Literature / The Light Princess
The Light Princess
is an 1864 fairy tale, was written by George MacDonald
. It's a fairy tale about a princess who is cursed to lose her gravity, and some parts of it are decidedly tongue-in-cheek. More than one audio version exists, so do give them a try.
So this King and Queen desperately want a child — you know how that goes — and eventually they get one. The little girl is due to have a christening party when the King conveniently forgets to invite his sister, an evil woman with magical powers. The woman arrives just the same, and curses the Princess with a lack of gravity.
This means firstly that the gravity of the world has no pull on the girl's body: She floats everywhere, never has to worry about falling, and on walks must be accompanied by several courtiers who hold onto ribbons attached to her waist, lest the slightest breeze whip her away into the sky. But secondly, the gravity of life has no pull on the girl's soul: She never thinks seriously on any topic, cannot be made to empathize with people, and never cries, even when her father decides to give a good go at spanking her until she does. The court wisemen try to figure out how to undo this terrible curse, but as their schemes amount to stuff like "drain her blood until she's dead and then bring her back," the King declines to give it a try.
So the Princess grows up with no sense of unhappiness, except occasional annoyance when she isn't allowed her own way. And she laughed all the time, although "in her laugh there was something missing"... for similar to how you cannot appreciate light without darkness, you cannot appreciate happiness without sorrow. And so her laughing at times sounded much like crying.
And then one day, she happens to get pushed into the nearby lake. Turns out that when she's in the lake, her gravity is back, but when she leaves the water she floats again; and from that day on she is never so happy as when she is in the water.
One day, a Prince happened to come by and see her in the water, and because of her strange laughter, he thought she was drowning and tried to save her. Once that had been straightened out, he began to court her, but she was never serious about anything, least of all the possibility of love. The only reason she enjoyed his presence was that he could take her out to the water, and furthermore that he could grab her and fall into the water with her, a sensation which she very much enjoyed (as she put it, it felt like "falling up").
Unfortunately, about this time the King's sister discovered that the lake was making the Princess happy. And so she went down into her basement and followed a tunnel down below the lake, where she rigged a magic spell and got a large serpent to bite the ceiling of the chamber right below the lake, and the spell began to drain the lake.
The Princess figured this out before too long, and it scared her as nothing had ever scared her before. She was distraught at the idea of losing the lake. But nothing could be done until a man happened to spot, at the bottom of the lake, a plaque. It said that if one man in the whole kingdom was brave enough to give his life for the lake, by plugging the hole with his entire body, then the lake would refill; but if there were no man so brave, then the kingdom deserved its loss.
Eventually the Prince learned the details of this plight. He had not seen the Princess in many days, and by this point was deeply in love with her; and so he reasoned that the Princess would be no good without the lake, and went straightway to the King to offer his life. Only he made the condition that the Princess should stay out with him in a boat, and feed him and give him drink with her own hands until the deed was done. The King, not knowing that the man was a Prince, agreed, and soon the whole affair was set in motion.
At length the Prince, the Princess, and a small boat filled with food and drink were in the center of the lake. The Prince got into the hole, filling most of it with his legs and using his hands to stop up the little bit that remained. The Princess was at times curious and at times distracted, and she did not seem to entirely understand that the Prince would be dead once this was all done. But the water slowly began to come back. This fact began to take up the Princess's entire attention, which delighted the Prince, for he had not seen her happy in many days. Only she would hardly pay attention to him, and he had to coax her into feeding him; and even when he kissed her fingers, she did not seem to care.
As the water rose, it covered the Prince up to his neck; and then up to his mouth; and then his nose; and then it covered him completely, and as the Princess realized what had happened, she "gave a shriek and dove into the water". She grabbed the Prince and managed to pull him out of the hole, and then got him into the boat, and then rowed him back to land and had the servants bring him to her nursemaid, and over several hours they did all they could think to do for him.
Eventually, it proved to be enough, and he woke up; and at this point the Princess fell to the floor weeping. Her love, finally awakened, had broken the curse; the lake was brim-full, and had also crushed the King's sister; and as soon as the Princess had learned to walk like a normal person, she married the Prince and they lived Happily Ever After
, having many children, "none of whom ever lost their gravity."
It has recently been adapted into a musical by Samuel Adamson and Tori Amos
at London's National Theatre, and has been well received.
This story provides examples of: