The Light Princess by George MacDonald

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The Light Princess is a story about a royal family who gives birth to a baby girl who is unaffected by gravity due to a curse that is put on her by an aunt. This floating child’s only relief comes from when she swims in the lake.

Poor princess is never left alone- she has weights holding down her clothes that are attached to strings that are held by 20 guards.

Another peculiarity about the princess other than floating around is that she always laughs and never gets angry– it becomes clear that the only way she would ever be able to cure herself of her floating problem is if she cries.

The princess grows older and one evening is swimming in the lake when a prince shows up like they do. He’s a bit of a wanderer and is in search of a princess wife. He had heard of the light princess but had no clue this was her. In their first interaction, he accidentally sends her flying into the air and she gets angry for the first time– the prince immediately falls in love with her because of her passionate anger. She gives him quite a tongue lashing but she also likes it when they jump into the lake together and he carries her, since this is not something she is capable of doing on her own.

While it’s true the light princess enjoyed his company, the truth is she forgets all about him when the lake starts to drain — the earth below is caving in, sucking the water deeper and deeper into earth.

Additionally, something strange happens with the princess for a bit. She goes on this tirade where she resurrects a giant snake and brings him down to the lake to try and just finish it off- drain the whole dang thing. Seems like she is trying to get it over with and have the lake destroyed already. She is having a rough time in this part.

The prince reemerges though the princess does not recall him from their swimming moments but he of course is in love, so offers himself to plug the hole in the lake, which is the only way to stop the lake from draining– a willing human sacrifice.

(Spoiler alert) The prince says he has a condition, which is that when he plugs the hole the princess has to stay with him and feed him until the water submerges him and the deed is done. Just moments before his imminent death, the princess bursts into tears, rips him from the crevice he’s stuffed into in the lake, and gets him into a bed.

The princess can’t get off the floor and thinks gravity is not all it’s cracked up to be now that she is experiencing it for the first time. She has to learn how to walk as an adult and keeps falling all the time. Of course she marries the prince and all that jazz.

Oh, she takes care of the aunt at the end, too.

Gotta love a good fairy tale you never heard of- and also, this edition had illustrations from Maurice Sendak which are always welcome. I found this book in a free little library in Maywood, New Jersey on a walk this week.

6 comments on “The Light Princess by George MacDonald”

  1. I’d look at this book for the Sendak illustrations, for sure. This is a new fairy tale for me, too. I’m thinking about how often the princess in these tales must give up something that is fundamental to her nature to find love. Hmm… There’s an opera named “Rusalka” in which the title character, who lives in the water and cannot walk, falls in love with her prince of the lake. She yearns to be fully-human but the sorceress she consults insists on an awful bargain: Rusalka must give up her power of speech in exchange. The singing goes with that, of course, which is a BIG deal for anyone–but for an operatic character?? She does it, but it all goes downhill from there.
    Rusalka has a gorgeous aria (Song to the Moon) near the beginning of the tale, so the audience knows what she, and they, are losing later. She is asking the moon to tell the prince she’s in love with him because she just hasn’t been able to.
    This was a signature role for Renee Fleming:
    https://www.wqxr.org/story/renee-flemings-perfect-song-moon/

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      1. Or perhaps the other way around- looks like the opera came out in 1901 and MacDonald was alive from 1824-1905… hmmmmm…

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      2. Rusalka was inspired by one of the Czechoslovakian fairy tales of Karel Jaromir Erben and Bozina Nemcova, I read. Water sprites are from Slavic mythology.
        A poet wrote a libretto for Rusalka, and then went on a search for a composer to set his words to music. Dvorak was looking for an operatic project. Don’t know how old the fairy tales were at the time. Would George MacDonald have been looking at Czech fairy tales? Probably not, but anything’s possible. Wikipedia says we can relate The Little Mermaid to Rusalka.

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    1. I will look at anything with Sendak illustrations. Where the Wild Things Are changed my life when I was 7. Really. It really did.

      Giving up something for love is the basis of sooooo many stories, to be sure. Rarely a fair exchange. And thank you, thank you for the link, Teri. You made my morning. My father loves Renee Fleming.

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