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A Review of The Princess and Curdie: The Unexpected Ending and the Resurrection of Gwyntystorm
In his loss of enchantment, the old princess sings for him. She is the one who sings his lullabies in his sleep and who provides invisible threads for him to follow.
Death and resurrection. Take those two themes and find a holy interpretive guide for the entire Bible. One such example of this thread comes from the great King Josiah. II Chronicles 34 notes that Josiah was eight years old when he became king. His reign spanned a little over three decades. He did good and noble things during his reign. He was a covenantal successor who boldly reformed Israel and purged Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, idols, and tyrants. He offered the nation a ritual feast on Passover and died a warrior’s death in battle.
The good fortune of a faithful king continues in death when the nation mourns (II Chron. 35:24). But a faithful life of divine iconoclasm doth not entail a faithful successor. We know that Jehoahaz became king afterward for three months (II Chron. 36:2), and then Jehoiakim came along and did evil in the sight of the Lord (II Chron. 36:5). The King of Babylon came along and robbed Israel’s goods and made a mockery of their house furniture.
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The moral of the story is that not every good narrative produces a better one. Sometimes good narratives produce brief narratives, and then all the gain of Josiah is undone by Jehoiakim—the very bad narrative. But this is still within the rationale of death and resurrection. The covenant is not a simple one-for-one correspondence. It offers ebbs and flows. Even the life of Jesus doesn’t move from itinerant success from city to city. He casts out demons in one town, and in the next, he is nominated for the Demon of the Year award.
It’s the long view that counts. Someone in covenantal history must transcend the current frustrations and see the bigger picture. Such comes into play in George MacDonald’s work.
The Death and Resurrection of Curdie
The Josiah theme became alive as I reached the climax of MacDonald’s sequel to Princess and the Goblin.Written a decade after, Princess and Curdie offer a continual portrayal of Curdie and his journey. G.K. Chesterton appears to minimize its importance when he notes in his introduction to George MacDonald that the sequel is the pursuit of fortune rather than the pursuit of enchantment.
Chesterton makes a noble point which I can demur only slightly and with great humility. He is right to assert that Curdie’s original display of chivalry is awe-inspiring, but I am not persuaded that Curdie now ceases to pursue true glory. It seems his pursuit is indeed one of enchantment but one which does not bring successive ages the same fortune he found in his own life. His glory does not lead immediately to covenantal benedictions.
But before elaborating on that conclusion, we should offer a bit of an apology for the miner-boy. It is not accidental that the book begins with a fine description of the mountain’s glory, which is destroyed by this thing called mammon. Mammon argues the story-teller, breeds quarrels. The chiasm is quite precise as the book ends with a similar demise.
In this second book, the young miner enters into a world where the necessity to whistle demons away is gone. You will recall that his great ritual in the first adventure was to sing melodies that kept goblins away. In this sense, Curdie is very much Davidic. He restored and refreshed royalty in song. He is a musical exorcist.
When he re-encounters the old, young, beautiful princess,the great weaver of the first book, Irene’s grandmother, he is sent on a journey. It is Curdie’s faith that is tantalizing to consider. When she calls Curdie to a mission, Curdie replies with a courageous “Yes, ma’am.” The princess is enamored since Curdie does not know the nature of the mission, yet he finds assurance that the Princess does know, which is sufficient for him. By all definitions, Curdie manifests an enchanting faith that carries him forward to an unknown mission. Every faith is enchanting when it comes from the lips of children and miners.
Curdie’s songs were not ruined, nor did they lose their power to exorcise. They return to his heart. In his loss of enchantment, the old princess sings for him. She is the one who sings his lullabies in his sleep and who provides invisible threads for him to follow. Curdie loses his song, but he finds his song in the song of the princess. But there is yet another pious influence in restoring Curdie’s song. His journey is not alone. If Curdie were to go alone to his final destination, he would miss the very purpose of singing. Along the way, Curdie finds a wild, ugly beast named Lina, a frightful creature resembling the goblins. She is unseemly, and to everyone, she is a defining terror, the embodiment of ugliness. But it is this dog-like creature who becomes Curdie’s faithful attendant and loyal servant. The foolish things of this world become the wise.
Curdie and Lina undergo various trials and overcome them through palace secrets, fearless confrontations, and binding friendships. The entire Christian existence could be summarized by these three elements—refuge in the sacred place, courage, and community. This sacred triad forms the outline of the book, in my estimation.
Saving the King and Irene
But all roads lead to home. Curdie returns to Gwyntystorm. Every experience had prepared him to defend the honor of the great king. This was the very same king that had requested his presence in the first book but who failed to convince Curdie to come. Curdie chose to stay with his family rather than follow royalty. This was an astounding surprise to the king, who only grew in admiration for the little boy.
But now Curdie arrives and finds a king tormented by a Doctor. Doctor Kelman has been relentlessly poisoning the King and weakening him. The ever-perceptive Curdie catches the conniving intentions and seeks to undo the terror imposed on Gwyntystorm by this demonic alliance.
He allies with Irene (who finally appears in the book) and, with the help of Lina’s monstrous friends, returns the castle to health again. Like the ancient Josiah, Curdie cleanses the temple of thievery and exorcised the synagogue of Satan. The evil is excommunicated, and the king returns to health again. Like the closing pages of Revelation,the devil and his minions attempt one final strike but are quickly defeated. Curdie brings balance to the kingdom. The temple priests are sent away; exiled for preaching a false gospel against the inhabitants. They are the false prophets of the ancient world.
The New Josiah and the Unexpected Ending
Josiah tore down idols and restored justice. Curdie brings justice by executing vengeance on the traitors. His song returned, and “So a new and upright court was formed, and strength returned to the nation.”True rituals were renewed in the castle ground, and a righteous Passover of gladness came upon the land. As expected, Curdie and Irene were married. Riches were mined. The king died, and the Princess and Curdie became King and Queen. Gwyntystorm was a better city because of their presence. They sought peace, and the people followed after them.
But upon their deaths, a new king came into the picture. The spirit of Jehoiakim returned, and the new king, much like in the early days of this story, found refuge in mammon. They sought gold, and the more they sought for gold, the more they forgot the pillars of the city. They forgot the city's foundation, and one day the city fell with great violence. The song that Curdie once sang vanished. Death prevailed. Death’s stings were more powerful. Resurrection died, and death resurrected. The very name of the city ceased to be spoken. The very song that brought life ceased to be sung—the end. The story finishes abruptly without the enchantment expected.
But Josiah’s fortunes are not lost forever. The ending may be unexpected, yet the covenant stands forever. The eternal city never dies. She will be raised again incorruptible. Gwyntystorm lives. Long live the great, risen Josiah.
“It would make you weep if I were able to tell you what that was like, it was so beautiful and true and lovely. But this is something like the words of its song…”
“The Princess and Curdie” By George MacDonald
Tune (Dear Friend) by Uri Brito from the chapter “Curdie’s Mission”
You can read my review here:
G.K. Chesterton, Introduction to George MacDonald and His Wife, 302.
The conundrum of this character makes her a Lady Wisdom figure. She is young and old; observant, engaged, and outside of time. She is Solomonic in nature.
The final Chapter is entitled “The End.”