Ever get tired of being underestimated? Come to a tiny hut in the forest to meet a little mouse with a big secret as she overcomes prejudice, wins love, and saves what has been lost, all by being herself.
What was that Hebrew word again?
Temptation Tuesday Audiobook
Wise Women: Episode 1
“The Forest Bride”: Just Being Myself
Welcome to Lost in the Woods Fairy Tales ™. I’m your host, Autumn Woods, and I’m so excited you’re here. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed sharing stories with you. Thank you to listeners and supporters like Janice Woods and Melinda Michelle who have made sure I get back into the recording booth to do this! And to Ira Woods for jumping into production side of things with me. I appreciate all of you. If you’re new to the show, Lost in the Woods Fairy Tales is about uplifting women through fairy tales and scripture. The two may not seem connected, but stories have always been an effective tool in ministry. Jesus spoke in parables constantly to make the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven relatable to people on earth. He designed the stories to contain concepts familiar to His audience so that those that have ears to hear would hear. I believe that we have continued to do the same, and that these fairy tales from childhood contain so many symbolic messages for God’s children, who are seeking to find their place in this world, struggling to understand their relationships with others, and boldly overcoming obstacles in it. We’re here to celebrate the fact that we can see God’s true love for us and reflections of our Christian walk in many fairy tales.
In each episode, I read a favorite fairy tale from my childhood that explores these ideas and then provide an analysis of the things that the story reveals to us from a Christian perspective. Our current season is called Wise Women and focuses on stories of women who wield their wisdom against adversity. Don’t panic about the title. I’m not exalting witches, here. I’m talking about women who are smart, discerning, creative, cunning, and skilled. Women who use those gifts and talents in a godly way to guard themselves and others against evil. Women like Deborah, Jael, the Proverbs 31 woman of valor, and more.
Our first story explores the wisdom of being unshakably rooted in Christ, knowing that our godly identity cannot be altered, no matter how dire or frustrating our circumstances are. In “The Forest Bride,” our heroine’s bold example of godly confidence in her true identity and authority begins to affect her betrothed, encouraging him to take a leap of faith, even when it sounds crazy.
So, let’s get lost, as we read the story of (The Forest Bride, or The Mouse Who was a Princess).
I’ll be honest, I almost threw the book the first time I read that the princess and her retinue were knocked into the river. But a closer examination as we go forward will reveal that this startling action is absolutely symbolically necessary for the restoration and elevation of the princess and her people. Don’t wander away from the campfire. We’re about to shed some light on the incredible treasure hidden in this story, after a brief message.
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Alright, back to the analysis. We begin, as we rarely do, with the leading man. Veikko is the third son in a family of men. Remember that three is a number of completion, and in fairy tales, the third repetition, like the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, ushers in a change in status, power, and elevation. We haven’t explored the motif of the youngest son much, as this podcast usually focuses on female-centric fairy tales. But the third son in a family of unruly brothers is usually the blessed one. He may begin as the underdog, overlooked and underappreciated. Perhaps he is particularly stupid, clever, or innocent, and other characters, especially his two older brothers, will by turns tease, torment, or ignore him. He doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the family and pays attention to big little things that others will dismiss as unimportant. Inevitably, this third son winds up being the kind of man the Lord loves to partner with, someone unlikely, full of humility and potential. The third son usually comes out on top by the end of the story in spite of the sabotage he may encounter from his brothers or other characters.
Veikko’s father knows that it is time for his sons to marry and begin their own lives. He instructs them to each chop down a tree and then follow “the direction in which the fallen tree points” to search for a wife. This can be likened to praying for direction and discernment. Rather than assigning wives to his sons, the father encourages them to pursue the right answers for themselves, giving them a gentle but firm kick into the next phase of adulthood. At some point, our faith has to become our own. We cannot rely on the relationship our parent, parents, or guardian has with God to see us through. We ourselves have to pursue the One who “[knows] the plans [He] has for [us], plans to prosper and not harm [us], to give us a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The felling of the three trees is also reminiscent of Jacob’s wrestling match with God. Before becoming Israel and facing his brother, Esau, as a man of God, Jacob struggled all night long with the Lord in a wrestling match so vicious, the Lord had to wither Jacob’s hip muscle to end the fight. Even then, Jacob refused to let go until he received a blessing from his sparring partner and direction for the next phase of his life. This encounter marked a rite of passage for Jacob, as the former deceiver surrendered to Yaweh and embraced his new identity as Israel, a name which “[expresses] the concept of wrestling, clinging firmly to God, and overcoming” (biblestudytools.com). In the same way, the three brothers must each metaphorically wrestle a tree to the ground to separate from dependence on their father and pursue their next phase of life as husbands and providers.
When Veikko’s brothers’ trees land in familiar, civilized directions, and his points directly into the wild, untamed forest, Veikko is not dismayed. He looks forward to adventure. But his brothers mock him, unable to understand the desire to trailblaze and go questing, preferring instead to take the easy paths they know to get what they’re after. What no one but Veikko and perhaps his father seem to know, is that Veikko has a pioneer spirit. He is braver than his brothers. Rather than dutifully following a simple, prescribed direction, he is willing to step into the realm of the unseen, face new challenges, and bring back treasures hitherto hidden from duller eyes. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search it out” (Proverbs 25:2). God desires to be pursued by us. He rewards the ones who search Him out eagerly with wisdom, knowledge, and blessings, especially those who would rather answer to Him than man, and refuse to be ashamed of Him.
Veikko is good and kind. He is innocent without being naïve. Although he may not seem so, he is wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove (Matthew 10:16). He is able to dismiss his brothers mockery and carry on with his quest full of hope and promise, happy to get lost in the woods to find his heart’s desire. But the deeper he ventures into the forest, the weaker his courage grows. He becomes concerned with what he cannot see and nearly misses his destination. He’s ready to dismiss what he finds there, too, because it doesn’t meet his expectations. Instead of a woman, he finds a mouse, daintily combing her whiskers, holding court in an abandoned hut as if it were a grand castle. In this sequence, he behaves a bit like the disciples in the gospels. He looks at everything through natural eyes and forgets that not everything is exactly what it seems at first glance. A man born blind was not made so because of generational sin, but to show the glory of God in the mundane. A retaliatory storm on the lake is not a death sentence, but the precursor to a spiritual victory. And a mouse that “does not count” is actually a princess in disguise.
Veikko’s brothers have teased him about being forced to marry a fox or a wolf. In fairy tales, these animals often represent the devil and deception. On a deeper level, the brothers are intimating that Veikko will make an inappropriate and destructive match and make a fool of himself. This thought is now at the forefront of Veikko’s mind. While it is true that his prospective bride does have furry ears and sharp white teeth, she will prove to do only good and not evil toward her beloved. She does not allow her unfortunate change of shape to prevent her from being herself and accomplishing great things that she knows how to do, in spite of her fiancé’s disbelief. As Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream would say, “And though she may be but little, she is fierce.” She is a representation of God choosing the foolish to confound the wise and the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). Throughout the story, we see her doing the impossible and doing it well, even though she is not in the form her betrothed would expect.
In our world, even in the body of Christ, a prejudice still exists against God’s daughters. We are not expected to do and are often prohibited from doing great and mighty things because we are not the vessel our brothers and even some of our sisters would like to receive from. Their eyes, distorted by the bias of false teaching, look at us and see a squeaking mouse where God put a ferocious lioness. God calls whom He will, and “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). He made a way through Jesus’ sacrifice for the curse pronounced at the fall of man to be broken. Jesus came to save “that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11). Not only who, but what was forfeited when our ancestors handed their authority to Satan. And part of what was given away that day, was co-rulership of the earth shared by Yaweh’s sons and daughters. In Eden, our Heavenly Father gave men and women the same job to do in different ways, magnifying multiple facets of God’s personality and character as we did so through our complimenting strengths. Both genders were blessed and called to, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Did you know that rabah, the Hebrew word for multiply doesn’t just refer to procreation? Strong’s Concordance shows us that it also means “to become great.” So, God was literally telling His children, “Go be great!” You, ezer kenegdo, strong rescuer, warrior, and helper created in the image of your royal Father, have His permission to go be great and reach your fullest potential stewarding what He has given you. Remember that if you belong to Him, the new covenant restores your authority in this world. A high price was paid to give it back to you. Don’t forfeit it at the first sign of someone’s unbelief in you. Operate in it in all the ways you are able under God’s direction.
Our enchanted heroine remembers who she is regardless of her circumstances. She is a king’s daughter vested with authority to command. She is capable of creating and providing for others. And she refuses to allow Veikko’s doubt and disdain to mar the truth of her identity. She is wise enough not to launch into a tirade about her title and what has happened to her. He wouldn’t receive all of that at this moment. Knowing that he would trample her pearls in the mud, she conceals them for now. His unbelief does not stop her capability or diminish her authority. As long as she unshakably operates from this base, there is hope for our hero and heroine to push forward and achieve their goals.
Jesus is an expert at protecting His heart and value in the face of opposition while remaining open to those who would receive Him. Again and again in the gospels, we find Him choosing how much of Himself to share depending on the receptiveness of His audience. He refuses to fall for the accusations and verbal traps of the Pharisees and Sadducees, sagely remembering that He answers to God’s authority, not man’s. When they ask Him by what authority He operates, He knows they are too proud to swallow the real answer. They are unworthy of the full litany of His illustrious credentials because they refuse to believe even the forerunners like Moses and John the Baptizer who heralded His divine coming (Luke 20:8). Many also had trouble receiving Jesus because they were expecting Him to come as warrior king first, with His prophetic role as servant taking a backseat. But like our forest bride, our royal Beloved came on a covert ops mission in a lowly form first, paving the way for the restoration of His mighty kingdom.
We have to remember that ourselves. Someone’s unbelief in your godly value, position and identity doesn’t strip you of them. Jesus remains the Son of God no matter who does or doesn’t believe in Him. If you’re a follower of Christ, you remain part of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a beloved child of the Most High God whether people treat you that way, or not (1 Peter 2:9). These credentials are an indelible part of your heritage. So is the fact that “no weapon formed against you shall prosper and every tongue that rises against you in judgement [the Lord] will condemn” (Isaiah 54:17). You don’t have to waste your time punishing others for not believing in you. Go about your business. Vengeance belongs to the Lord and He will repay (Deuteronomy 32:35).
Fortified with godly confidence, the princess dismisses Veikko’s—dismissal, and insists on hearing of his quest. Little does he know he and the mouse are the answer to each other’s problems. Excitedly, the princess volunteers to be his sweetheart. When Veikko balks at the idea, she gently admonishes him that her appearance has no bearing on her love and loyalty. He could do a lot worse than her. As the underestimated mouse of his own house, he is a perfect match for the bewhiskered princess. She comforts him and sings to him, putting him at ease and encouraging him at last to accept her as his betrothed. Her song causes him to stop focusing on what he thinks the mouse cannot do and fixes his eyes on her loving heart, kind spirit, and ferocious determination. Her song lets the unseen become visible. Praise does the same thing. Praising God fixes our gaze on Him and what He can do rather than on our circumstances and alleged incapability. It reminds us to be grateful for what God has done and that, as He is the same yesterday, today and forever, He will meet our needs again. He’ll just do it His way. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). You wouldn’t need to be guarded with peace if everything God orchestrates to help you made complete sense to you!
In addition to praise, this verse mentions another weapon: thankfulness. When you are thankful for what you are given and confident that the Giver will continue to provide because you know God’s character, it is hard to be discouraged or swayed to envy and jealousy. You wisely steward what you have in your heart because of Who gave it to you. Similarly, Veikko is able to cherish the mouse as his sweetheart because of her character. He believes in her promises because of who and how she is toward him.
Of course, this is all worth nothing if it is not put to the test. Veikko’s faith must be refined in the fire. He must learn to conduct himself in wisdom as his sweetheart has done. Veikko must first prove himself by enduring the mockery of his brothers. When they return home, the two eldest brothers boast of their sweethearts’ beauty and tease Veikko about having a beloved with “pretty pointed ears” and “sharp white teeth.” The temptation here would be for Veikko to hang his head and admit that they are right. He did take an animal bride after all. But no. She is more. She talks and sings and comforts and corrects. She royally commands respect. And so, he tells them the truth. His beloved is “a gentle dainty little thing gowned in velvet…like a princess. And when she… sings to [him he’s] perfectly happy.” Full of grace and seasoned with salt, Veikko’s carefully chosen words silence his brother’s derision (Colossians 4:6). He has followed his sweetheart’s example of protecting her true value regardless of adversity. In doing so, he not only stops the mouths of his enemies, but reminds himself that he has found a treasure and he will not trivialize it just because it might appear strange to others. He guards the seed that has fallen onto good soil, preventing thorns from choking out his joy and birds from swooping in and carrying it away before it can come to fruition.
Your relationship with God might look a little like Veikko’s with the forest bride. He comes to you in ways that you can understand, offering you a life that sounds wonderful, until you have to tell people what living that way really means. Out of devotion to God, there are things you’ll give up to be closer to Him. Often, this includes the respect of the people around you who don’t understand what you’re doing or why. This is the time to carefully choose how you’ll defend your treasure. If you give in to self-deprecation in an attempt to shift blame or be endearing, you’re being disloyal and cheapening your hidden treasure in your own eyes. Tell the truth. But cunningly. Make them wonder about the draw the Lord has for you by extolling His virtues and capabilities and sharing what He’s done for you.
Of course, that won’t be the end of the trial. Sanctification is an ongoing process, unfortunately. Immediately after Veikko wins this verbal victory, his father presents the brothers with a new challenge. Their fiancées must now present samples of their baked bread to prove that they will be good partners for his sons. Once again, the braggadocious brothers assert that of course their sweethearts will make fantastic bread. Only Veikko remains silent, unsure of what his bride can and cannot do. Judiciously, he admits that he does not know if his sweetheart can bake bread and he’ll have to ask her. In reality, that would be a reasonable question. Were the princess in her true form, she might not necessarily be expected to know how to bake bread. She would have servants to do that for her. But our heroine is no ordinary princess. While she does command an impressive staff of mice, she takes part in the baking herself, working willingly with her hands. They accrue the required materials to complete the project, and she assembles the ingredients into a beautiful loaf of wheaten bread for her future husband. She is very much an eshet chayil, a woman of valor, who does not fear for the provision of her house because she knows that she is crafted to be capable of making everything she puts her hand to prosper. And she does all of this while waving aside Veikko’s fear and unbelief as easily as she would a speck of dirt from her whiskers.
We often underestimate God the way Veikko doubts the forest bride. We project our limited experience of people who have disappointed us onto our Heavenly Father who is perfect and capable of doing what no ordinary person can. Wisdom reminds us that His thoughts are not our thoughts and our ways are not His ways (Isaiah 55:8). Just as the forest bride meets her fiancé’s fears with bold conviction and assertiveness, God too, answers our trepidation with a smirking, cunning confidence that tells us we have yet to see what the Creator of the Universe is capable of doing, and if we would kindly step aside and give Him room to work in our lives, what wonders won’t He do? What won’t He invite us to partner with Him in if we will only release our narrow expectations and trust Him? This is what a wise woman does and encourages others to do along with her.
Armed with an exceptional loaf of bread and a braver countenance and mindset, Veikko returns to his father with the forest bride’s offering. His brothers foam at the mouth with envy at the skill of Veikko’s sweetheart, but their father is impressed. Veikko’s mystery princess is capable of producing finer bread than the peasant women his other two sons are courting. Perhaps she will prove the superior seamstress as well. The farmer charges his sons to return with weaving samples from each prospective bride. For the second time, Veikko’s heart drops into his stomach. How could he ask the little mouse to weave?
Once more, Veikko returns to his forest bride a bundle of nerves and she puts his mind to rest by calling on her faithful servants to bring her the finest flax, which she promptly weaves into a linen so sheer and fine, it can be neatly folded into a nutshell. Knowing that his brothers will rage with jealousy, Veikko conceals his bride’s gift until the last possible minute, so that his father’s praise of the princess’ work swiftly shuts their mocking mouths. At last, having gotten a fair idea of what his future daughters-in-law will be like, the farmer bids his sons to bring their brides to meet him. This time, Veikko is not afraid. He affirms the good character of his bride, determining not to be ashamed of her outward appearance.
A word about the tasks and numbers. The sons must visit their brides four times before returning with them. Four is the number of the cardinal directions and stands for government. The brothers are transitioning from young adulthood into manhood. Once, they were protected by their father. Now, they will become protectors as husbands in charge of their own territories with their spouses governing alongside them. The women are given two tasks to perform. Two, as you may remember, represents judgement and discernment. The father is a wise man, and it only takes two tests for him to begin to understand what his future daughters-in-law will be like based on their work.
Notice that these are not maiden tasks like sifting, which is meant to reflect a woman learning discernment and cementing her identity in a giant round of keep or toss. The prospective brides are expected to already be stable and capable enough to sustain others and create a community. They take small pieces, ingredients, and make something bigger out of them that benefits themselves and those around them. Tiny grains are gathered and ground into flower to make bread. Threads of flax are bound together to make fabric for garments, household linens, and more. Biblically, the women are showing that they can teach their families to follow the Lord and gain sustenance from daily bread, daily communion with Him. They are able to clothe themselves and their families in strength and dignity, guiding them toward confidence in their identities in Christ and equipping them to resist any other mantle the enemy would thrust upon them. And Veikko’s bride exceeds them all, bringing honor to her husband through her regal diligence and efficiency. Like God, she performs each task exceedingly, abundantly, beyond what Veikko could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20 paraphrased).
Because the forest bride does him good and not evil, Veikko is proud to call her sweetheart, and invites her home to meet his father. He begins to question his resolve a bit when his excited bride orders a nutshell coach drawn by five black mice so that she can arrive in style, but his love and admiration for her win out in the end. Remember that five is the number of grace. A deeper dive into the prophetic meaning of the color black reveals that it represents a person who is willing to be hidden for the sake of discovering the mysteries God has concealed. It symbolizes being willing to trust Him as your only source, allowing yourself to take root in Him and listen only to His voice in the midst of trial. He will give you eyes to see in these times, for the darkness is not dark to him, as David reminds us in Psalm 139:12. The princess has been hidden in her mouse form. She has passed the test of standing firm in the truth of who she is and what she can do regardless of her outward circumstances. Veikko himself has risked heading into parts unknown and believing in someone beyond his understanding. They have each been given the grace to endure their trials together and obtain the rewards at their completion. But there is one more thing that must occur to mark the shift and elevation of our heroes.
The cruel scene where the stranger kicks the mice into the river takes place on a foot bridge. You’ll remember from “Maid Maleen” that bridges symbolize transition and connection. They are a spot where the natural, earth, connects with the supernatural, air and water. The physical act of drowning the mice has ramifications in the spiritual realm, loosing the princess and her retinue from their curse and restoring to them what had been lost. Like us, they could only be freed and restored by love and sacrifice. Their transformation back to their original forms after death is very much like baptism. A heart change takes place first, with a person committing themselves to Christ, and then the physical act, baptism, occurs as an outward sign of an inward choice to allow the old man, the flesh, to die and be subject to the spirit, led, of course, by the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Veikko, the princess, and, by proxy, her people are already committed to each other in their hearts before the physical restoration occurs through death and resurrection.
The princess arises in her true form to assume her throne and whisk Veikko away with her in a golden carriage to be her beloved bridegroom. Gold, of course, represents being refined in the fires of testing and being proven true. It also symbolizes God’s glory and righteousness. The princess and her people are restored to their former glory, and Veikko is rewarded for his faithfulness by being invited to ride in the carriage with his new bride to a miraculous new life. But first, she prepares a table before him in the presence of his enemies. When Veikko and the princess arrive at his father’s house in the royal carriage, his brothers lament his good fortune, but his father rejoices, knowing that his youngest son and daughter-in-law posses the good hearts, kindness and wisdom to rule and love well.
None of this would have worked out if the forest bride had not been completely confident in who she truly was and operated wisely from that foundation. In spite of opposition and difficulty, she guarded her heart and transformed the people in her sphere, aiding in their elevation and restoration even as she received it herself. Our restored kingdom is coming, too. And until then, there is much to do. Remember that you are a child of the Most High God. He has redeemed you. He has called you by name. You are His. And no one can take that away from you. Secure in that knowledge, seek the wisdom to apply it and transform the world around you as a wise and mighty woman valor.
Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode and rate the show on your favorite podcast platform. If you’d like to be part of what goes on in the fairy tale forest, click the support the show link in the notes, or follow me on Instagram. I’m Autumn Woods and I can’t wait to see you on the path next time you get Lost in the Woods.