The Sad Flight of the Fisherman’s Soul

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The Fisherman follows the young Witch’s instructions and ends up entering into a gathering of witches in a clearing.  He fulfills his promise to the Witch – dancing with her wildly.

And then a man in black comes, whom the witches begin to worship.  The man is about to kneel before him, but “without knowing why he did it, he made on his breast the sign of the Cross, and called upon the holy name.”[1]  At that, the man and witches flee.

Funny how the man does not believe in Christ, and yet seeks protection from Him.

Anyway, the man catches the Witch before she flees and forces her to tell him how to separate his soul from his body.  She tells him that “what the men call the shadow of the body is not the shadow of the body, but is the body of the soul.  Stand on the seashore with thy back to the moon, and cut away from around thy feet thy shadow, which is thy soul’s body, and bid thy soul leave thee, and it will do so.’”[2]

Fight and Flight

Again, the man follows her instructions.  But the Soul puts up a fight

“And his Soul that was within him called out to him and said, ‘Lo! I have dwelt with thee for all these years, and have been thy servant. Send me not away from thee now, for what evil have I done thee?’  And the young Fisherman laughed.  ‘Thou has done me no evil, but I have no need of thee,’ he answered.  ‘The world is wide, and there is Heaven also, and Hell, and that dim twilight house that lies between.  Go wherever thou wilt, but trouble me not, for my love is calling to me.’  And his soul besought him piteously, but he heeded it not.

“And his Soul said to him, ‘If indeed thou must drive me from thee, send me not forth without a heart.  The world is cruel, give me thy heart to take with me.’ He tossed his head and smiled.  ‘With what should I love my love if I gave thee my heart?’ he cried.  ‘Nay, but be merciful,’ said his Soul: ‘give me thy heart, for the world is very cruel, and I am afraid.’ ‘My heart is my love’s,’ he answered, ‘therefore tarry not, but get thee gone.’ ‘Should I not love also?’ asked his Soul.  ‘Get thee gone, for I have no need of thee.’”[3]

The young Fisherman cuts the soul from him, and the Soul “rose up” and seemed to be a mirror image of himself.  The Soul promises to come back every year for “it may be that thou wilt have need of me.”[4]

The Fisherman scoffs at such an idea, and plunges into the sea, where his beloved little Mermaid meets him and welcomes him as her husband.

And the soul “went weeping away over the marshes.”[5]

The Sacrifice of a Soul

Last time, I focused on how the soul to non-believers is both the essence of a person (i.e. character, deeds, etc.), and to believers it is an eternal entity that engages in a relationship with God and in need of salvation.

Oscar Wilde seems to be working this out in his own mind throughout this story.  After all, the Fisherman does not want to do something completely evil – like pledge himself to the devil.  But he still wants no part of salvation.

He wants the character of godliness without the faith.  That’s what it boils down to, for our Fisherman and non-believers alike.  I do believe most people want to do good in this world. They want to be kind, generous, and merciful.  They want to cultivate good characters…but they want to do it apart from Christ.

And so, without realizing it, they cut their souls away.  It is literally what they do when they choose not to follow Christ.  They trade their own deeds for Christ’s, and perish in the process.

Oscar Wilde seems to be coming to this understanding…or at least he understands there is more to the soul than deeds.  Notice what the Soul begs for: a heart.  The place of affection and love.  This is crucial, as we shall see.  For without love, there can be no kindness or goodness of character.

But the Fisherman is kind!  And he loves!  Yes, so do many non-believers.  What’s more, I think they can love just as deeply as believers – and even more than some believers, as the Priest’s example shows us.

And yet, they only see their souls as half of what they truly are: their essence, and not their eternal being that needs salvation.  Their soul still lacks a “heart.”

Reconciling the World to their Souls

But how do we make them see the other half of their soul?  Well, for starers, we can’t make them see anything. Rather, we must show them…by showing them the Gospel.

Once again, we are faced with the failure of the Priest – and so many well-meaning Christians.  The Priest talked to the young Fisherman about souls – in ways he just didn’t understand.  The Priest’s talk was based on morals – which most non-believers, including the Fisherman, have.  But most importantly, the Priest never once mentioned the Gospel, the Good News.

To help non-believers see the need of the “other half” means telling them the Good News – that Jesus came to die for our sins so we didn’t have to rely on our own deeds for salvation.  That is why our news is good.

But we also need to act like it’s good.  We need to stop relying on our own deeds, too.  We need to stop seeing our soul as simply the “essence of who we are,” and start seeing our soul as saved, and thus our “essence” completely and thoroughly changed by Jesus.

Meaning, we must show them where the “heart” of their soul truly lies.



[1]  The Fisherman and His Soul by Oscar Wilde in Heidi Anne Heiner’s Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales from Around the World (Nashville, TN: SurLaLune Press, 2011) 372-373.

[2] The Fisherman and His Soul, 374.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Fisherman and His Soul, 375.

[5] Ibid.

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