Due to last week’s recommended book, I’m still behind with my work. So this week it will have to be a quick recommendation for a short story, `The Light Princess’ by George MacDonald. This was originally published in 1864 in a novel called `Adela Cathcart’. It is easier to find it as part of `The Light Princess and Other Stories’ which can currently be downloaded free on Kindle. You can also read this story on http://www.pagebypagebooks.com but I’d go for the beautiful American paperback edition of `The Light Princess’ illustrated by Maurice Sendak. George MacDonald was a very unconventional Victorian clergyman. You can find out all about him at http://www.george-macdonald.com. In the original novel, the story is told to cheer up the seriously depressed heroine. It always works for me.

This story in fifteen short chapters begins with a king and his `very nice queen’ forgetting to ask a disagreeable relative to the christening of their baby daughter. Always leads to trouble. The wicked aunt curses the little princess to be light of spirit and light of body. The royal family discover that the princess is no longer subject to the Law of Gravity when she floats up to the ceiling `like a baby-laughter-cloud’. They have to use steps and a pair of tongs to get her down.  It becomes a constant struggle to stop the princess floating away and a number of so-called wise men are unable to come up with a solution. She also grows up so light-hearted that she’s unable to recognize ordinary human emotions. She finds nearly everything funny, including  her parents’ distress, and thinks that she is the only person in the world who  has any sense.

When the princess falls into the palace lake she discovers that she reverts to a normal weight when she’s in water. After this, she spends as much time as possible `swimming like a swan’ in the lake. When a prince comes by one evening, he thinks that she’s drowning and tries to save her. She’s furious when he takes her out of the water, but ecstatic when he jumps back in with her. After that, they swim together every night but the lake begins to shrink. The princess wastes away as her lake drains. A gold plate found in the lake warns that `Death alone from death can save..’. The prince has fallen in love with the princess. He offers to plug the lake with his own body, on condition that the princess stays with him until he drowns. Will the princess let him sacrifice himself for her?

Although this is a story about sacrificial love, it is told in a light-hearted way with sparkling humour.  The prince and princess’s moonlit frolicking  in the lake is surprisingly sensuous for 1864. The details of how a weightless girl could move about, and the sort of mishaps she might have, are beautifully worked out – long before anyone had experienced zero gravity. The whole story is an extended pun on the two meanings of  gravity. The princess has to learn that there are some things worth being serious about. MacDonald delicately suggests that a life without pain and suffering may not be as wonderful as we think. He also believed that over-interpretation spoils fairy tales, so I’ll just say enjoy `The Light Princess’ as a good story. Until next week…