11.16.2011

Currently Reading: The Princess and Curdie

The Princess and Curdie (Puffin Classics)“Have you ever heard what some philosophers say--that men were all animals once?”

“No, ma’am.”

“It is of no consequence. But there is another thing that is of the greatest consequence—this: that all men, if they do not take care, go down the hill to the animals’ country; that many men are actually, all their lives, going to be beasts. People knew it once, but it is long since they forgot it.”

Author: George MacDonald

Synopsis: With Princess Irene gone from the country, Curdie finds himself becoming rather dull and ordinary till he nearly kills one of Irene's great-great-grandmother's pigeons. Under instruction from the old Princess, he journeys to rescue Irene and the king from a city grown beastly with corruption.

Notes: All my readerly friends told me that this book, the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, is better than its predecessor. I’m going to have to agree. The story reads more clearly, with a more straightforward progression of events, and I found it much easier to get into.

I loved the symbolism of growing toward humanity versus beastliness. It’s very obvious, but then, this is a children’s story. Irene’s great-great grandmother (whom, I suspect, is the Princess in the title; Irene herself doesn’t show up till late in the tale) carries on her role of guide and protector in the fight against corruption, both internal and external. Between she and Curdie and the creature Lina and Princess Irene, there is strength to rid the world of much evil.

Curdie, of course, is all kinds of heroic, which makes him quite lovable. He has some downright loathsome enemies to deal with, and does so with the same spirit we remember from the first book.

Irene is a little older, a little sadder and more womanly, and she does well in the little we see from her. I would have taken more from her character, but such was the nature of the story.

I delighted in this book all the way to the last page, and then, in my opinion, it was three paragraphs too long. MacDonald gives us more of this tale’s future than I thought we needed to know. I suppose he thought we needed to know, and it’s his book, but still. Overall, though, the book was a joy to read and two hours well spent.

Recommendation: Read it with the wonder of childhood, and maybe chocolate chip cookies.

5 comments:

  1. There's never any "maybe" about chocolate chip cookies.

    Really need to start reading MacDonald more. I keep saying that, of course.

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  2. Ah, but those last three paragraphs are important, for they remind us that no victory against corruption is forever. We are, as Tolkien would say, fighting the long defeat. It is good to remember that after every Hezekiah came a Manassah.

    Also, do you know the part of this story Lewis referenced? In Lewis's "That Hideous Strength," Dr. Ransom mentions that he lives "like the King in Curdie," later prompting Jane to read this book. And the King in this book, you'll remember, regains his health by a diet of bread and good wine. I'm starting to wonder if that's a Eucharistic reference...

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  3. Who told you this was better than The Princess and the Goblin? As much as I love this book, I would have thought that the first is obviously the superior work, for a whole variety of reasons. For one thing, it stands on its own whereas this one demands prior knowledge of the earlier text. Frankly, I can't think of a convincing argument that Curdie is the superior work.

    The last three paragraphs are the whole point of the book, I'm afraid. It's a careful and systemic development of the very idea of degeneration which you quote at the beginning of the post. Without that ending, it would be a nice book; the conclusion makes it unforgettable and haunting.

    But I'm about to write a full scale study of the Curdie books, I think. :D

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  4. Good point about the cookies, George.

    Mr. Pond, how very odd... I could have sworn you were one of the ones who told me you'd thought Curdie far better. Guess I must have misunderstood. :)

    For me it was unforgettable and haunting right up until the last three paragraphs, at which point I was just annoyed. It's my optimism speaking, I think. True it is that in this world we never permanently supersede degeneration, but in faerie, the golden city and the good king and queen are possible. I read it with that in mind, and felt as if the last three paragraphs just rubbed the idea of degeneration in my face.

    It also seemed to contradict the old Princess' statement that there were not so many men going to be beasts as one might think. In Gwyntystorm, it seemed as if nearly everyone was, and that as soon as the reign of Irene and Curdie ended, everyone turned around and went straight back beastward.

    But again, perhaps just me. I can see your point, it's just that I came away with an entirely different impression.

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  5. Sorry, Chris--for some reason your comment got caught in the spam filter. Random!

    It's been too long since I read That Hideous Strength! Now I'll know, next time I read it. :)

    Also, that seemed very much like a Eucharistic reference to me, although I'm not sure what MacDonald's beliefs about the Eucharist were.

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