A fairy tale written by George MacDonald, The Light Princess has echos of Sleeping Beauty – a forgetful king does not invite a guest he should have invited to his daughter’s christening.
But there the similarities end. The king forgets to invite his own spiteful, but terribly clever, sister. She comes anyway. In her clever spitefulness, she casts a spell over the baby just as she’s being christened, making the child lighter than air.
This has interesting consequences in the princess’s life. The palace servants cannot place her down anywhere, or she will float away. As she gets older, she is constantly needing to be fetched by someone or another because she’s floated to the ceiling, or into the trees, or various other places of great height. Besides that, the princess is very flighty and can take no subject seriously. She makes light of everything.
The place she most loves is water. The princess loves to swim – perhaps because it’s the only place she feels any gravity. One day, a prince is riding through the forest, and meets with the princess. As in all fairy tales, he falls in love with this rather witless princess – perhaps because she was in the water and actually able to have a serious conversation. Out of the water, she is as witless as ever, but the prince is still smitten.
Her aunt, still smarting from the missed invitation, decides her brother hasn’t paid enough, and drains the lake. The princess is distraught, and starts wilting away. She neither eats nor sleeps.
But her handsome prince steps in to save her (though she’s hardly worth being saved). And through his selfless act of love, the princess is cured of her flightiness – both physical and mental.
The Light Princess is a beautiful fairy tale, made even better by Maurice Sendak’s (of Where the Wild Things Are fame) lovely illustrations.
Highly recommended for ages 5 (as a read aloud) and up.
There is a (fairly recent) picture book that reminds me of this story – “Princess Hyacinth”. Our other favorites by George MacDonald were “Princess and the Goblin”, “Princess and Curdie”, and “Sir Gibbie”.
The Light Princess is a charming tale, and my children have enjoyed it, but The Princess and Curdy, any The Princess and the Goblin still remain their favorite George McDonald tales, and I haven’t read anything he’s written that I haven’t loved.