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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606

“Mary’s Child” has three levels operating in perfect harmony. One is the story surface, the actual events and language; another is symbolic, with parallels in everyone’s life; and the third is the spiritual level, eternity revealed through time.

Mary takes a starving woodcutter’s baby girl to heaven to rear as her own. The infant is given the best of care and has angels for playmates. When the girl is fourteen, Mary goes on a long trip and leaves the keys to thirteen rooms in heaven with the girl, telling her that she may open every door but the thirteenth, which is forbidden. The girl opens a new door every day to find an apostle. On the thirteenth day, devoured by curiosity, she opens the forbidden door and sees the Trinity blazing in fire and glory. She gazes in awe and puts out her finger, which turns to gold. Suddenly, she is seized by panic, closes the door, and rushes to Mary, who knows immediately what has happened. Three times Mary asks the girl if she opened the forbidden door, and three times the girl denies it. Mary has no choice but to send her to earth. It is Original Sin repeated, but it is also the way that adolescence is experienced, as a loss of innocence and being cared for by adults. It marks the beginning of suffering as a constant part of the human makeup and the point at which one must accept the consequences of one’s actions.

The girl is isolated from all human contact in a part of the forest surrounded by thorns. She tries to cry out but finds that she is mute. She must fend for herself, eating roots, nuts, and berries, and having only a hollow tree for shelter. She looks back on her life in heaven with longing. That is how things are out in the cold, harsh world of adolescence, where pain isolates one from everyone else.

The girl becomes a woman. Her clothes have dissolved in shreds, but she is covered by her long, golden hair. One spring, a king chases a roe into her area of forest and must hack through the thorns. He finds a beautiful, mute young woman, whom he takes home and marries. At this point, the courtship rite is stripped to its basics. A man chases a sleek, healthy animal into cover. If he persists in his hunt through the thorns of misunderstanding, jealousy, female contrariness, and pain, he will behold the one woman in the world for him, exactly as she is, naked and splendid. She, in turn, will behold a king.

In the following three years of marriage, the queen has two sons and a daughter. After the birth of each, Mary visits the queen and asks if she opened the forbidden door, and each time the queen denies it. Thereupon Mary takes the child to heaven, again leaving the queen mute. After the disappearance of each child, the king’s councillors and subjects accuse the queen of cannibalism until the king can no longer ignore them. The queen is tried, convicted, and sentenced to burn at the stake. Her one sin, compounded by six lies, leads to death. Yet as the flames rise, her icy heart melts, and she cries out, “Yes, Mary, I did it.” Mary then quenches the fire with rain, fully restores the queen’s speech and three children, and blesses her with happiness. Mary herself points out the moral that forgiveness is gained only by repentance and confession. The real miracle is that God is humble enough to accept last-minute repentance.

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