I’m reading a new George MacDonald (GM) book…and if you’ve never read any George MacDonald, this one might be a good one to start with.
Many of his books are written in some pretty thick vernacular, and for us non-Scots types, that can be a little bit challenging. It means some strange vocabulary (like “ken” means “know”…but who knew, really?) and parts where, for me at least, I had to read out loud to myself (in my consequently rapidly improving Scottish accent) to hear/catch the meaning for all the contractions and strange looking words. Some of his other books are fantasy, and I know are very popular, but for me and my more literal mind that is pretty unaccustomed to fantasy, the one or two that I read were a bit hard for me to follow. Well, come to think of it, I think there was only one book that I read that I had a hard time following – Lilith – and now that I’m such a GM fan, I may just have to try that one again and see if I feel differently about it.
But, for you, dear reader, if you are new to GM, may I suggest that The Princess and Curdie just might be a good place to start. I’m not quite ¼ of the way through it yet, so I reserve the right to change my mind, but I doubt I will. First off, it’s neither hard to read, nor hard to follow, (excepting the fact that it is a very old book, so the sentences are longer and far more brilliantly scripted than those you find in books today…which may of consequence also mean that they are harder to read…but not so hard you can’t do it – so don’t let that sway you! Reading old books is GOOD for you, GOOD for your brain, and GOOD for your vocabulary!!!)
I know I don’t even know where the story will take me yet, but I am already in love for the beautiful symbolism in it. Let me share a little of the story (and GM’s genius) with you.
Curdie is a young boy 12ish (if I remember right?!). His friend, the princess, used to take him with her to talk to her grandmother. She would talk away to her grandmother, but he couldn’t see or hear the old lady. He wondered if the princess only imagined the grandmother, until one night (after the princess was away) he himself ended up seeing and talking to the grandmother. She was real after all!
There were rumors all around the town and among the people about this magical old woman. Not long after Curdie’s talk with the grandmother, some of the miners were talking about her. They wondered why “she was never seen except at night, and when something terrible had taken place, or was going to take place.” Of course, their interpretation of this was that she caused the destruction. They never once thought that maybe she showed up to prepare people for coming tragedy or to comfort them in it. (Anyone see a connection between the grandmother and God here, and our very circumstantial assumptions about the character/nature of the grandmother, or God, as the case may be???)
The old lady was supposedly seen at a well and most of the miners agreed that rumor had it that any who drank of that well got ill. One miner, however, had heard the opposite, that those who were ill drank of the well and were healed – “but the majority agreed that the former was the right version of the story—for was she not a witch, an old hating witch, whose delight was to do mischief?” (Don’t you just love that logic? It’s so Monty Python, Holy Grail – “if she weighs as much as a duck, then she’s made of wood, which means she’ll float which means…she’s a witch!” – or some such nonsense like that!)
“One said he had heard that she took the shape of a young woman sometimes, as beautiful as an angel,” but others said she was an old woman. Curdie’s dad “ventured the question whether she might not as likely be an angel that took the form of an old woman, as an old woman that took the form of an angel. But…they said an old woman might be very glad to make herself look like a young one, but who ever heard of a young and beautiful one making herself look old and ugly?” (Couldn’t you just as easily apply this train of thinking to Jesus? Many have set themselves up to be God, but whoever heard of a God setting himself up to be something so small as a man? Makes me SO excited to see where GM is going with this story!)
Curdie’s Dad “asked why they were so much more ready to believe the bad that was said of her than the good. They answered, because she was bad. He asked why they believed her to be bad, and they answered, because she did bad things. When he asked how they knew that, they said, because she was a bad creature. Even if they didn’t know it, they said, a woman like that was so much more likely to be bad than good. Why did she go about at night? Whey did she appear only now and then, and on such occasions?” (Again I hear Python in my mind… “She turned me into a newt! … I got bettah.”)
Might we ask of ourselves and our fellow man the same question Curdie’s dad asked of the miners – “Why are we so much more ready to believe the bad that is said of Him (God) than the good?”
It may seem superfluous to have begun my little highlight of the book with Curdie as I haven’t said much about him here of note, but it’s coming… in my next two blogs.
Part 2: A miner frame of mind.
Part 3: Curdie’s response