The Light Princess, by George MacDonald

the-light-princess-by-george-macdonaldGenre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux
Published: 1969
Reviewer Rating: four star rating
Book Review by Richard R. Horton

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George MacDonald’s name has come up on our YA SF&F thread before. (This refers to Melisa Michaels’ forum at the late, lamented, online bookstore Book Stacks.) He was a Scottish clergyman of the mid-to-late 19th century, now known best for a variety of children’s fantasies, including Lilith, The Princess and The Goblin (made into a moderately successful animated feature), The Princess and Curdie, and the remarkable At the Back of the North Wind. Those are novels, but he also wrote some shorter pieces, perhaps aimed at a slightly younger audience. The Light Princess is one of these.

It is the tale of a princess who is cursed by a mean, jealous, witch so that she has no gravity. The book is full of puns, so MacDonald makes much both of her weightlessness, and the lack of gravity in her character. Naturally her parents are upset and try to have her cured, but to no avail (although the efforts of a couple of Chinese philosophers to provide a cure are rendered amusingly). However, the Princess is quite happy with her “light” state (of course it is in her nature to be always happy). In the way of things, a Prince appears, and falls in love with the Princess. Then the witch realizes that her curse has failed to make the Princess unhappy, so she takes further steps, which are thwarted by the selfless behavior of the Prince, and which result in the Princess recovering her gravity: not an unmixed blessing, but one which her new maturity allows her to realize is best in the long run.

This is a delightful story, told with just the right mixture of whimsy and mildly serious moral comment. The characters are lightly and accurately drawn (the Princess’ parents and the Chinese philosophers in particular, are delightful), and the story is predictable but still quite imaginative, with a number of nice touches to do with the Princess’ weightlessness. Maurice Sendak’s illustrations are wonderful as usual. I haven`t tried the story on my daughter yet (she may be a year or so too young, or perhaps I should just try: she still tends to become frustrated at long stretches of picture-free text, however), so I can’t verify the worth for children, but I enjoyed it a lot.

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