9.01.2011

The Uglies


The cliff hanger that is the end of The Princess and the Goblin leaves you wondering what could possibly happen next. George MacDonald is not the sort of author to obey conventions. Going into it, Jessica and I had no idea what to expect in The Princess and Curdie. (A sense of intentional ambiguity is created by "the Princess" of the title in this book and the previous. Which princess does the title mean? Princess Irene? Which one, because there are two of them?)
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What happens to the characters of a book after the "happily ever after"? A story has concreteness to it; life has ever-changing development and patterns. After finishing a closed fairy tale, if you're anything like me, you may find yourself wanting to take the inspiration the story has given you and use it in life in some way: clearing out materialistic clutter, calling or writing relatives, practicing joy, composing. Sometimes these bursts of inspiration have clear beneficial results, sometimes something only seen in retrospect, other times lapsing back into life like an ocean wave, or, at its worse, ushering in guilt, homesickness, and sadness. What this book does is examine the lives of these characters, fresh from their victory over the evil Goblins, and the dangers of falling away from their "first love." What do people do when time and distance obscure the truth? And how do they get back upon the right path. You can definitely hear MacDonald's pulpit-pounding sermonizing in this story, but with the important difference that he is literally "preaching to the choir." These words and this story is for those who consider themselves healthy (enough), righteous (enough), moral (enough), and honorable (enough). Never can you wiggle yourself into the idea that good people can just be good on their own - only great-great-grandmother can dispense goodness with the loving brutality of heaven! This story could be seen as an expansion of Jesus' parable of the vineyard. The "happily ever after" of the Resurrection has turned into the hypocrisy, "puffed-up-ness," and violence. 
PictureLina, the dog-companion of Curdie is an amazing character, ugly and sad and loyal and penitent and fond of biting through evil-doers' legs like she were chomping on celery! Jessica and I especially love Curdie's line when they are being attacked by evil butchers: "It's okay, Lina. You get one; I'll kill the other." Add to that her role as the leader of the avenging Uglies and you've got one bizarre and lovable mutant critter.
Once again the allusions are too numerous to count and deserve a dissertation. I love hints of Bunyan's Pilgrim and Faithful in Vanity Fair, the book of Acts, Ezekiel's seraphim in the spinning wheel, and a little Wizard of Oz when they come through the woods with forty-nine Kolida-like Uglies. The final battle scene could stand alongside Braveheart and Lord of the Rings in its evocation of beautiful struggle.

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