My eight year old woke up yesterday wanting to see pictures of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. She especially wanted to know...did the bride have a train? (And how!) And so it goes, another day with imaginations captured by the world of princesses.
Yesterday my friend Don posted some musings about why even independent Americans are so highly fascinated with royal goings-on. Among other ideas, he posited one that I particularly like...human beings love to watch things like royal weddings because we deeply long for a king. In other words, at least some of our love of pageantry and fairy-tale stems from deep spiritual longing.
As a reader and writer of such tales, this is something I've suspected for a long time. It made me think again of George MacDonald's wonderful words at the beginning of The Princess and the Goblin:
THERE was once a little princess who—
"But Mr. Author, why do you always write about princesses?"
"Because every little girl is a princess."
"You will make them vain if you tell them that."
"Not if they understand what I mean."
"Then what do you mean?"
"What do you mean by a princess?"
"The daughter of a king."
"Very well, then every little girl is a princess, and there would be no need to say anything about it, except that she is always in danger of forgetting her rank, and behaving as if she had grown out of the mud. I have seen little princesses behave like children of thieves and lying beggars, and that is why they need to be told they are princesses. And that is why when I tell a story of this kind, I like to tell it about a princess. Then I can say better what I mean, because I can then give her every beautiful thing I want her to have."
"Please go on."
We are, each and every one of us, made by a king. And not just any king, but the King of the universe, the King of love, who longs to adopt us and make us children and heirs in his royal family. Doesn't that take your breath?
I confess this has been on my mind again this week because we're in the midst of a family re-read of A Little Princess. When we traveled last weekend, I let the sweet girl choose which books she'd like us to take for reading in the car, and this is one she especially wanted again. It's my favorite (by far) of Frances Hodgson Burnett's books, and I love to read it aloud. And despite some moments of old-fashioned sentimentality that ring a bit oddly to our contemporary ears, or maybe because of them, there are moments in the story that move me to tears. When Sara is banished to the lonely attic and finds her life degraded and impoverished, it is by continuing to imagine that she is a princess that she finds the strength to be brave, kind, and generous, even to those who treat her terribly.
It reminds me of how C.S. Lewis encourages us to "pretend" to be what we're not -- not hypocritically, but as practice to become what we most want and long to be. He calls it "dressing up as Christ." As he writes in Mere Christianity:
Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grownups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.