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The Light Princess by George MacDonald

I’m really not sure why I’m even reviewing or responding to this story.  I think it is because I’ve wanted to read something by George MacDonald for so long, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to it, I think it bears memorializing.  It’s certainly not because the story doesn’t merit comment; rather, it’s because I’m sure the story merits much in the way of thoughtful comment (as I’m sure all of his works do), but I’m not sure I’m up to it. 

In brief, this is the story:  a king and queen want for nothing, except a child.  They finally have their long-desired child, a girl, but at her Christening, the king’s evil sister, who happens to be a witch, puts a curse on the child.  The curse is that gravity will have no hold on the child.  The story progresses through all sorts of confusion, near-misses, and despair (on the part of the king and queen, at least) until the princess is of marriageable age and a prince comes on the scene who is able to remedy the situation through an act of great personal sacrifice. (For a more thorough and thoughtful discussion of the story, may I recommend Janet’s?)

One of the problems, you see, is that I listened to The Light Princess in audio.  I put the CD  in my kitchen under-the-counter CD player on Thursday last and happily went about my business of making mock chicken-and-dumplings.  (My dear mother-in-law makes the best chicken-and-dumplings around, and she learned from my dear grandmother-in-law.  I’ve never dared try make them from scratch, as they do.  This recipe produces a nice dish, but it’s nothing like the real thing.)  I was immediately taken in by the story, and not just the story’s plot, but by the genius word play that was such a part of MacDonald‘s craft.  The problem is that I don’t catch near as much when I listen as when I read for myself.  Sometimes, my mind even wanders.  This story was engaging enough (and brief enough, if the truth is told) to keep me from spacing out, but I find myself wondering, for one tiny example, how the characters’ names are spelled.  (Does anyone else do this?  Please tell me I’m not the only one.)  As I sat down to work on this reflection, I found that the entire story is available free online.  This allowed me to solve a few mysteries:  the king’s evil sister is named Princess Makemnoit, which is just what it sounds like if you’re listening to the story and not reading it.  The Chinese philosophers that the king and queen consult to help their daughters are named, appropriately, Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck. 

The best part of the story, though, is the constant play on the word gravity.  I’m sure that there is much more to this fairy tale than meets the eye (or ear), but I caught onto a little of MacDonald’s genius merely by paying attention to this one word.  This element of his writing reminds me a little bit of Shakespeare and his constant use of word play.  

I listened to this audio version of the story by Full Cast Audio.  It was very well done, with some original music interspersed throughout the story.  It is a dramatized version, but I did not find it to be over-done.  (I’m sort of picky about this; sometimes it’s too easy to lose the story in all the sound effects, etc., so I usually just prefer straight narration.)  Now, though, my interest in George MacDonald really is piqued.  I think I need to add The George McDonald Treasury to my collection.  My girls listened briefly to the story while I worked in the kitchen, and while I hadn’t intended for them to listen to it because I thought it might be too scary for them (after listening to it in its entirety, I still think this), they were definitely interested in the story.  In fact, they have requested it.  I am eager to share MacDonald‘s stories with my girls (especially since I know that others have done it successfully), but Louise is still a little frightened by the White Witch of Narnia.  I think it best to put MacDonald off for a while, or at least preview him first.  I’m sure, though, that I will be reading more of him.


8 Responses

  1. Great review! I like the way you compare MacDonald’s wordplay to Shakespeare, and the way you describe that sense that there’s more shimmering there than meets the eye. I get that feeling with his stories too.

    Yes, if I listen to a story, I often have the kinds of questions you describe. It’s weird, how my daughters can retain so much purely by listening, but I need the visual experience of reading.

    (I LOVE chicken and dumplings but have never dared try to make them…)

  2. This is my FAVORITE of his princess stories. In my opinion – it’s the very best one! But I don’t do audio either and I’d probably feel a bit lost if I had listened to it instead of read it. I’m definitely not an audio learner so I tend to avoid books on tape, etc. I purchased the dramatization of Ben Hur but I still haven’t listened to it. I have a feeling I’ll be able to get more out of it after I’ve read the book for myself.

    A goal.

    At any rate, I can’t imagine what I’d think of MacDonald on tape but it was great to hear your thoughts!

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  4. I love, love, love George MacDonald, and I can’t wait to share The Princess and Curdie and his other fairy tales with my kids when they are a little older. In that book, I really appreciate how he emphasizes that a princess must be good in word and deed – excellent moral lessons in an appealing package for the little princesses in our lives!

    I don’t do audio books because my mind tends to wander, but I have thought a few times that it would be helpful to hear the correct pronunciations of names. I’d need to see them too in order to remember them; that’s just how my mind works.

  5. Thank you for bringing to mind one of my favorite stories. Like you, when I read MacDonald I feel inadequate trying to describe the experience. There are always many layers of meaning and I’m happy if I just get a few of them. =) They are what make his books re-readable.

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