around insulting bullfrogs.” Some people are bullfrogs. No sense in giving them the power to dominate your feeds and private messages with your complaints and grievances about them. Don’t give them the power to consume your thoughts and your life. Forget ’em. You’ve got a better destiny than that.

 

Prestidigitarium!
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-The Well-Red Mage

 

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14 thoughts on ““The Sword in the Stone and How to Overcome Bullies”

  1. I think I saw this movie as a kid, but I can’t remember any of it, haha. Great message though! Ignoring idiot bullfrog trolls is the best way to go… they feed off the negativity, eh.

    Hm. I think I’ll watch this movie again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always been a big fan of this movie, even though it isn’t their strongest work. That and Black Cauldron hold special places in my Disney heart.

    As for bullies, it really depends on what kind of abuse they are coming with. The way I raised my son is that words cannot physically hurt you, and thus you can only respond by enduring the slings and arrows they throw at you and grow stronger because of it.

    However, I’ve also taught him is someone is physically assaulting him that all bets are off. In those cases I’ve told him I don’t want you going around starting fights, but I have no problem with you finishing one. Sometimes all bullies really understand is the same language they are speaking. In these rare cases violence really is the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! Those are important distinctions and thinking back, I think this movie makes that distinction as well. The only bully figure that has physical force brought against it is Madam Mim and that’s on the part of Merlin, the adult and mentor who is ready to wizard duel to the end, so the film doesn’t depict the young Arthur doing that. Arthur definitely withstands a lot of abuse in this movie and grows to become independent. You can see his future adulthood taking form.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely loved the film as a kid, I do need to add it to my video library. The wolf at the start always used to crack me up, then Archimedes’ laughing hysterics later on as well. Super! Will stick with me for a lifetime, this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh do i love that old Disney style. Great, great movie and, yes, one of my favorites up there with Robin Hood and The Jungle Book. Good assessment of the overall story as well. I dont know about the odd placement of the squirrel scene, as throughout history and legend many a king has fallen to the wiles of women and “love”. Though seemingly out of place it’s a necessary lesson for one destined to to bear the crown.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I felt the same way about the squirrel scene, too. It feels so out of place and melodramatic but it’s still a good lesson to learn for a king.

      Thanks for reading and for dropping us a comment! This is my second favorite Disney film. Which would you say is your first?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh man, that’s a tough one. It would really be a tie between Robin Hood and The Jungle Book. When I was younger I had quite an interest in the story of Robin Hood and had several books with different variations of the tale. The Disney version was great because I loved the way it looked, I liked the animals and I thought it did a fairly good retelling of the story with additional elements (like humor and song).

        That being said, there is little in this world that can make me smile faster than Baloo the bear. His attitude, the way he was animated, his voice: Every last bit of him brings me joy, and The Jungle Book had the odd honor of being made during the 60’s, which means some weird references, effects and words are integrated into it.

        I don’t think I could pick. I have to stop and watch if either one ends up on my TV, every time!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is one of the more underrated Disney films in my opinion, but it’s too bad the Blu-ray version isn’t that great according to reviews. But this is a great analysis on bullies and how to deal with them. I want to go back and rewatch it now with all this in mind!

    Liked by 1 person

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