ben trovato dreamed he was in one of the Wise Woman’s ‘mood chambers' and has rushed out to buy the Penguin Classics edition of George MacDonald’s Complete Fairy Tales – the perfect stocking-filler for literary children of all ages.
George MacDonald was a contemporary of Lewis Carroll – who was a family friend – and his fairy tales have a freshness, humour and profundity of insight untainted by pious moralising that is most unVictorian. His beautifully pointed symbolism and psychological depth outshine most of the too-earnest outpourings of 20th century ‘experts’ on child-rearing. The Penguin volume contains all his short stories in this genre, and also a complete longer novella – The Wise Woman, or The Lost Princess: a Double Story. There is nearly always a magical wise woman, or fairy great-great grandmother figure, in MacDonald’s tales, including his longer novels, The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie. In The Lost Princess the Wise Woman takes in hand the emotional education of a very naughty real-life princess, and also of a shepherd’s daughter. Having taken them both to her moorland cottage, she makes them experience, and deal with, the various moods they encounter in her ‘mood chambers’. The princess may be a princess because she has royal parents, but she is still a frog. As the Wise Woman tells her: “Nobody can be a real princess – do not imagine you have yet been anything more than a mock one – until she is a princess over herself, that is, until, when she finds herself unwilling to do the thing that is right, she makes herself do it. So long as any mood she is in makes her do the thing she will be sorry for when that mood is over, she is a slave, and no princess.”
In another longer novel, At the Back of the North Wind, one of MacDonald’s child-characters says this – which I relate strongly to, and maybe you will too:
“I never just quite liked that rhyme” [about Little Bo-Peep], “because it seems to say one’s as good as another, or two new ones are better than one that’s lost. I’ve been thinking about it a great deal, and it seems to me that although any one sixpence is as good as any other sixpence, not twenty lambs would do instead of one sheep whose face you knew. Somehow, when once you’ve looked into anybody’s eyes, right deep down into them I mean, nobody will do for that one any more. Nobody, ever so beautiful or so good, will make up for that one going out of sight.”
Off to the bookshop with you!