One of the things I’ve been doing recently is reading. Reading is a fun hobby, especially if you have a vivid imagination. Reading can be better than a movie, because you get to pick the voices of your favorite characters.
The most impressive thing I’ve been reading isn’t a best seller, or a new popular novel. It isn’t going to be reviewed by a magazine as a children’s story, nor is World Magazine likely to do a spotlight on the author, because of his age.
The books I’ve been reading are two classics by fantasy writer George MacDonald. The Princess and the Goblins, and its sequel, The Princess and Curdie, are two books about the mythical kingdom of Gwyntystorm. It was ruled by a king who was very kind, and who had a daughter named Irene. The first book is about her adventures as she learns to trust someone no one else could see. It’s also about a miner’s boy named Curdie, who is the only one who can stop an invasion by goblins.
The amazing thing about this book, The Princess and the Goblins, is how it grows up its characters, but still retains its childlike whimsy. Irene, the princess, has to trust that the string she is following through all this danger is being held and guided by someone she loves and trusts, while Curdie has to decide whether to believe the princess, even after she saves his life. It isn’t until he is not believed that he realizes how wrong he has been to doubt her. Irene learns to totally rely on “Grandmother” to help her and is sent on dangerous missions with the knowledge that she will never come to harm. Curdie learns to help others regardless of his personal dislike of another character.
This book also rings true a sad reminder of times past, when girls were protected by their fathers and brothers. Irene, though she is the main character, is kept out of harm’s way, while Curdie is exposed to all kinds of dangerous situations in his quest for the truth. He can handle it, because he is the hero. But Irene, though she would willingly gone through any number of dangers for the sake of her friend, she was never given a chance. That was not her place. I wonder what would have happened if MacDonald had written his epics in this less chivalrous time.
His pure fantasy might have become tainted with our strange opinions of feminism and freedom. His shining lines would become dimmed and lose their sharpness. His theology might become muddled. And I doubt his works would be published now. To be honest, not all of the fantasy you find in Phantastes is carefree. You might find a were-wolf or vampire in the pages if you look hard enough. There is a whole story dedicated to shadows. But, shining throughout the writings I have read, is the heavenly longing that MacDonald himself yearned for.
In his stories, there is always someone looking after the characters. Strangely enough, this person is often female. She is said to be old and wise in most stories, and is sometimes associated with magic. Most of the time, however, she fits the description of the woman Wisdom found in Proverbs, and is the helper in the story as the characters make their climb heavenward. She is beyond time, but she does not ask to be worshiped. Instead, she is the guardian of the faithful as they try to do what’s right.
But something that I’ve discovered is that the farther in a book series goes, the more serious it becomes. Which of Lewis’ Narnia books is the most intense? The Last Battle. Which Tolkein? The Return of the King. The same is true of the second book, The Princess and Curdie. This time, the danger lies not in the outside enemy, but in the one within. Curdie, who is finally given a task of his own by “Grandmother”, is sent to save the King and Princess. Along the way he meets all sorts of wicked creatures, and is forced to fight to defend himself,
Curdie was told from the start that he would be serving the king. He just was never told how. He certainly didn’t think it to mean that he would be falsely accused and sentenced to death. He probably imagined that he would arrive at the castle and instantly present himself to the king. But it didn’t work out that way. He had to work for his goal. He had to fight for it, and ended up being slandered, threatened, mocked and cursed during his whole journey. Even through all that, he never gave up. Maybe Curdie and his travels represent us in our walk with Christ. When we hold to a higher standard, the world will hate us. They don’t understand our mission and therefore slander it.
I like a book that tells a story, but what I like even more is a story that tells the truth. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just wander around through life, do amazing things, and never get into trouble for it? Who wants to do boring or hard things like traveling alone with no way of knowing where you were or trying to get through a city of cut-throats when you were told you weren’t able to do anything about them! How could God want us to do things like that?
Unfortunately for our pleasure-loving hearts, He’s always done those kinds of things. Think of Moses, and how God told him in advance that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart and he wouldn’t listen. Or Ezekiel, who was told “They will compliment you for your prophesy, and might seem to have listened, but they won’t change at all.” Life is hard, and it sometimes seems meaningless. Why should we do these things? It makes no sense!
Well, it has a purpose. If you’re told to do something, you have to do it (Jonah comes to mind as a negative example) Another thing this tells us is the true meaning of faith. How could we ever believe in something we cannot see? Well, we believe in gravity, don’t we? We believe that there are wind currents, though they are invisible. We believe in God, though we have never seen him. But we see the effects of their power. Rocks fall down, due to gravity. Leaves scatter through the air, because of the wind. Our universe supports life, because God designed it that way.
One of my favorite characters in The Princess and Curdie is Lina. Not much is known about poor Lina, a monster with a head that is part snake and part polar bear, goat-colored fur with a bald spot under her chin, long icicle teeth that hang out from her mouth, elephant legs, and a tail as long as her body. Curdie discovered that she was once a person who had been so wicked that she turned into a monster, and must do penance before she could be freed. Lina became Curdie’s greatest ally and friend even though everyone else hated him. He could depend on her, and her on him. Imagine the poor woman who had been enchanted by her own wickedness, and who had locked herself inside a beast! How it must have been to have a friend again, who saw past her hideous form and to the child inside.
Curdie eventually became Lina’s salvation. He gave her the means to live again, without worrying about her guilt separating her from God. He led her home. What a beautiful picture! Curdie was no god. He had no ability to save anything. He was simply given directions and charged to accomplish them. But his journey and witness enabled her to do what was right, and to find forgiveness and redemption. We have all been in her place. We were made hideous by our sins and our mistakes, our rebellion and disgusting actions. Who would love a creature like Lina?
God would. God did. He sent his son to die in our place, because he loved us even in our ugliness. But he didn’t leave us there. He cleaned us up and made us into a new creation for his use. Lina didn’t stay a monster. She was freed from her sin, from who she was, and started on the journey herself. That’s something a lot of people seem to miss. God is love. He does accept us for who we are…but he loves us too much to leave us there.
Another thing: Curdie brought Lina to her transformation by caring enough about her to let her hang around, even though she ate most of his food and turned some of his friends into enemies. His example helped her. If Curdie was MacDonald’s Christian, then Lina was someone who was converted because of his example. Though these might only be the musings of a teenaged girl, but I believe that MacDonald, a pastor, brought what he knew to be true into his stories.
There’s something beautiful about MacDonald’s writing. It’s hard to read some fairytales around these days, whose dark content either disturbs you or is just depressing. But MacDonald’s legends are like little rays of light in the murky world of fantasy. We’re searching for The Golden Key, but cannot find it anywhere but in God. His writing points us to Christ.
This might be too long, so I’ll be brief. If you like fairy-tales but are irritated with our immoral fantasy, I invite you to look up the work of George MacDonald. This invitation is also for friends of Narnia and Middle Earth, for those lands were inspired by MacDonald’s fantasy. I like Curdie’s adventures, and many of the others that he wrote, and I think you might as well.