What I Learned from Disney Princes: Flynn Rider
by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)
It’s all about the smolder. That is until the smolder gets broke. There’s only so much punishment a dashing face can take, what with all the frying pan-wielding recluses with miles of magic hair which you get tied up in, and chameleons…chameleons who are all enamored with the notion of sticking their fly-grubbing tongue in your ear. Meet Flynn Rider, good reader. He didn’t start the day out with any notion that his life of fantastic thievery would lead to his embroilment in an eighteen year old search for a lost princess, almost drowning, being healed by magic hair, discovering the girl of his dreams, dying, being brought back from the dead by the self-same dream girl who also happens to be the owner of the magic hair, changing his name, getting married, and living happily ever. I’m tired just thinking about it. But Flynn Rider goes through it all, and comes out on the other side as Prince Eugene Fitzherbert. What follows is what I learned from him.
I like Eugene Fitzherbert better.
Really. It’s a good name. It comes from the Greek εὺγενής which means well born or good birth. Now, it may seem a little paradoxical that Eugene’s name bears this definition, because he’s an orphan. We’re not given to know the details of that abandonment. We’re only privy to the results: the emergence of Flynn Rider. But this result, smolder and all, isn’t predetermined by Eugene’s unfortunate childhood.
Every time I watch Tangled, I am reminded again and again that choice plays a major role in each of our lives. As a boy in the orphanage, Eugene regales the younger kids with the tales of Flynnegan Rider, adventurer extraordinaire, and in so doing creates his own alter-ego, Flynn Rider. The problem, though, is that the hero he wants to grow up to be like isn’t a thief. Flynnegan Rider doesn’t steal, cheat, lie, or anything else. He’s a paragon (not a Gaston type paragon, mind, an actual paragon), and he is what Eugene Fitzherbert wants desperately to be. But he doesn’t want to do what it takes to get there.
This theme of choice isn’t unique to Tangled. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, even though there are eerie similarities between Harry and Voldemort, and the sorting hat considered putting him in Voldemort’s old house of Slytherin, Dumbledore tells him, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities…” Likewise in “Chuck vs. the Curse,” Sarah assures Chuck that being alone and hurting people is the result of the choices that people make. Eugene made choices, a multitude of them, just like each one of us. Each day we are confronted with innumerable possibilities that will reflect who we are in the deepest parts of our hearts and souls. These choices not only affect us, and reveal us to be who we are, they also impact those around us for good or ill. They will bring us closer to our true dream, our true life, or they will separate us from it.
All of Eugene’s past choices have had a deleterious effect, and so he becomes someone else. Yes, Flynn Rider is a compelling, fun, and interesting figure, but he is Eugene’s own self-denial. Flynn Rider is created by a series of evil choices, and is the opposite of the well born. He is a thief. He betrays his cohorts. He pursues money and a life of solitude. Before his encounter with Rapunzel, Flynn lives in a state of denial. Through her, he remembers his true name. She innocently presses him about the choices that he’s made. She tells him that the boy, and the name, he’s tried so hard to escape from, is actually better than the false persona he’s created.
Your dream stinks.
True words, my dear hook-handed ne’er-do-well. The dream to live on an island by yourself with no company save the piles and piles of ill-gotten booty is a malodorous dream, indeed. It is time to find a new dream, and this is precisely what happens to Eugene/Flynn/Eugene. I think it’s terribly interesting that this new dream, which turns out to be Rapunzel herself, involves not only giving up the thief’s life, and the piles and piles of money, it also involves a reclamation of his original name. In the finding of the true dream of his life, the thief formerly known as Flynn Rider, regains the original “good beginning.” In Rapunzel, and the act of self-sacrifice to protect her, Eugene experiences what we might rightly call a metania (Greek: μετάνἰα).
If I can wax theological for a moment, metania is often translated into English as “repentance,” but it seems that we have an underdeveloped sense of the original intent of the word. Rather than simply being sorry for one’s failures and bad choices, mentania literally means a “change of mind.” But it isn’t just a new way of thinking, being persuaded by a superior argument. No, this change of mind is a completely new reorientation of one’s whole life. The way you view the world, yourself, and the people around you is changed, illumined by the light of your new dream. Eugene has ceased to be the caricature of Flynnegan Rider, and has reoriented himself to participate in a new “good birth.” He has been truly converted-if I can use that term-to a new dream, the dream of his life.
This new dream is a new existence, or rather a renewed existence, and so it is natural to reclaim his old name. From the moment of his healing by Rapunzel, and his telling her the story of his life, he is no longer Flynn Rider, he is once again Eugene Fitzherbert. When Rapunzel refuses to use Eugene’s assumed name, she brings him back to who he truly is. Likewise, when we give up our selfish, and self-destructive, desires we discover that we are able to perceive that spark, that inspiration, that dream which will ultimately illuminate us (as Rapunzel is the Lost Princess whose symbol is the sun), make us who we are supposed to be, and yes, grant us a happily ever after.
In the end, Flynn Rider dies. I realize that may sound dreadfully depressing, but it’s actually a good thing, because he wasn’t supposed to be around in the first place. He took the place of Eugene Fitzherbert who’s every bit as dashing, fun, suave, and smoldery as Flynn Rider. And Eugene doesn’t have to lie, cheat, and steal to live his dream. He’s discovered his new dream, and lives his new life without regrets.
Companion piece to: Things I Learned from Disney Princesses: Rapunzel