The Princess and Curdie
So back in January when I finished The Princess and the Goblin for the RAL I hosted, I declared that I couldn’t wait to read the sequel. I ordered it from the library right away. And then proceeded to not finish it until late April. (And just blog about it now…) The poor library likely thought they would never get it back. (Nope, not overdue, just that many renewals allowed–dangerous to people like myself.)
The problem is, I’m really not sure what I want to write about with The Princess and Curdie. The focus changes from the growth of the Princess to the growth of Curdie, and the reading seems to grow more difficult as well. I’m surprised in way, actually, to find it considered a children’s book. At the very least the first chapter, with its digression defining a mountain, does not seem designed to pull a young reader in. But then again, this is the Victorian era. Books didn’t have so much competition for attention. At the same time, the tone of the novel suggests it is a children’s book–or at least that we would classify it that way today. Yet, I can’t help but feeling that it is more difficult, in terms of reading level (vocabulary, complexity of sentence), than the books children are given today. Have we really given that much ground in terms of children’s reading abilities? Or is it a symptom of our tendency to toss anything that smacks of “fairy-story” to the nursery, and surely adults need something more “real” ? I don’t actually know (for certain) who MacDonald intended his audience to be, children, adult, or in-between.
Still, he was becoming more and more a miner, and less and less a man of the upper world where the wind blew. On his way to and from the mine he took less and less notice of bees and butterflies, moths and dragonflies, the flowers and the brooks and the clouds. He was gradually changing into a commonplace man.
The story, which takes place a year after the preceding book, is mostly the tale of Curdie and his growth towards trusting in and obeying the princess’s great-great-grandmother Irene, who is surely a deity-figure. It relates both his fall away from faith and his return on the hard path towards belief. In a way, I see it as more allegorical than The Princess and the Goblin. It feels more abstract, less concrete. Frankly, there’s a section in the middle that I’m still not sure I understand. Of course, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to “understand” it, or if it is simply a part of the story, an event. There’s so much emphasis placed on the concepts of faith and obedience–very Christian ideas–that perhaps I begin to look for a second meaning everywhere, whether it exists or not. I think had I read this as a child I wouldn’t be concerned with such nonsense, I would have simply read the story, and enjoyed it for itself.
I see now why The Princess and the Goblin is the more commonly read of the two novels. It has a simple charm to it that is attractive–I believe actually, it is the princess who charms us, while its sequel contains much less of the princess. Instead, we are faced with Curdie, who in in his falling away from doing good for a time and his rough road back to obedience is perhaps more like us, the readers, than is comfortable. It also seems a bit more brutal of a book–the goblins and their creatures, while brutish, were also comic; here the villains are just bad–their violence seems more cruel. But the morals are still there, MacDonald still preaches the ideas of faith and obedience and goodness. It just does not seem as easy of a book to grasp.
Perhaps this is intended. As MacDonald’s readers grew older, he surely wanted them to grow as people, just as Curdie must. As far as literature, perhaps its difficulty is good. Not only does it seem a good thing to want to grow as readers, but any book that we cannot completely tackle on a first past must surely reward rereading. And I will never believe that rereading is not a good thing.