Summer Reading Challenge, Week 5: The Light Princess

Welcome to Week 5 of our Summer Reading Challenge!  If you’d like to see other posts in this series, check out our Summer Reading Challenge Page.

The Light Princess by George MacDonald.  Square Fish, 1984.  120 pgs.  Ages 8 and up.

George MacDonald was a Christian writer during the Victorian era who was influenced by both Calvinism and Romanticism, and who in turn had a significant influence on C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien (Children’s Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin, 1995). Many of his stories emphasize longings and journeys that point to spiritual Truth and lead his characters, and with them the reader, to a sweeter knowledge of God. According to Rolland Hein in Christian Mythmakers, “His strongest literary gift was to perceive and communicate the realities of Christ through myth.” (Cornerstone Press, 2002. p. 68)

So how does this work in The Light Princess? I had fresh pleasure in reading this fairy tale, since it had been a while. Here are my observations:

The Light Princess1. George MacDonald loved words, shown by his frequent use of puns and complex expressions.
2. There will not be a vocabulary quiz (but feel free to look up and practice new words on your family and friends!)
3. The use of enchantment by the king’s sister, who is called both a witch and a philosopher, is used not to promote magic, but as a means of interrupting natural laws.

As a parent I could especially relate to the heartaches in this story, and so the redemption of the Princess by the hero at the end was all the more excellent. It is not so much a romantic tale, partly because MacDonald’s tone is so matter of fact, and partly because the Princess herself is so nonchalant towards love before she is rescued by the Prince’s sacrifice. Rather, as in real life, there is a series of trials due to the effects of a Curse that must be overcome.

1. First heartache: the king and queen have no child.
2. Second heartache: the child is cursed.
3. Third heartache: the Princess treats the seriousness of her curse “lightly.”

Another biblical tie-in: the witch’s use of a serpent to drain the lake and take away the only source of the Princess’s pleasure. I have not yet decided what the lake might represent. Any suggestions?

And finally, along comes the Prince, who finds himself smitten with a woman who does not love him in return. Is this not how Christ found us? And he willingly offers to sacrifice his life in order that the Princess might live. During his slow, agonizing wait for death, his beloved sleeps (as the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane), and she feeds him wine and biscuits (biscuits in England are more like our crackers or cookies) as in the Last Supper.

There is one more picture of Christ found in the resurrection of the Prince in the early hours of the morning, followed by the wedding. This last event is what we are still waiting for!

Although the details do not create a perfect allegory, there is enough to see Christ “as through a mirror, dimly,” (I Corinthians 13:12, NKJV) before we have the pleasure of seeing Him face to face!

Worldview/moral value: 4.5, Literary value: 4.5

Discussion Questions:

1. What does The Light Princess have in common with other fairy tales? How is it different?

2. Did you notice the three references to a certain nursery rhyme?

3. Who can you think of in the Bible who struggled with the heartache of having no children?

4. What is the curse that we need to be rescued from? (Original sin)

5. What are the two meanings that MacDonald applies to the word “gravity?” (Used as a pun referring to both her weightlessness and her carelessness about her condition or any other serious matter.)

6. The court metaphysicians, Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck, suggest strange forms of education or medication to cure the Princesss. Why wouldn’t these work? (Neither addresses the heart of the problem) Would they work in our society?

7. How does the sacrifice of Christ, our hero compare to that of the Prince?

What else did you find in The Light Princess? Have you read any of MacDonald’s other writings? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader who loves nothing more than helping readers (and non-readers) find books which are not only a good fit for them, but also combine Truth and Story. She has never regretted reading all those fairy tales in childhood, even though she didn’t realize at the time how much they matter to real life. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia where she enjoys knitting, playing with words, and mountain views.


  1. Emily on July 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks so much for this, Megan. I can’t wait to get my kids started on this book. I (cringe) haven’t ever read any George MacDonald, so it’ll be a great box to check off.

  2. Betsy on July 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Never read George MacDonald, Emily! (gasp!!)

    Excellent write-up Megan. And that’s coming from a diehard MacDonald fan 🙂 (as you well know!)

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