Monday, June 2, 2008

A princess with a serious lack of gravity

This is one of my favorite books from my childhood, and last week I had the pleasure of reading it to my own children. What fun! It begins, as many fairy tales do, with a princess, a christening, an inadvertent slight, and a curse. In this case, the curse is placed by the princess's mean old witch aunt, and it causes the baby to be unaffected by gravity. She is so light, she floats up into the air, and that causes all kinds of hilarious problems for the baby, her royal parents, and her nurses.

She is a happy baby, though, always shrieking with laughter, and she quickly becomes a favorite of everyone in the palace. As she grows older, though, she seems to be a bit too lighthearted - she can't seem to take anything seriously because, of course, she's completely lacking in gravity. Yet with all her laughter, it seems she rarely smiles. The king's wise men theorize that if she were to cry, her gravity would return. But there seems little chance of that happening.

Her favorite place in the world to be is the lake that is next to the castle. When she swims, the water holds her down, and instead of being constantly followed about (and tethered to) attendants as she must be on land, when she is in the lake she can be on her own for a while. She adores the precious freedom that only the lake can give her.

A traveling prince becomes separated from his retinue and ends up on the shore of the lake, where he encounters the princess and falls hopelessly in love with her. She appears to enjoy his company in her own superficial, lighthearted way - but when she realizes her beloved lake is drying up, she can focus on nothing else. Soon she begins to waste away as the lake's water level sinks lower and lower by the day. The prince longs to bring back her happiness, but - as with all fairy tales - there will be a hefty price to pay.

I have loved George MacDonald's stories and books my entire life, and this one has always been a special favorite. Even though he wrote in the 1800s, his stories have an immediacy and relevance, and while the language can be a bit old fashioned at times, it is very much in keeping with the fairy-tale atmosphere his work evokes. The version I read of this as a child was in an anthology with very few pictures, but the book I read to my girls has lovely black-and-white illustrations by Maurice Sendak, which were a delightful accompaniment to the text. This is a wonderful read-aloud, funny, fantastical and very satisfying.

As an added bonus, this book counts towards Molly's Personal Reading Challenge - it looks like I may be able to complete it by the end of the year after all!
The Light Princess
by George MacDonald; illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969 - originally published 1863)

You can download this book for free from Project Gutenberg!

12 comments:

  1. I love this too! I have the exact same copy with the Sendak illustrations that I'm looking forward to reading sometime soon.

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  2. I'm glad you love it, too - it's such a great story. I bet you'll enjoy the pictures this time around!

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  3. I really, really need to finally read George McDonald. I've read (and loved) one of his fairy tales, but nothing more. And illustrations by Maurice Sendak! How am I to resist?

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  4. I know you'll enjoy this one, Nymeth. Can't wait to hear what you think!

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  5. I need to get to George MacDonald too. I don't have this one but I do have At the Back of the North Wind on my tbr pile. I love the cover of your copy of The Light Princess!

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  6. what a fantastic tale!!
    ooh! i've gotta read that soon. seriously sounds wonderful!

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  7. Cath - I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

    Molly - I think you'd enjoy this. Let me know if you'd like to borrow my copy!

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  8. This is also my favorite MacDonald story and the one I keep coming back to reread. Just something about it! Thanks for your review!

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  9. Thanks, Carrie - I'm glad you feel the same way I do!

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  10. hopeinbrazilJune 07, 2008

    Yes, this is a "serious" favorite of mine! The example of sacrificial love in this one is only surpassed in a story by E. Nesbit called "The Fiery Dragon, or the Heart of Stone and the Heart of Gold". I love fairy tales packed with meaning.

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  11. I must have had a misguided youth because I've never even heard of this book. Well, I've can't take care of that and the version you've illustrated looks like the one I want.

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  12. Hopeinbrazil - I love E. Nesbit, but I don't think I've ever read that book - or is it a story? I'll have to look it up. Thanks!

    Framed - it's never too late to read The Light Princess. You're sure to enjoy it!

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