Which Way Should I Go?

In the marvelous story, The Princess and Curdie*, by George MacDonald, we follow a lowly young miner, named Curdie. He comes to love and admire a wise and righteous old woman, a Princess – known as the “dear old Grandmother”. He promises to serve her, and she tells him that he must go and help the King. She does not say how he must help him, or where he must go, or what he must do – but she says he must go. And so, obedient servant that he is, he departs on his quest.

After many misadventures, he finds himself at the king’s doorway, on the run from the King’s own guard. He stops for a moment unsure if he should go in – as it would be impertinent of a lowly miner to enter the King’s chamber.

“He felt sure this must be the King’s Chamber, and it was here he was wanted.  Or, if it was not the place he was bound for, something would beat him and turn him aside. For he had come to think that so long as a man wants to do right, he may go where he can.  When he can go no farther, then it is not the way.  Only…he must really want to do right, and not merely fancy he does.  He must want it with his heart and will, and not with his rag of a tongue.” 

So often we question our place; we doubt our path or we don’t understand how or why something will be accomplished.  We also doubt our own motivations – “Am I truly trying to do good, or am I just seeking praise or acting out of self-righteousness?”  Here Curdie is confident, however, because he really wants to do right – with his heart and his will.  He isn’t seeking glory, or riches – he doesn’t care how many likes he gets on Instagram or if the other miners will be impressed by his courage.  He just wants to do right.  He wants to obey the truth he has found.  

So he moves forward, into the unknown.  As we all must.  And when he hits a wall where he can go no further, he turns and finds another way.  In the story, we see him reach many of these “dead ends”.  Yet he does good on the path that leads there – so perhaps they aren’t so “dead” after all.  Curdie, in one way, has found the answer to the complexity of life.  Rather than needing to know the why, how, or where of life – he only  knows that he “really wants to do right” and rely on the faith he has in his righteous Princess.  He knows she is good, he knows she sent him on this quest and there is a plan and a purpose.  With his heart set on doing right, his path is always the right one.

But how do we know our heart is right, and not just our “rag of a tongue”? I think in this story Curdie gives us a big clue – he is mocked and harassed by many along his path, yet he remains undaunted. He is thought to be a thief, a devil, a traitor, yet he is not seeking the good opinion of others – he seeks to do what is right. Oftentimes we question our course when we are mocked or judged by others – we start to look to others for affirmation of our “rightness”. We imagine that if we are not valued or praised we must be off-course. But the opinions of “men” are often muddied by envy, resentment, anger, or just ignorance. It is better to keep looking at our “Dear old Grandmother” and her good opinion – to keep attempting to align our steps with the will of God, or goodness, or conscience.

The scripture says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” So when we think we have made a mistake, or question which choice we should make – let’s first make sure our heart is where it should be, and then all else will unfold for good.


Cover form The Princess and Curdie

*I highly recommend the books The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie. A truly magical and profoundly-deep set of books for adults and children.

But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

C.S. Lewis

G. K. Chesterton, one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century, said that MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin , which had been read to him in the nursery, was a book that “made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start.”

9 thoughts on “Which Way Should I Go?

  1. Allyson I loved this. Do you think The Princess & the Goblin is too old for Eli & Ivy?

    On Tue, Apr 13, 2021 at 7:44 AM The Philosophy of Motherhood wrote:

    > allymatsoso posted: ” In the marvelous story, The Princess and Curdie*, by > George MacDonald, we follow a lowly young miner, named Curdie. He comes to > love and admire a wise and righteous old woman, a Princess – known as the > “dear old Grandmother”. He promises to serve her, ” >


  2. Great piece. There seems to be much righteous indignation and virtue signaling these days, so how do we know that our indignation is righteous? I’ve witnessed people act ungodly in the name of “religion” and their perceived will of God, and they may have honestly believed they were doing right. Personally I’m terrified of doing the same. I think of this quote from C.S. Lewis,
    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.”

    I very much appreciate your insight and I’m just curious to hear you thoughts on specific ways we can avoid this trap. Reading God’s word and praying are great starters but well meaning Bible reading, praying individuals have done some terrible things. Thoughts?


    1. Thanks for reading. I love that quote by C.S. Lewis. A recent post I did – What Love Isn’t – tries to speak to this issue. I think, for the most part, our “righteous indignation” needs to be directed at ourselves, and then at a small group of people whom we have genuine love and concern for. The the terrible things other do in the name of goodness usually involves stepping on other people’s free will and meddling in matters they really have no business meddling in. We cannot make people do right – and if we try and force them to we are not doing right ourselves. That doesn’t mean we don’t speak truth when we feel called to – and the truth can be terrible – but the piece I mentioned tries to get at who and when we may need to speak that terrible truth.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way“
    That’s how I would describe your writing Ally.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this article. It comes at an interesting moment for me, because I am currently re-reading “The Princess and Curdie”. My parents read it to me when a kid, and I liked it at the time because it is an interesting story. Now, after reading MacDonald’s “Unspoken Sermons”, I see such an incredible depth and theological insight built into both of the Curdie books. The Princess and Curdie may very well be my all-time favorite novel, possibly pushing aside “Till We Have Faces” by CS Lewis.

    I do think we should make one thing clear about God’s providence and about the often misunderstood Romans 8:28.

    Remember near the beginning of the book, when Curdie shoots the pigeon? This was something Curdie did that was clearly wrong, but was used by the Great Grandmother (God) for her purpose. However, MacDonald makes clear that while she was able to bring good out of the evil, there was a better way that should have been chosen.

    To quote Great Grandmother, speaking to Curdie’s father:

    “Therefore I have been training him for a work that must soon be done. I was near losing him, and had to send my pigeon. Had he not shot it, that would have been better; but he repented, and that shall be as good in the end.”

    So here we see that the princess whishes that Curdie had done otherwise, but has been able to work even through the mistake that Curdie has made to make good come out of the evil he had done.

    This is a good way to think about Romans 8:28. The verse is not saying that God causes all things and that everything that happens is good. Paul is saying that God is always working with and in all things to bring about good. This may seem like a small distinction, but it is important for many to know that whatever horror happened to them (murder, rape, abuse from parents, etc) was not “all part of God’s perfect plan”. We know God hates those things. Yet God is the God of the resurrection, and he can bring good out of even the evil things we do and are done to us. God is pure light. He in no way causes evil. But he is able to resurrect good out the evil caused by a broken world and by the choices of free agents with say-so in the world.

    Anyway, thanks for your article, it was very good. I love the idea of stepping out and doing what we DO know is right – without knowing everything. This is so important, and a critical piece of Macdonald’s theology.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wonderful thoughts and that section with the pigeon really struck me as well. It is absolutely important to know that God can use that which He did not cause or desire. So while all things can work together for this that love God – not all things can be laid at His feet for we have free will- and as you say – it would always be better if we didn’t err – and could learn the lessons without the harsh consequences. And if we don’t love God – bad actions can certainly not be turned for our good. Thanks for sharing this.

      Liked by 1 person

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