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Literature / The Lost Princess

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The Lost Princess: A Double Story (originally published under the title The Wise Woman: A Parable) is a fairy tale novel written in 1875 by George MacDonald.

The story concerns two little girls born on the same day under very different circumstances: Princess Rosamond is born in a palace to a king and queen, while Agnes is born in a croft in the countryside to a common shepherd and his wife. Both girls, however, are equally spoiled, Rosamond through overindulgence, Agnes by being overly praised.

Both girls are stolen away by a mysterious Wise Woman, who takes them to live in her magical cottage hidden deep in the forest, where she teaches them the valuable lessons of discipline and self-restraint. One of them gets better. The other one is worse than even the Wise Woman could possibly imagine.

Not to be confused with The Lost Princess of Oz.

The Lost Princess: A Double Story provides examples of the following tropes:

  • An Aesop: Children require patience and guidance to learn good behavior; bad children result from bad parenting.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Rosamond is over the moon when she meets a beautiful white pony with blue wings.
  • And Call Him "George": Rosamond loves pets but has no idea how to be gentle with them. When she's too rough and the pets fight back, she gets angry and abuses them.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Lost in the woods, Rosamond bursts into tears when she thinks about her parents. It's the first time she's missed them because they're her parents, rather than because she's uncomfortable.
  • Being Good Sucks: At the shepherd's hut, Rosamond sincerely tries to behave herself, but since she's never been taught proper behavior, she keeps screwing up. Because she keeps screwing up, she gets easily frustrated. And because she's frustrated, her behavior's even worse.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: As Rosamond becomes a better person, she grows more physically beautiful. By the time she makes her way home, her parents don't recognize her anymore.
  • Big Eater: Rosamond's greed also manifests as an enormous appetite.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Rosamond finds a enormous marble gallery filled with magical paintings inside the Wise Woman's tiny cottage; the Wise Woman implies there are many such hidden rooms in her home.
  • Break the Haughty: In both cases, the girls have to be broken with discipline before they can realize how bad they truly are. It works with Rosamond, but Agnes turns out to be too haughty to break.
  • Cool Old Lady: The Wise Woman. She's a mature, magical lady of infinite patience and kindness, but she's also stern, no-nonsense, and sort of terrifying. At one point she takes on an entire pack of hungry wolves with her bare hands, picking them up and throwing them aside as she walks back toward her cottage.
  • Corporal Punishment: Averted. Despite the time it was published and the themes of discipline, the Wise Woman never lays a finger on Rosamond or Agnes and nowhere in the text is it suggested that this might help. At the very worst, Rosamond is Denied Food as Punishment, and even that is presented as less "punishment" than a consequence: if you don't put in the work required to gather and prepare food, there'll be nothing to eat when you're hungry.
  • Denied Food as Punishment:
    • The magical hole in the wall refuses to produce food until Rosamond does all the chores the Wise Woman set for her. (Earlier in the chapter, it refused to produce food when she was eating out of boredom rather than true hunger.)
    • Likewise the shepherdess won't give Rosamond any breakfast until she does her morning chores. Having learned this lesson earlier from the hole in the wall allows Rosamond to obey the shepherdess without too much objection, proving that she's begun to change.
  • Ethereal White Dress: What the Wise Woman hides under her dull cloak.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Prince, who seems to sense whenever Rosamond has mischief in mind.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Rosamond finally understands she's terribly naughty and begs the Wise Woman to help her.
  • The Kindnapper: The Wise Woman kidnaps both Rosamond and Agnes in order to make them better people.
  • Lemony Narrator: MacDonald occasionally pauses to address some rather pointy observations toward the audience, such as when he describes a certain sort of moral busybody who always knows exactly what's best for other people while making excuses for their own behavior. He then adds, "And such [people] never seem to know themselves—not even when reading about themselves in print."
  • Magic Mirror: The Wise Woman possesses a mirror that shows one their innermost self.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: The Wise Woman's magic mirror reveals that Rosamond's true self is a dirty, ugly piglet. Agnes's true self is a grotesque, smug worm.
  • Magical Nanny: The Wise Woman is...sort of this. Except that Mary Poppins never straight-up kidnapped anyone.
  • Morality Chain: The dog Prince becomes this for Rosamond. At first she obeys him because she's afraid of him; then she obeys him because she grows to love him and wants to please him.
  • Portal Picture: Both Rosamond and Agnes travel through magical paintings to find themselves at the other girl's home.
  • Pride: Agnes's downfall.
  • The Punishment Is the Crime: Because Agnes's parents made her the rotten person she is, their punishment is getting her back.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The Wise Woman's age is said to be "the old age of eternal youth": she's so old, she's grown young again.
  • Royal Brat: No one in the palace staff sheds a single tear when Rosamond vanishes. Even her parents admit that life's a little easier when she's not there.
  • Savage Wolves: The Wise Woman's cottage is surrounded by a dark forest filled with these.
  • Spoiled Brat: Both Agnes and Rosamond are different versions of this. Rosamond's a Spoiled Brat Classic, with her temper tantrums, laziness, and greed. Agnes, on the other hand, is outwardly obedient, but morally reprehensible.