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This paper was written by Dr. Don W. King.

Included with the gracious permission of "Dr. Zeus", creator of "Into the Wardrobe", a popular website devoted to C.S. Lewis. The original online copy of this paper can be found here.

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Articles > The C.S. Lewis Archive > The Childlike in George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis

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In later visits to her grandmother, Irene's childlike character is further explored. When she next sees her grandmother, she tells Irene that she must endure a test: "But I must put you to one trial--not a very hard one, I hope. This night week you must come back to me. If you don't, I do not know when you may find me again, and you will soon want me very much" (The Princess and the Goblin, p. 86). Of course the real test is to discover whether or not Irene believes in the old lady: "The only question is whether you will believe I am anywhere--whether you will believe I am anything but a dream" (86). This test of Irene's imagination and allegiance is very similar to Lucy's test of obedience regarding Aslan in Prince Caspian.

During the week that follows, Irene tries to maintain her belief although at times "she could not feel quite sure that she had not been dreaming" (95). Nonetheless, she determines to seek her out, and, when the week is up, Irene does make her way back to the old lady's room. Once there, the grandmother commends Irene and shows her various mysterious objects, including pigeons, burning roses, a bright mobile globe, a spinning wheel, and a fire-opal ring. Irene's childlike innocence is underlined here as she reaches out to touch the thread: "Oh! I do feel it! . . . But I can't see it" (107). The old lady explains the value of this invisible thread: "If ever you find yourself in any danger . . . you must take off your ring and put it under the pillow of you bed. Then you must lay your forefinger, the same that wore the ring, upon the thread, and follow the thread wherever it leads you" (107-108). Then she adds: "But, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread" (108).

Irene's faithfulness to her grandmother and her childlike sense of awe and wonder regarding the old lady form the basis for much of the action in the story, especially when Irene meets Curdie, another childlike character. Curdie, a young miner, discovers a plot by underworld goblins against Irene and her father. Unfortunately, Curdie is captured and would have remained so had not Irene's grandmother intervened by means of the invisible thread. Irene is led by the thread directly to where Curdie is imprisoned; their encounter brings into focus the difference between her childlikeness and Curdie's. Curious as to how she found him, Curdie asks for an explanation; to her comments about following a thread, Curdie says: "What nonsense the child talks! . . . I must follow her, though, and see that she comes to no harm" (144). Curdie's inability to "see" or "feel" the thread parallels closely the problem Lucy's brothers and sister have in Prince Caspian. Like them, Curdie is overly influenced by adult perceptions rather than by childlike instincts.

The contrast between Irene's and Curdie's childlike natures peaks when Irene takes him to see her grandmother. When Irene expresses frustration at Curdie's lack of belief, her grandmother says: "People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less" (153). If Irene "sees" easily, Curdie does not. When she asks him what he sees, he says: "I see a big, bare, garret-room . . . . I see a tub, and a heap of musty straw, and a withered apple." Then he adds: I think you had better drop it, princess, and go down to the nursery, like a good girl" (154-155). Curdie's pomposity here has an uncomfortable yet familiar adult ring to it, and prefigures a scene in Lewis' The Last Battle where a group of dwarves have the same problem; that is, instead of seeing and enjoying a feast provided by Aslan in a stable, the dwarves "thought they were eating and drinking only the sorts of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he found a raw cabbage leaf" (LB, p. 147). Like them, Curdie only sees with his adult eyes, not with childlike innocence and awe.

He remains unconvinced until his mother shares a mysterious incident from her early married life as a way of showing him that all is not always what it seems. Prefacing her story with "perhaps some people can see things other people can't see" (162), Curdie's mother relates how she was once saved from the goblins by what sounds like the grandmother's mobile globe and one of her pigeons. To the goblins, however, the grandmother's objects, especially the pigeon, appeared much different: "It looked to me just like a white pigeon. But whatever it was, when the cobs [goblins] caught sight of it coming straight down upon them, they took to their heels and scampered away across the mountain" (164). When Curdie reacts by saying that her story sounds strange, his mother responds with: "Yes, it was strange; but I can't help believing it, whether you do or not" (164).

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