Today’s guest entry comes from another student in Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s undergraduate course “Golden Age of Children’s Literature”. David Costello considers George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin in this post, considering how MacDonald’s “real princess” comes with a very specific set of morals.
By David Costello
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.
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.
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.
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.
David is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.