Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Faith Like a Child: The Princess and the Goblin

"And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'" Matthew 18:3. These words are the essence of George MacDonald's classic The Princess and the Goblin, a story of complete trust in what you may not understand, and understanding those who cannot believe. MacDonald uses fantasy to bring to life basic truths that resonate not only with the young, but also with those who thought that they had left fantasy behind.

The Plot:

In a far away kingdom, young Princess Irene lives in a secluded palace with only her nurse and a few servants. Her King Papa keeps her there to protect her from the goblins who were driven underground many years ago and who are just waiting for the chance to get their revenge on the him. One evening, Irene and her nurse are caught outside after dark which was not only against the rules, but also very dangerous. They are rescued from the circling goblins by Curdie, a young miner who knows the ways of the goblins and also how to defeat them.

Not long after, Curdie uncovers a diabolical plot that the goblins are planning, but in the process of discovering more is captured and left to die deep in the goblin's caves. It is now up to Irene with the help of her mysterious great-great-grandmother to rescue Curdie and thereby save herself and her kingdom from the wicked goblins.

My Review (Caution: Spoilers)

MacDonald's literature has inspired many great writers including J.R.R. Tolkein, Madeleine L'Engle, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis who regarded MacDonald as his "master". And it is easy to see the influence from his use of fantasy to carry basic truths, to the all-knowing "adult" narrator of his literature for children. Like most children's literature, the basic truths are fairly obvious, but yet are also subtle enough so as not to come across as too preachy.

The main truth that MacDonald conveys is the need for a simple, trusting and child-like faith. This is seen mostly in Irene's relationship with her great-great-grandmother. Irene is told that whenever she feels afraid, she must follow a thin silver thread wherever it may lead her. Irene is surprised when this thread leads her deep into the goblins caves and through many dangerous areas before leading her to Curdie. But through this, Irene gains a complete trust in her grandmother and knows that as long as she is following her grandmother's instructions, no harm will come to her.

"Now," said Curdie, "I think we shall be safe."
"Of course we shall," returned Irene.
"Why do you think so?" asked Curdie.
"Because my grandmother is taking care of us."

We also must gain this complete and child-like trust. When Holy Spirit leads us we must follow, even when it doesn't seem to make sense or the way seems to dangerous. For like Irene, whenever we are following God's will for our lives, no harm will come to us. It is only when we step outside of God's plan that we face the grim consequences.

Another truth that MacDonald conveys is the need for understanding those who simply cannot believe. At first, Irene is very upset that Curdie doesn't believe in the thread or her grandmother. When Irene takes him to her grandmother's tower, he sees only a pile of straw and an empty room where Irene sees a splendid apartment and her mysteriously beautiful grandmother. But when Curdie leaves, Irene's grandmother tells her not to be too hard on him.

"People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard on those who believe less. I doubt if you would have believed it all if you hadn't seen some of it."
Like Irene, we desire for others to understand us and to believe that what we believe is true and it is often very hard to be despised for our beliefs. But Irene's grandmother is right when she says "You must be content not to be believed for awhile. It is very had to bear; but I have had to bear it, and shall have to bear it many a time yet. I will take care of what Curdie thinks of you in the end. You must let him go now." As a Christian, I know that it is often hard to be rejected for my beliefs, but we must learn to be content with this, and to trust that God will bring all truth to light in his own time.

Overall, this a sweet and inspiring story for both young and old. If we allow these simple truths to take hold in our lives, then we can say, like Chesterton, that The Princess and the Goblin "made a difference to my whole existence."

1 comment:

Lepidoptera said...

It has been a really long time since I read this book - maybe back in middle school or even earlier, back when a book with a princess in it was my cup of tea. I do remember enjoying it and only later learned that MacDonald is considered to be a great Christian author. Another one that I should reread - it would make a perfect read-aloud to my own girls.