Monday, June 22, 2009

The Book That Changed Chesterton's Life

If you are not a Chestertonian, you may be slightly disappointed to discover that the book ominously referred to in the title is no famous work of philosophy or religion. If you are a Chestertonian, then you will hardly be surprised at all to learn that it was simply a fairy tale written for children. Here is what GKC said:

"...In a certain rather special sense I for one can really testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start; a vision of things which even so real a revolution as a change of religious allegiance has substantially only crowned and confirmed. Of all the stories I have read, including even all the novels of the same novelist, it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life. It is called "The Princess and the Goblin", and is by George MacDonald..."

Upon such a recommendation, I recently undertook to read George Macdonald's fairy tales. I was not halfway through before it became one of my favorite books. Why is it that I had never heard of it, never come across it--I, who have devoured quite a large portion of children's literature in my time? I have rarely been so astonished at a book upon first reading. It was not that it contained anything really unexpected--it was the simple, joyous, adventurous tale I had anticipated, though filled with more wonders and profundity than I had thought. I was astonished, rather, at the fact that this is not as well known as similar children's literature. It was every bit as good as C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia;" in fact, in my eyes, it was even better. (Do not cringe, Narnians. I love Narnia, too.) Unlike Lewis' cheerful philosophical frolics about the existence of "other worlds" and visitors between them, the set up and the plot for "The Princess and the Goblin," is quite simple and therefore quite poetic. The author makes no pretense of throwing his hero and heroine into some strange, new world by a magical passageway or device. He uses the more traditional and common-sense approach of having wild adventure meet them in their own land. Mystical and marvelous things abound--but they are thoroughly suited to the story and the reader is never troubled with annoying questions of "how" or "why." The magic in the stories feels more like the symbolic manifestation of that which already exists in our world than a device to move the plot along.

Having finished the first book, I proceeded to "The Princess and Curdie" and then a separate MacDonald fairy tale, "The Light Princess." It gradually dawned on me that though I have read many novels where magical happenings and grave adventures are thrillingly present throughout, I have never read children's stories that were so profoundly mystical. Everything had a symbolic meaning, and every story had a moral that was there for the perceiving, if one chose to perceive it. I began to notice strong sacramental and even Eucharistic--yes, written by a protestant, but Eucharistic-- tones and themes running through MacDonald's work. I am convinced that George MacDonald was--as our beloved GKC was--a mystic, in the truest sense of the word. I encourage you to find and pick up George MacDonald's stories; and if you have already read some of them, let's open up the discussion!

And now comes the most important part of my post: here is the link for Chesterton's full article on George MacDonald, which I urge you to read if you haven't already.

God bless!


Clare Marie-Therese Duroc said...

Rose, I can't thank you enough for posting this. I was entirely unaware that G.K. loved Princess and the Goblin that way, though I'm not surprised. That paragraph of his is one I could have written: my earliest bookish memory is that wonderful story. Curdie was my best friend, and I used to imagine that I sat with him during the afternoon hours and talked about mining and goblins.

RoseinFaith said...

Well, you're very welcome, Clare! :) I agree that the character of Curdie captures the quintessential qualities of a boy hero in a fairy tale! (Rather like Tom Playfair or Percy Wynn, if we ever get around to discussing those two wonderful fellows!) God bless George MacDonald for writing such a character. I enjoyed your piece about Curdie at your blog, too!

One of the best things about Curdie is, too, I think, the "conversion" he goes through at the beginning of "The Princess and Curdie," if you've read it. Again, it's very profound...I hesitate to say more in case you haven't read it. :)

God bless!

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

George MacDonald changed my life too. His book "Lilith" was what prepared my mind for recieving Chesterton as well as it did.

And by the way, southern Tuscany reminds me of Narnia and I don't know why.

Osteria Volante said...

I'm an italian blogger and I arrived here from the Italian Chestertonian Society's site (

My blog's title is "The flying inn" and you can understand how important is Chesterton for me. I will often read your blog, it's very interesting

Sorry for my english but i'm trying to impove it as soon as possible

by "The innkeeeper"

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Not only Chesterton, but also JRRT loved the "Curdie books": The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie.

Two writers that are clearly beloved by many saw Chesterton's house:

2 Enid Blyton