Daniel Koehn: The Wise Woman

George MacDonald’s sense of humor is, in the following example, as in many instances, rather gentle and understated.  And as is often the case, he employs it playfully to make a point or to convey a truth.  In the example below, taken from the opening of The Wise Woman, MacDonald sets the story in “a certain country where things used to go rather oddly.”  We very quickly see that MacDonald is referring to occurrences that are common to our own world.  And we chuckle as we find ourselves considering, through MacDonald’s suggestion, the oddity of the familiar, yet uncertain, world that surrounds us.    
"There was a certain country where things used to go rather oddly. For instance, you could never tell whether it was going to rain or hail, or whether or not the milk was going to turn sour. It was impossible to say whether the next baby would be a boy, or a girl, or even, after he was a week old, whether he would wake sweet-tempered or cross."
MacDonald goes on to point out, again with playful humor, that the birth of a baby girl is more important than the combination of a whole list of things that we might imagine as important. A single life is of great importance.
"In strict accordance with the peculiar nature of this country of uncertainties, it came to pass one day, that in the midst of a shower of rain that might well be called golden, seeing the sun, shining as it fell, turned all its drops into molten topazes, and every drop was good for a grain of golden corn, or a yellow cowslip, or a buttercup, or a dandelion at least;….while the rain was thus falling, and the leaves, and the flowers, and the sheep, and the cattle, and the hedgehog, were all busily receiving the golden rain, something happened. It was not a great battle, nor an earthquake, nor a coronation, but something more important than all those put together. A BABY-GIRL WAS BORN;"
We are now told about the baby girl that she was of “noble birth”—that she was “somebody.”  “And yet for all that,” GMD says, “the first thing she did was cry,” a mirthful way of drawing attention to the fact that “high birth” means nothing to a baby.  We all enter the world in a similar fashion.  Class differences are learned, not innate.
"and her father was a king; and her mother was a queen; and her uncles and aunts were princes and princesses; and her first-cousins were dukes and duchesses; and not one of her second-cousins was less than a marquis or marchioness, or of their third-cousins less than an earl or countess: and below a countess they did not care to count. So the little girl was Somebody; and yet for all that, strange to say, the first thing she did was to cry. I told you it was a strange country."
In the final part of this opening passage, MacDonald shows the silliness (and true oddity, though very familiar to our world) of the princess’ selfishness, as her sense of “somebody-ness” took root and developed, but with an exclusivity that failed to recognize the “somebody-ness” of everyone else.
"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. And far be it from me to deny it. I will even go so far as to assert that 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."

Daniel Koehn