The Princess and Curdie, by George Macdonald
(J. B. Lippincott, 1908), hb., 305 pp.
As I have already stated in an earlier post, I think this is an excellent book and we have thoroughly enjoyed it. It will join the ranks of our favorite books (like those by Lewis, French and Bond). I was not overly impressed with the previous book, The Princess and the Goblins, but this one was wonderful in a number of ways.
The Princess and the Goblins struck me as primarily as a book for girls. I think my daughter will enjoy it (when she is a few years older) more than my boys and I did. The Princess and Curdie, however, is a great boys’ book! Curdie is the central character in this book whereas the Princess was in the last book. There is plenty of action and good “rough and tumble.” The quote I posted previously is a good illustration of this as it directly speaks to the issue of the place of fighting in a boy’s life. The book then describes some of the battles in very matter-of-fact, straightforward terms. When wicked dogs attack Curdie and the dog the grandmother sends with him (Lina), Curdie drives the point of his mattock through one dog’s skull and Lina finishes off the other. When the two owners then advance on Curdie and Lina brandishing weapons, Curdie states, “Don’t be afraid Lina. I’ll kill one- you kill the other.” This may be too much for some, but I appreciated it as a picture of straightforward courage. Violence for its own sake is never endorsed. But when wickedness attacks, Curdie is an example of responding in a firm and measured fashion. Throughout the book, Curdie is an example of fighting wickedness.
Personal responsibility is also a key theme in the book. The chapter where Curdie and Lina first enter the King’s city struck me as a powerful commentary on contemporary society as local businessmen complain that the king (government) has not taken care of their problems. They are not willing to handle their own issues or take responsibility but expect others to care for them. The wicked servants in the palace also are lazy and sloppy. This laziness has led to dishonesty as well. When they are confronted with their sin, rather than repent they abuse the messenger. So much of the story rings true in everyday life. This- along with the lively manner of the story- made it fun to read and discuss.
There are many other great lessons illustrated in the story. Often I paused in reading to ask, “What Bible story does that remind you of?” This made for fun interaction between the story and the Bible.
Also, the language itself is wonderful. Macdonald’s English is older so some phrases would sound archaic today. Some I simply “translated” on the fly, but most of the time I read it as is because it was beautiful and gave great opportunities to ask what my boys understood and what they did not. Hopefully this has expanded their vocabulary and skills of expression as we read.
It seems that our experience with this book was similar to that of the publisher of the edition we read. In the “Publishers’ Note” at the beginning of the book this comment is made:
Few stories for children have afforded greater entertainment than “The Princess and Curdie”- moreover it has made its readers better for their acquaintance with it. Who of us is there who has had the good fortune to know it in childhood, but does not cherish its memory as one of the dearest possessions? It is one of those few perennially fresh and attractive tales that have become the classics of childhood in our language- those tales whose memories remain with us through the years.
There are numerous versions available including two online sources- Google Books and Page by Page Books. The 1908 Lippincott edition is beautiful with very nice illustrations.
Whatever form you can find it in, we heartily commend this book.
George MacDonald is a household favorite.. The Princess books were the first MacDonald books I handed to my children to read. I recently came across a boxed set,a collection of his fantasy and other stories, they are as well wonderful… especially the Golden Key and the Wise Woman. My daughter now is being introduced to Sir Gibbie, an old friend of mine…