I for one can really testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start…Of all the stories I have read, including even all the novels of the same novelist, it remains the most real, the most like life. It is called The Princess and the Goblin, and is by George MacDonald.
–G. K. Chesterton
by Heather Bock
Last year I reviewed The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, and as I just finished reading its sequel to my kids, The Princess and Curdie, I couldn’t help reviewing it, too. This was not my first time reading either of these books–in fact, I was required to read them in a theology class at the Christian college I attended.
If you like the lessons that can be learned through C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, you will want to consider this book for your older kids or for yourself [After all, MacDonald said, “I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five” (A Dish of Orts).] In fact, George MacDonald, along with Lewis Carroll, was one of the first authors to write children’s books in English. These books inspired C.S. Lewis’s writing. Lewis said, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him” (George Macdonald, An Anthology, Preface). Lewis also said that MacDonald’s Phantastes “baptized his imagination” (Surprised by Joy).
Lewis recognized that some problems existed in MacDonald’s writing. I’m not sure all Lewis meant, but I would say in the Princess books, the vocabulary level changes dramatically at times, so that I can read it easily to my 7 and 9 year-old kids at one point, only to have to basically translate it to them in another place. It’s almost as if he forgets he’s writing to children at all. I agree with Lewis’ statement: “Yet the gold is so good that it carries off the dross…I know nothing that gives me such a feeling of spiritual healing, of being washed, as to read G. Macdonald” (The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves).
My children were never turned off by the high language–in fact, they were quite taken by the books and were sorely disappointed when they found out there were no more Princess books by MacDonald. They cheered when they found out he had written other children’s books, and even though I had to do an interlibrary loan to track one down, they are excited for it to arrive.
This sequel, like the one before it, is deeper than the plot. I continually paused in my reading to ask my kids questions about the book, such as if they could identify the similarities in the characters with one or more members of the Trinity and what it pointed out about the nature of that member. I asked if they could tell me how the action in the book relates to how we ought to act. I *had* to pull out Revelation at one point to show them similarities with an end times event described, and they were excited to hear it.
The story continues the journey of Curdie, a courageous miner boy faithful to the king. After the old princess purifies his hands in her fire, she asks Curdie to go through much danger in order to help the young princess and her father, the severely weakened king, in a faraway city. A day of reckoning awaits the many who plot against and secretly despise their sovereign. Curdie is joined and continually helped by a strange creature named Lina (along with her 49 other unique comrades). Lina is ugly, but Curdie discovers that inside, she is as pure as a young child. In contrast, Curdie discovers many who look kind and innocent but who are deadly snakes on the inside.
Themes of courage, faith, faithfulness, discernment, appearances, class, love, consequences, and growth run throughout this story. It continually gave me vivid physical pictures for spiritual realities and lessons to help my children understand these realities better. I find it truly a shame that although Lewis’ wonderful books are widely read by Christians today, MacDonald is often overlooked. I haven’t even read all of his books, but I plan to start.