LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Real Princesses Have Faith

on January 30, 2013 3:58pm

What is faith? The dictionary defines the word faith as a complete trust or confidence in someone or something, despite a lack of physical proof or evidence. While the definition may seem simple enough, those tiny five letters when strung together in such succession, emit a power so awesome that they can both unite the world and burn it to the ground. Regardless of its frightening capacity to incite hate, the moralistic value of faith is a common concept found in children’s literature and media. The most notable example from my own childhood would be the famous line from the movie The Santa Clause, in which an adorable little elf remarks that ‘Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.” Despite the modern reference, these early attempts to instill the concept of faith in the youth can be found in many early children’s novels. One such instance would be the religious allegory that unfolds in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin.

Your daily dose of nostalgia

Your daily dose of nostalgia

The strongest example of religious symbolism in MacDonald’s piece is undoubtedly the character of Grandmother. Irene first meets Grandmother because she grows bored of her toys and finds herself lost when exploring the house, causing her to become distraught. This represents how one may become lost in the world and must abandon wantonly materialistic values in order to find God. When Irene meets Grandmother for the first time she is described using words such as “smooth” and “white;” both of which suggest innocence and divinity.

Doesn't get more God-like than that

Doesn’t get more God-like than that

Christian obedience is a major motif found in the work. This can be characterized by Irene’s absolute compliance with all of Grandmother’s requests, even if they make no sense at the time. Nonetheless, her submission to Grandmother’s will ultimately protects her from harm, as exemplified by the opal ring Grandmother gives Irene. Grandmother charges Irene to follow the invisible string and despite the fact that the thread leads her into dangerous predicaments, it eventually delivers her to safety.  MacDonald is suggesting that even when life becomes difficult, one must remain faithfully obedient to God to achieve salvation. The author also uses the ring to touch the debate regarding God’s existence through Curdie’s claim that the thread is not real because he cannot see it.

One Ring To Rule Them All

One Ring To Rule Them All

Another example of MacDonald’s focus on obedience can be found in the scene where Irene first meets Grandmother. Grandmother tells Irene to come inside the room and MacDonald goes on to say, “that the princess was a real princess you might see now quite plainly; for she didn’t hang on to the handle of the door, and stare without moving…She did as she was told, stepped inside the door at once, and shut it gently behind her”(Chapter 3). Throughout the piece the author constantly refers to Irene as “a real princess.” Curiously enough, all the traits embodied by a “real princess” are congruent with the morality of the Christian religion. Therefore, by painting Irene with the positive connotation of a “real princess” the author is cleverly outlining an exact blueprint of the manners in which Christian children should act. It is through these characters that MacDonald creates a hidden Christian allegory which imparts the moral concept of religious faith upon the children who read its pages.

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One response to “Real Princesses Have Faith

  1. There is no doubt that MacDonald is implementing a Christian ideology in the “Princess and the Goblin.” The issue of faith is really at the heart of this story. Having faith in God will ultimately lead a person down the right path and keep him out of harm’s danger. But in order to have this faith, one must freely choose to believe in it. Irene completely devotes herself to her grandmother and does not question her existence. When Curdie finally does not doubt whether she is real or not, he is finally able to see the string. In this sense, a person must choose to believe. I definitely agree with your sentiments that the story’s guideline for how to be a princess are really a guideline for how to be a good, Christian child. Some key qualities of this child are: honesty, keeping one’s word, obedience, and bravery. All of these characteristics are true of the values of Christianity. MacDonald also adds another Christian element by including the idea that some of the goblins have been saved. An important Christian tenet is that salvation can be achieved by all, even sinners, as long as they seek redemption and mercy from God. The Christian moral of spreading good unto others is also apparent. Irene tells Curdie about her grandmother and wishes that he sees her as well. This reminded me of spreading the word of God to others, which is highly taught in Christianity. Overall, I preferred this book much more than the “Water Babies.” The Christian element in the “Princess and the Goblin” was not as blunt and in your face. I also enjoyed the narration and tone of MacDonald over Kingsley. In addition, I liked how the setting was always in a fairy tale land, unlike Kingsley’s story that took place in both the real world and underwater.

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