Fantasy author George MacDonald is known to many readers, including me, for being a favorite of C.S. Lewis. Having heard of his influence on Lewis, I put him on my reading list years ago, but it took Jenny’s putting his stories on my book-swap list for this year to get me to actually read his work.
The edition of The Light Princess and Other Fairy Stories that I read, available on Project Gutenberg, included three stories. (Some other editions with this same title have more.) Although I enjoyed all three stories, the first, “The Light Princess,” was my favorite.
“The Light Princess” is the story of a princess who is light in the most literal sense, thanks to a curse placed upon her by her aunt, the Princess Makemnoit:
Her atrocious aunt had deprived the child of all her gravity. If you ask me how this was effected, I answer, “In the easiest way in the world. She had only to destroy gravitation.” For the princess was a philosopher, and knew all the ins and outs of her book-lace. And being a witch as well, she could abrogate those laws in a moment; or at least so clog their wheels and rust their bearings, that they would not work at all. But we have more to do with what followed than with how it was done.
What follows is a series of amusing incidents in which the princess’s parents and caretakers learn to cope with her tendency to float away when raised in the air or exposed to a breeze. But matters turn more serious when it becomes apparent that the princess’s detachment from the world goes beyond an inability to keep her feet on the ground. She’s also seems unable to develop a spiritual and emotional connection to the world. Her laughs, which are abundant, sound hollow, and her only real joy is being in the water, where she feels something like gravity holding her in place.
Thus, MacDonald turns a fun fairy tale into a meditation on the importance of connection and the value of exiting in a body. I wondered, in fact, if MacDonald, who was a minister, was trying to illustrate why the doctrine of the incarnation, which teaches that Jesus was God in human flesh, is an important piece of the church’s relationship with God.
The second story, “The Giant’s Heart,” is an adventure set in the land of giants. A brave little girl named Tricksey-Wee and her brother Buffy-Bob land in the clutches of a giant who loves to collect little children and have them as snacks. The plucky and unafraid Tricksey-Wee decides not only that she will escape but that she will teach the giant a lesson. Silly character names aside, the story has some great moments, although it sags for a bit when Tricksy-Wee is on her journey to find the giant’s weakness. Thunderthump the giant was too much fun to be out of the story for so long.
The final story, “The Golden Key,” is more serious than the others, and while I didn’t have as much fun reading it, I’ve been thinking about this story more than I did the other two. In it, a boy called Mossy seeks a golden key at the end of the rainbow, and when he finds it, he goes on to try to learn what it unlocks. Joining him on the journey through Fairyland is a poor girl named Tangle. Traveling together and separately, the pair see many wonders, including fish that volunteer to be eaten and a young old man. The story is rich with symbols, and as a whole, it reads like a metaphorical rendering of a journey through life. The imagery of water, fish, and the like seem Christian, but the story isn’t nearly as obvious with its meanings as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’m going to have to read it a few more times to wrap my mind around the possible meanings.
If you enjoy Victorian fairy tales, or if you’re interested in C.S. Lewis and his influences, these stories are definitely worth a read. I already have three of MacDonald’s novels (Lilith, At the Back of the North Wind, and The Princess and the Goblin) on my e-reader, and I’m eager to read one of those. Any suggestions about which one to try first?