hough The Princess and the Goblin is very much an allegory where the grandmother represents God and makes a distinct point about the importance of believing without seeing, the story is not simply a sermon.
The princess leads her new friend Curdie out of a tough situation by following a golden thread that’s been given to her by her grandmother. Curdie cannot see the thread, but is impressed nonetheless by their escape. Afterwards he agrees to meet this grandmother she’s been talking about.
The princess leads him to a far room in a castle, where she begins talking to someone who he can’t see or hear. He feels the princess is making fun of him, and rudely tells her as much when she won’t admit her grandmother is make-believe. He leaves abruptly and the princess is distressed at his reaction.
When the princess asks her grandmother why he couldn’t see her, the grandmother replies, “Curdie is not yet able to believe some things. Seeing is not believing—it is only seeing… you must be content, I say, to be misunderstood for a while. We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary… to understand other people.”
I have always loved George MacDonald. His books have delighted and filled my spirit for years now and I return to them again and again, always appreciating them and learning from them as I lose myself in the pages of another world.
I came across a quote the other day from Tolkien in reference to MacDonald that gave me pause. Tolkien said MacDonald was “an old grandmother who preached instead of wrote.”
Tolkien said quite a lot more too, but I did feel that this, the “preachy-ness,” was the essence of his annoyance. I can’t say I agree with Tolkien’s analysis. What he called “preaching” I would call “revealing.”
It’s true that MacDonald’s writing is more than what you’d look for in a playful afternoon book. The poet, preacher, and mystic could not contain in himself the grandness of the universe he saw. He had to share it, even in the simplest of encounters.
But his stories also take me away to mystical lands like The Princess and the Goblin does, and if the princess’s grandmother has some wise words to say, those who want to listen can.
Seeing is not believing. My soul loves this idea because it rings true, yet is counter intuitive to what I was taught. How can I believe in what I cannot see with my own eyes?
There lies the implication for faith, which isn’t strange in this context as the grandmother in the story is MacDonald’s representation of the Christian God. With a few words and an illustration, MacDonald is able to challenge my perspective. Belief and trust, these are the foundation of relationships, with each other and with God.
The older Tolkien might have been annoyed at this message, but I find myself camped with the younger Tolkien, enjoying wonderful thoughts in wonderful stories, ready to be surprised at the next turning of the page by revealing words. I find myself marveling at the faith of a child Princess and hoping to meet more people along my journey with faith like hers. ♦