I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing media lately. Aside from my recent post on media discernment, I had a lively discussion with some friends about the same subject, and there’s always another trashy TV show or a movie like Magic Mike to start a firestorm. It’s enough to make you want to give up all movies, TV, and books and go live in a cave.
Well, maybe it’s not that bad. But I do start longing for something uplifting. Real life is tough, but there is hope, and sometimes I need stories that remind me of that. This seemed like the perfect summer to continue my quest to learn the rest of the story. Previously in this column, I discovered that the family behind Cheaper by the Dozen had some madcap moments, and that Yours, Mine, and Ours was much more about faithfulness than either movie version made it seem. Since the hills of Zilker Park are alive this summer (see the bonus at the end), I turned my attention to The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
Most Americans are at least familiar with aspects of the smash hit Broadway musical and Julie Andrews film The Sound of Music based on the Trapp Family’s story. Captain Georg von Trapp, a widower with seven children, requests a governess from the local convent in Austria as World War II approaches. Young Maria, who isn’t quite cut out to be a nun, arrives and takes the whole family on a whirlwind journey to find themselves and grow in love, marrying the captain before they make a daring escape from the encroaching Nazis. “Do Re Mi,” “So Long, Farewell,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” singing nuns—what’s not to love? As is often the case with the entertainment business, though, that’s not the whole story. Gripping though it may be, the Trapp family did not take off through the mountains with their new mother. The plot of The Sound of Music is largely over less than seventy pages into the book! That, however, is where the core emerges and we find, once again, that faith (not drama) is the foundation of a good family.
They may not have climbed every mountain, but the Trapp Family did realize that Georg and Maria’s Austrian pride would not help them among Nazis. They “temporarily” left the country exactly one day before the borders were closed. The story then becomes a tale of immigrants: Maria’s foibles learning both English and American, the family’s slow adjustment to the American entertainment market, the struggles and joys of relative poverty, the actual hill-climbing day when they discovered their permanent American home, the mechanics of starting a summer camp, and the tension and stress of performing during wartime. Maria admits that parts of her story seem genuinely impossible, but the family never stopped believing in the power of God and the love of family.
As with Who Gets the Drumstick?, I was sadly surprised to note that the primary themes of this book (family and faith) were all but suppressed for dramatic interpretation. I love The Sound of Music, but my favorite moment comes very early in the film (and book). Maria meets with her superior in the convent, and the superior asks what is the most important lesson she has learned during her time there. Maria answers, “To find out what is the will of God and do it wholeheartedly.” Isn’t that the story of my life! Maria wanted so much to be a nun, but God needed her to be a wife and mother to ten children. (Yes, ten; the children Georg and Maria had together never show up on stage or screen.) The family were Austrian to the core, never even really wearing American clothes, but they never returned to their native country after the war. They suffered enough stress and loss to break anyone’s faith, but they likened their journeys to Abraham and Job, pillars of trust and fidelity.
A saga like the Trapps’ is almost too good to be true. Kind lenders emerge just when there’s no way they will be able to pay their bills. The perfect home is available just when they have nowhere to go. Sons return safely from war. Life does not come without sadness, but triumphing over our challenges is the goal, and those successes keep us moving toward our final reward in heaven. The Story of the Trapp Family Singers reminds us that everything we do on Earth should be pointing toward heaven.
Bonus feature: Even though the play doesn’t tell the whole story, it tells a good story. Take the whole family out to Zilker Hillside Theater for The Sound of Music, playing weekends now through August 11. Admission is free; donations are encouraged—and get there early for a good spot on the hillside!
Next time: The Screwtape Letters, another C.S. Lewis classic that seems more and more relevant all the time.