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!