The Princess and Curdie (illustrated)

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Both the books start out as normal fairy tales, but slowly become stranger, and they contain layers of symbolism similar to that of Lewis Carroll's work. Eight-year-old Princess Irene lives a lonely life in a castle in a wild, desolate, mountainous kingdom, with only her nursemaid "Lootie" for company. Her father the king is normally absent, and her mother is dead.

Unknown to her, the nearby mines are inhabited by a race of goblins, long banished from the kingdom and now anxious to take revenge on their human neighbors. One rainy day, the princess explores the castle and discovers a beautiful, mysterious lady, who identifies herself as Irene's namesake and great-great-grandmother. The adventure continues with Princess Irene and Curdie a year or two older. They must overthrow a set of corrupt ministers who are poisoning Irene's father, the king. Irene's grandmother also reappears and gives Curdie a strange gift.


A monster called Lina aids his quest. George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister. He was a pioneering figure in the field of fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll. Oh, it was such a thin, delicate thing—reminding him of a spider's web in a hedge! It stood in the middle of the moonlight, and it seemed as if the moonlight had nearly melted it away.

A step nearer, he saw, with a start, two little hands at work with it.

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And then at last, in the shadow on the other side of the moonlight which came like a river between, he saw the form to which the hands belonged: a small, withered creature, so old that no age would have seemed too great to write under her picture, seated on a stool beyond the spinning-wheel, which looked very large beside her, but, as I said, very thin, like a long-legged spider holding up its own web, which was the round wheel itself. She sat crumpled together, a filmy thing that it seemed a puff would blow away, more like the body of a fly the big spider had sucked empty and left hanging in his web, than anything else I can think of.

When Curdie saw her, he stood still again, a good deal in wonder, a very little in reverence, a little in doubt, and, [24] I must add, a little in amusement at the odd look of the old marvel. Her grey hair mixed with the moonlight so that he could not tell where the one began and the other ended.

Her crooked back bent forward over her chest, her shoulders nearly swallowed up her head between them, and her two little hands were just like the grey claws of a hen, scratching at the thread, which to Curdie was of course invisible across the moonlight. Indeed Curdie laughed within himself, just a little, at the sight; and when he thought of how the princess used to talk about her huge great old grandmother, he laughed more.

But that moment the little lady leaned forward into the moonlight, and Curdie caught a glimpse of her eyes, and all the laugh went out of him.

Then Curdie remembered that he stood there as a culprit, and worst of all, as one who had his confession yet to make. There was no time to hesitate over it. Again Curdie advanced a few steps, and held out his hand with the pigeon, that she might see what it was, into the moonlight.

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The moment the rays fell upon it the pigeon gave a faint flutter. The old lady put out [25] her old hands and took it, and held it to her bosom, and rocked it, murmuring over it as if it were a sick baby. But I try to give everybody fair play; and those that are in the wrong are in far more need of it always than those who are in the right: they can afford to do without it.

Therefore I say for you that when you shot that arrow you did not know what a pigeon is.

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Now that you do know, you are sorry. It is very dangerous to do things you don't know about. Why, you don't seem even to know the good of the things you are constantly doing. Now don't mistake me. I don't [26] mean you are good for doing them. It is a good thing to eat your breakfast, but you don't fancy it's very good of you to do it.

The thing is good—not you. Now tell me what bad thing you have done to-day besides this sore hurt to my little white friend. While she talked Curdie had sunk into a sort of reverie, in which he hardly knew whether it was the old lady or his own heart that spoke. And when she asked him that question, he was at first much inclined to consider himself a very good fellow on the whole.

But at the same time he could not honestly feel that he was worth standing up for. All at once a light seemed to break in upon his mind, and he woke up, and there was the withered little atomy of the old lady on the other side of the moonlight, and there was the spinning-wheel singing on and on in the middle of it!

The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald: | Books

I see now that I have been doing wrong the whole day, and such a many days besides! Indeed, I don't know when I ever did right, and yet it seems as if I [27] had done right some time and had forgotten how. When I killed your bird I did not know I was doing wrong, just because I was always doing wrong, and the wrong had soaked all through me.

It is better to come to the point, you know," said the old lady, and her voice was gentler even than before.

And now I see that I have been letting things go as they would for a long time. Whatever came into my head I did, and whatever didn't come into my head I didn't do. I never sent anything away, and never looked out for anything to come. I haven't been attending to my mother—or my father either. And now I think of it, I know I have often seen them looking troubled, and I have never asked them what was the matter. And now I see too that I did not ask because I suspected it had something to do with me and my behaviour, and didn't want to hear the truth.

And I know I have been grumbling at my work, and doing a hundred other things that are wrong. I am so glad you shot my bird! Now that you are sorry, my poor bird will be better. Look up, my dovey. The pigeon gave a flutter, and spread out one of its red-spotted wings across the old woman's bosom. So you may ease your heart about the pigeon. There is only one way I care for. Do better, and grow better, and be better. And never kill anything without a good reason for it. Keep them, and practise with them every day, and grow a good shot.

There are plenty of bad things that want killing, and a day will come when they will prove useful. But I must see first whether you will do as I tell you.

The Princess and Curdie

They mean me, though what they say is often great nonsense. Now what I want of you is not to laugh, or side with them in any way; because they will take that to mean that you don't believe there is any such person a bit more than they do. Now that would not be the case—would it, Curdie? I am greatly pleased with you for bringing me my pigeon, doing your best to set right what you had set wrong. As she spoke she held out her hand to him, and when he took it she made use of his to help herself up from her stool, and—when or how it came about, Curdie could not tell—the same instant she stood before him a tall, strong woman—plainly very old, but as grand as she was old, and only rather severe-looking.

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  7. Every trace of the decrepitude and witheredness she showed as she hovered like a film about her wheel, had vanished. Her hair was very white, but it hung about her head in great plenty, and shone like silver in the moonlight. Straight as a pillar she stood before the astonished boy, and the wounded bird had now spread out both its wings across her bosom, like some great mystical ornament of frosted silver. Now go. Whether she was there or not he could not tell, however, for the moonlight had vanished, and the room was utterly dark.

    A great fear, such as he had never before known, came upon him, and almost overwhelmed him. He groped his way to the door, and crawled down the stair—in doubt and anxiety as to how he should find his way out of the house in the dark. And the stair seemed ever so much longer than when he came up. Nor was that any wonder, for down and down he went, until at length his foot struck on a door, and when he rose and opened it, he found himself under the starry, moonless sky at the foot of the tower.

    He soon discovered the way out of the garden, with which he had some acquaintance already, and in a few minutes was climbing the mountain with a solemn and cheerful heart. It was rather dark, but he knew the way well. As he passed the rock from which the poor pigeon fell wounded with his arrow, a great joy filled his heart at the thought that he was delivered from the blood of the little bird, [32] and he ran the next hundred yards at full speed up the hill. Some dark shadows passed him: he did not even care to think what they were, but let them run. When he reached home, he found his father and mother waiting supper for him.

    HE eyes of the fathers and mothers are quick to read their children's looks, and when Curdie entered the cottage, his parents saw at once that something unusual had taken place. When he said to his mother, "I beg your pardon for being so late," there was something in the tone beyond the politeness that went to her heart, for it seemed to come from the place where all lovely things were born before they began to grow in this world.

    When he set his father's chair to the table, an attention he had not shown him for a long time, Peter thanked him with more gratitude than the boy had ever yet felt in all his life.

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