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On a recent visit to my sister’s house, I asked my two-year-old niece if she wanted to watch the movie Frozen. I figured it was time to bite the bullet and watch what some have hailed as the greatest movie of the 21st century. I am now unashamedly a fan. Whereas I initially introduced the topic into conversation with a preamble about how my niece had foisted the film upon me, I’ve since begun admitting that the opposite is closer to the truth. I think she may have even wandered off after a few minutes.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, the plot is fairly simply. Girl has power. Power is great but may hurt people. Girl is told to suppress power. Power resurfaces after many years with destructive consequences. Everyone must try to help girl grapple with power before it really hurts people. Add to this some selfish individuals at cross-purposes and you’ve got the point. Many have observed that the whole tragedy arises because of a misunderstanding between the stage of hurting and supressing. After Elsa hurts her sister Anna with her magical power, the troll king counsels her: “Listen to me, Elsa, your power will only grow. There is beauty in it. But also great danger. You must learn to control it. Fear will be your enemy.” Sounds like pretty excellent advice. Tragedy enters with the application. Elsa is locked up, isolated, and forbidden to exercise her power.

The initial counsel offers a wisdom that is lost in translation. So by taking his counsel with far greater weight than it perhaps deserves (I mean, we’re talking about an animated film months after its release), it may help to outline how Elsa’s dad (who was responsible for implementation) ought to have translated the recommendation of his troll counselor.

If we think of Elsa’s magical power (which primarily makes ice, but can also somehow conjure gossamer dresses, apply eye-shadow, and animate snow creatures) as a natural talent (something like our temperamental inclinations), then the question of integration becomes one of how best to “train” this power. And, the controlling or training of a power is a matter of acquiring the corresponding virtue.

Now, someone is good or bad primarily because of the virtues and vices they have and not necessarily because of genetic, temperamental, or environmental predispositions. These impulses of themselves are morally neutral. So initially, Elsa’s power isn’t particularly good or bad, it’s just powerful. Where the moral character enters is with the stable virtue or vice that shapes the power. And this is precisely why the “Lock her up” approach is so crazy . . . the only thing that it habituates is the very fear which the Grand Pabbie (the aforementioned troll king) identified as her enemy.

So with Elsa, the question becomes one of how to acquire the virtues to apply her power well (making snowmen, hosting winter festivals in season and out of season, playing snow mountain hopscotch, etc.) and thereby channeling the power to a good end and eliminating the occasion for potential abuse or harm.

So, the Grand Pabbie provides advice of the soundest stripe. It only suffers for its brevity. If he could have known how poor were the listening skills of Elsa’s father, perhaps he would have teased things out a little more explicitly. Here is a suggestion for what he might have said: “Listen to me Elsa, as you mature, get smarter, more resolute, taller, more perceptive, you will have the opportunity for a wider application of your power. As it stands, the power isn’t good or bad, just potent. Now, the power will grow as your faculties for expressing it grow. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will grow well; if not shaped by the rules appointed by who you are and what you want to become, and instead left to the fallen trajectory of original sin (provided her race—human by all appearances—is in fact fallen by Christian standards), it could be very destructive. Thus, you must work assiduously, as moved by God’s grace, to cultivate the virtue for a perfect exercise of this power. Fear will be your enemy, that is, you must not fear to engage with your power lest an integral part of your humanity either atrophy or grow to monstrous proportions. The latter seems more likely.”

Thus encouraged to exercise and not to suppress, Elsa may have had a less treacherous path to happiness. Against the temptation to dismiss the seemingly uncontrollable, she reminds us to engage with the passions and, by God’s grace, develop them unto the full stature of our supreme calling. And so from the other side of the proverbial door of emotional isolation, Anna asks you again: “Do you want to build a snowman?”

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