The Lost Princess, by George MacDonald. Published 1875

“The Lost Princess” is also known by the titles “A Double Tale” and “The Wise Woman”.

Publication information: Published in the United States in 1978 by Chariot Books under ISBN 0-89191-164-4 and Scripture Union under ISBN 0 85421 656 1

George MacDonald was a well-known Scottish writer of the 1800's, best known for his fantasy tales. Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland was published in part at his urging. MacDonald was born in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, in 1824 and died in 1905. He left a legacy of theological writings, fairy tales, fiction novels, and poetry.

The Lost Princess is not often given much attention in lists of MacDonald's works. Usually it is mentioned in passing or perhaps given a two-line summary of the plot. However, many of MacDonald's theological ideas and social concerns make their mark in its pages. C.S. Lewis believed it to be one of MacDonald's “greatest myths” (from the forward to the 1981 printing of the U.S. edition by Colin Duriez).

The plot focuses mainly on Princess Rosamond, a naughty royal princess, but contrasts her story with that of a simple shepherdess girl named Agnes. Both girls grow to become self-centered through the neglect by their parents of any moral discipline. The princess becomes selfish as her parents try to grant her every desire, while the shepherdess becomes self-centered as her parents praise everything about her and criticize nothing. Both grow in conceit until encountering the Wise Woman.

Princess Rosamond encounters the Wise Woman when her parents call upon this famous person to help them with the royal brat, whose misery they can't understand. The Wise Woman condemns their parenting (or lack thereof) and promptly kidnaps Princess Rosamond, taking her away for an encounter with her selfish self.

Only slightly amenable to the Wise Woman’s correction, Princess Rosamond eventually escapes one day when the Wise Woman has left her alone in the cottage. At the same time Rosamond is escaping, the shepherdess Agnes is also kidnapped by the Wise Woman. Although Agnes originally appears more obedient to the Wise Woman, she too escapes. Both girls find themselves living in the other’s home. Rosamond is taken in by the Shepherdess and her husband; Agnes finds employment in the king’s castle. Rosamond becomes so obnoxious that the Shepherd and Shepherdess make her leave. Agnes realizes at some point that she and the princess have switched places. Agnes reports this to the king, who sends for the Shepherd and Shepherdess.

The story ends with a dramatic confrontation – the unwise king and queen demanding of the poor Shepherd the whereabouts of their daughter and deciding they should be tortured, the Princess Rosamond showing up in the middle of the mess, and finally the Wise Woman revealing herself to condemn all of their foolishness. The Wise Woman blinds the king and queen and gives them over to the care of Princess Rosamond, so they might all learn some wisdom. Her punishment to the Shepherd and Shepherdess for their poor parenting is to send Agnes home with them, mysteriously declaring that when life becomes unbearable they should call on her again.

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