I believe that well-written children’s stories are one of mankind’s mightiest tools; they possess an otherworldly power to capture my imagination and challenge me to step beyond the boundaries of my mind. Many of my favorite stories deal shrewdly with complex concepts difficult to explain, crafting them into something instead both accessible and largely comprehensible.
Along this vein, C.S. Fritz’s Cottonmouth and the River is a quintessential example of a powerful children’s story and is, like many beloved stories, an intricately involved, meticulously crafted analogy. Though at the surface this fantastical tale mainly revolves around a lonely little boy and a tender-hearted beast, it is in fact a representation of the foundations, and widely misunderstood truths, of Christianity.
The story opens with an introduction of its 10-year-old protagonist, Freddie, who lives alone in a great, big house – the whereabouts of his parents left unexplained. Deprived of a family, Teddie is without companionship and wanting for love.
One day, on another of his daily walks to a river nearby, Freddie discovers a curious black egg. Fascinated by the egg’s shiny exterior and mysterious origins, Freddie takes the egg back home with him. That evening, a strange beast named “Tug the Comforter” – whose gruff, yet friendly appearance bears resemblance to the creatures of “Where the Wild Things Are” – magically appears in Freddie’s home.
Of the egg, Tug explains: “Whatever you could possibly want to do, whatever you could possibly imagine… the egg will provide.”
Tug reveals that the egg was gifted to Freddie by the river. Aware of the pain in Freddie’s heavy heart, the river decided to bless Freddie by granting him with “new life.” While Freddie is allowed to do whatever he wants with the egg, Tug emphasizes to Freddie the only stipulation: he must not eat the egg.
Likely in an endeavor to fulfill every one of Freddie’s wild and whimsical childhood dreams, the unlikely companions partake in all sorts of adventures via the power of the egg: together Freddie and Tug soar above the clouds, feast upon a boundless amount of dessert atop a candy-adorned cliff, scuba dive with angler fish, and grow facial hair.
However, despite having finally attained a taste of interminable joy, Freddie’s hope for his parents’ return looms over his head like a storm cloud. Driven by the dissatisfaction he associates with their absence, Freddie makes a devastating decision that is met, as we would expect, with dire consequences for Freddie.
While the story is largely reminiscent of Christian themes prior to this point, here is where the analogy to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross becomes astoundingly clear: although Freddie deserves to be punished for his decision, Tug the Comforter bears the full burden of the consequences in Freddie’s place.
Through Freddie’s weakness and Tug’s response, C.S. Fritz draws attention to the significance of grace, the meaning of unconditional love, and the relationship between creation and Creator, while celebrating the hope that we have in our Comforter. A story of joy, sorrow, and sacrificial love, Cottonmouth and the River is both a tender and poignant illustration of the gospel message – the foundation of Christian faith.
Cottonmouth and the River is thought-provoking, beautifully designed, and well-worth a read; it is also the most impressively illustrated analogy of the gospel I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across. Though it is indeed a Christian book, I highly recommend this stunning treasure to religious and non-religious readers alike.