Lance & Megan's Blog

The Wise Woman (AKA a Double Story, AKA The Lost Princess) by George Macdonald


Formational Book Review by Lance

5/5 Stars

“To be conceited of doing one’s duty is then a sign of how little one does it, and how little one sees what a contemptible thing it is not to do it. Could any but a low creature be conceited of not being contemptible? Until our duty becomes to us common as breathing, we are poor creatures.”

This fairy tale follows two foolish young girls and their very foolish parents. One is a princess who is aggressively spoiled rotten and the other a poor farm girl who only hears praise from her parents and is incredibly conceited. A very mysterious and wise old woman shows up and uses her knowledge and bit of magic in her curious house in an attempt to reform the girls and maybe even their parents.

Reading as a Disciple:

“But the wise woman had, in truth, heard the first sound of her running feet, and stopped and turned, waiting. What with running and crying, however, and a fall or two as she ran, the princess never saw her until she fell right into her arms—”

No matter how many smart books I read or techniques that I implement in my pursuit of being a disciple of Jesus, I find myself being either or both of the daughters.  In the end, I need divine guidance to show me the real depravity of my conceit and entitlement. This is a parable that helps to console with hope the part of me that understands the deficiency in me and my easy forgetfulness of this deficiency. It also confronts my pride and reminds me that I have a guide that will allow my sinful nature cause me pain while working a more beautiful creation in me. I have a wise counselor who continually and creatively pursues me and draws me toward my true self away from the false self.

Reading Pastorally:

“As she grew up, everybody about her did his best to convince her that she was Somebody; and the girl herself was so easily persuaded of it that she quite forgot that anybody had ever told her so, and took it for a fundamental, innate, primary, first-born, self-evident, necessary, and incontrovertible idea and principle that SHE WAS SOMEBODY… in this odd country there was a huge number of Somebodies. Indeed, it was one of its oddities that every boy and girl in it, was rather too ready to think he or she was Somebody; and the worst of it was that the princess never thought of there being more than one Somebody—and that was herself.”

Macdonald does a great job weaving “nature/nurture” into this story.  Both the girls have a will to do what is right or wrong, however they are also influenced by the faulty care of their parents.  In the end, misguided “love” created two atrociously selfish little creatures. Both sets of parents, in their discomfort or blindness, gave the wrong base idea to their daughters; that they were the only somebody. A person being a person is not for the sake of their own specialness. The reason for personhood in the story is a bit hidden. But it is very clear that each is loved by the Wise Woman and the more they know it, the more that transformational love is shown to others.

“…you (parents) are sufficiently punished by the work of your own hands. Instead of making your daughter obey you, you left her to be a slave to herself; you coaxed when you ought to have compelled; you praised when you ought to have been silent… She is your crime and your punishment. Take her home with you, and live hour after hour with the pale-hearted disgrace you call your daughter.”

 This hit home for me.  How many times have I only focused my care for people on being “somebody” in this world without reenforcing the reality that they are not the only somebody in the room. If we care for others without the context of character growth and being a person in a community, we can unintentionally and unfortunately cause harm to those in our care.

Formational Reading:

“I could tell you a great deal more concerning them all, but I have already told more than is good for those who read but with their foreheads, and enough for those whom it has made look a little solemn, and sigh as they close the book.”

The very last paragraph of the book is a glimpse into George Macdonald’s philosophy on what story should produce in a person. And I can say the first time I read this story I was more of a forehead reader. Time and trial, I think, has made me read this story a bit differently this time.  I believe that story should be a large part of our joy building. And I also believe that digesting a story takes practice and effort. I hope I sigh after every book I read.

Other thoughts:

Formationaly speaking, George Macdonald has been a huge influence on me and my view of God, human nature and God’s work of redemption. He is known for being a large influence on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis with his fairy tales and sermons.  In some circles George Macdonald has been a figure of controversy.  Towards the end of his life his theology had a hard universalist bend. More specifically, in Lance paraphrase, through our own hell of depravity and the consuming fire of God’s love, over time, everyone will eventually yield to the love of God and accept His embrace. As Paul Young (who wrote “The Shack”) said in the documentary “Restoring the Shack”, (again in Lance paraphrase) “I don’t necessarily hold to George MacDonald’s view on hell, but I hope he is right.”

Other George Macdonald Favorites:

  • Lilith
  • Phantastes
  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • The Princess and Curdie
  • The Shadows
  • Back of the North Wind


  • “George Macdonald: An Anthology 365 Readings” by C.S. Lewis

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