by Heather Bock
“Now, Curdie!” she cried, “Won’t you believe what I told you about my grandmother and her thread?”
For she had felt all the time that Curdie was not believing what she told him.
“There!–don’t you see it shining on before us?” she added.
“I don’t see anything,” persisted Curdie.
“Then you must believe without seeing,” said the princess; “for you can’t deny it has brought us out of the mountain.”
Narnia Chronicles, L. M. Montgomery books, and now George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin: apparently God teaches me a lot through children’s literature. I first read The Princess and the Goblin, published in 1872 and written by one of the men who influenced C. S. Lewis, in college. A friend of mine suggested it for our book club, and after reading it again, I had to read it to my kids. MacDonald does occasionally break into a much higher reading level than my kids could understand, but I just added in some paraphrases, and we were on our way.
In the story, the young princess, named Irene, meets her great great great grandmother, who, unknown to everybody else, lives in the highest tower of the royal country house, subsisting on pigeons’ eggs. She has been weaving together an extremely strong and fine thread ever since Irene was born, which she fashions into a ball attached to a ring given to Irene to wear. Whenever Irene needs guidance, she follows the thread with her finger until it brings her back to her grandmother, but as the old princess says to the young one, “it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread.”
Irene is later put to the test when her thread leads her deep into the darkness inside a mountain. While she follows it, “she kept thinking more and more about her grandmother, and all that she had said to her, and how kind she had been, and how beautiful she was…And she became more and more sure that the thread could not have gone there of itself, and that her grandmother must have sent it.” But she is severely tested when the thread seemingly leads her to a dead end pile of rocks. What she doesn’t know but soon finds out is that her friend Curdie is on the other side of that pile, and she has been sent to rescue him.
Have you ever felt this way–following God by faith in the darkness with only a thread to guide you? Have you ever ended up seemingly abandoned in a dead-end cave for what reason you know not? Irene doesn’t give up hope because she focuses her mind on her grandmother’s goodness. We would do well to do the same about God when our faith is tested.
Irene and a very puzzled Curdie, who doesn’t believe in the existence of any great great great grandmother helping a small girl with the use of a tiny thread through the mountain, wind up safely on the front lawn of Irene’s abode. At this point, Curdie should have some faith in this trustworthy girl, even though he doesn’t understand, as his mother later admonishes him. However, he’s just not ready to trust, as Irene’s grandmother later reveals to her. This is when Irene’s faith is tested even further because Curdie still doesn’t believe her, to the extent that when he actually stands in the presence of Irene’s grandmother, he can’t see her. He storms off, hurt by what he thinks is Irene’s joke on him.
Irene cries to her grandmother, hurt by Curdie not believing her, who answers, “You must be content to be misunderstood for a while. We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary…to understand other people.” Irene learns she needs to be fair–if she expects others to understand her, she would need to try to understand them.
Just think how this message, given in a children’s book 144 years ago, is relevant to today. Our country is embroiled in political and racial fights, and most of the time, neither side takes the time to really listen and try to understand the other side’s point of view. It’s hard for me to truly listen when I don’t agree with a point of view myself. We usually just caricature and demonize each other, which only makes matters worse.
This book is full of beautiful, unique pictures of faith in God, acts of courage in accordance with that faith, and trust in those who have proven themselves trustworthy even when they appear foolish. It may be written with children in mind, but adults can learn from it just the same.