The Fop & the Fool: Christian Symbolism in The Scarlet Pimpernel

percy1The Scarlet Pimpernel is a dashing adventure of secret identities, romance, and swashbuckling action. It is at once a comedy and a tragedy, the tale of an aristocrat risking his life to save lives during the French Revolution. And if you care to dig a little deeper, and wear a theologian’s hat (on this occasion, plumed, as any self-respecting hat should be), the discerning Christian viewer can find subtle things to inspire us in our faith.

The flamboyant and petty life Percy leads in London is a far cry from his true personality. He appears to be obsessed with the things of the world, when in reality his interest is in loftier things. He wears a façade and plays a part as a fop and a fool, to conceal his true identity. The real Percy – heroic, courageous, and kind – is nothing like the external shell of shallowness and conceit. It takes time and suffering for the true Percy to emerge, and for his wife to know him utterly. The Percy she married is but a dim reflection of the man he is underneath.

percy3

We are all actors in a strange charade, mere reflections of our true selves –perfect, sinless, immortal beings not preoccupied with worldly things but focused on loftier things. Our façade is real until Christ enters our life, and then it falls away as He pushes us to abandon our fascination with petty things and focus on eternity. The spiritual stages of our life are much like Percy’s journey toward revealing his true self – at times, we are deep in the charade, so much so that we believe it ourselves; but as our faith matures, cracks appear in our farce and glimpses of our future selves emerge, momentary flickers for others to catch sight of, as Marguerite does with Percy (“Are you an actor too, playing a part in some strange charade?”).

The apostle Paul sums up our charade thus: “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (1 Corinthians 13:12, The Message Translation)

percy2God comprehends us utterly; He sees past what sin does to us, to our true immortal soul, to the person we would be in a sinless state. He sees us not only as we are but as He intends us to be in eternity. He looks past our external behavior into our heart, and just as Marguerite digs away at her husband’s façade, He wants to bring that true self to life. It is a painful process, to learn to trust Him. Like Percy, we try to hide ourselves away from God’s discerning gaze, fearing we can’t trust Him with our secrets, but inevitably, as He removes our masks and forces us to see our true reflection, we step away from deceit into the light.

Both the process of stripping away his illusions and maintaining them cause Percy no amount of emotional strain; yet, in both, he remains strong. Percy endures public scorn to save lives. He believes his cause is greater than the individual (and himself) and is willing to endure mockery and even death to preserve it. Our purpose is no different from his, to save lives. He saves them physically, while we point them toward spiritual salvation. The world is not kind to either of us and calls us all fools, but we can remain strong in the knowledge that we endure for a cause greater than ourselves.

This is part of the Anthony Andrews Blog Hop.

6 Replies to “The Fop & the Fool: Christian Symbolism in The Scarlet Pimpernel”

  1. All of us hide behind a facade of some sort, and it’s always so hard to break out of that protective layering. It’s safe, pretending to be someone else. That’s why Percy pretends, because it keeps both himself and his league safe. It would be interesting to see how he would behave once The Scarlet Pimpernel is no longer needed. Could he even show his real self to his fellow aristocrats? Will he have to keep himself hidden even after The Scarlet Pimpernel is no longer needed? I have a vision of Percy suddenly being his true, genuine self and an entire roomful of people literally fainting from the shock of it.

    It’s hard to be genuine sometimes, but real relationships are only born out of that sincerity. God desires a true, genuine relationship with His children. He knows who we are, and just like Percy’s facade hurt Marguerite, our facade must hurt our Lord. He sees us, knows us intimately, but He wants us to share ourselves with Him of our own choosing. That means everything, the joys, the sorrows, the anger, the fear, because He wants to share in everything with us.

    You’ve really stumbled upon a great parallel with this post. Well done!

    1. Sadly, Percy would be unwise ever to reveal his true identity – he may be “safe” in England, but there may always be disgruntled children of the Revolution who would do him harm if the truth came out. (I suspect no in the French government will want to admit to not knowing his true identity for years, much less letting him slip through their fingers, either, so his identity may well be kept a secret even in Paris.) Percy may have to live the farce in public for the rest of his life – but at least Margot knows the truth about him.

      God has a bit of an unfair advantage in knowing us utterly, whether or not we care to share our lives with him; in our friend-relationships, or even marital relationships, we still can keep things from the other person and may never truly feel comfortable being our real selves. But hopefully, with time comes trust – in both our relationship with God and one another.

  2. You have been writing some fantastic stuff lately. This reminded me of the scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Aslan strips away Eustace’s dragon-skin. It hurts right to his heart, but afterward, Eustace becomes a new boy.

    1. That’s quite a compliment — thank you! =)

      Yes, it is very like Eustace and Aslan, isn’t it? Lewis always had such profound insights — he went back and forth between a roaring lion and a whispering truth.

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