‘The Light Princess’ and Not Getting What You Want

“You can’t always get what you want,” the Rolling Stones sang, but our instant-gratification society doesn’t want to believe them. Why shouldn’t we always get what we want?

Experienced comic-book writer Meredith Finch (of Wonder Woman and ROSE fame) is exploring this question by adapting George MacDonald’s fairy tale The Light Princess to the medium of graphic novels. Through this new series, Cave Pictures Publishing seeks to reintroduce this beloved tale, and with it the grounding anchor true love really brings.

The first issue presents the conflict of unmet desire. The king and queen of the realm suffer from the pain of being childless, while their regal peers seemingly bear children at every turn. At the midpoint of the story the king’s sister, Princess Makemnoit, suffers the pain of exclusion and exile, uninvited into the festive celebrations of the kingdom. Both situations raise the question: What should you do when you don’t get what you want?

Our world says that when there’s an obstacle to reaching a desire, you should simply find other ways to achieve it. Barriers are not so much blockades as they are speed bumps. But how does a seemingly barren couple conceive a child? How does a forgotten and excluded sister make sure she’s not sidelined or ignored within the family? How do we as readers deal with the painful points of our lives when we don’t get what we want, or believe we should have?

Ends and Means

These questions often spark another: Do the ends justify the means? Can we bypass ethics in order to accomplish a desired outcome, or do the means matter at least as much as the objective itself?

Fitch’s adaptation sets up for the king and barren queen a scenario similar to the shortcut that Abraham and Sarah faced in the Bible. Can’t have a child by your barren wife? Consider a maidservant who could carry the desired offspring, regardless of the effect it will have on the marriage. For the forgotten and slighted Princess Makemnoit, being ignored and forgotten means you act, and curse your family, in such a way that ensures you’re never ignored or slighted again. Once people see how capable you are of ruining them, Makemnoit reasons, they will never leave you out of the “Inner Ring” again.

While the characters in The Light Princess play out the scenarios in different ways, they challenge us to consider how we go about reaching the desires of our hearts. Do we consider the means, or just the end result of getting what we want?

Do we consider the means, or just the end result of getting what we want?

As a pastor, I’m sometimes surprised by the thoughtlessness many Christian couples exhibit toward solving infertility issues—without considering the nature of various treatments in light of biblical ethics. In politics, it’s surprising how many Christians today will ignore or downplay the egregious character and frankly wicked actions of political leaders in order to achieve some desired political outcome. Closer to home, the American church has bought into the pragmatic proposition that a large, growing church is the chief goal, worth achieving by whatever means necessary.

Embracing the Wise Goodness of God

While this first issue in The Light Princess primarily introduces the story and sets up the larger conflict to come, the question of how we get desired ends without abandoning proper means stands in bold relief. The king won’t undermine his marital vows to obtain an heir, even if the suggestion comes from his own wife. Princess Makemnoit, however, destroys the joy and delight of others through sinister means in order to make her mark.

These two responses in The Light Princess provoke further questions: When we’re faced with the challenge of not getting what we desire, do we see this as the loving hand of our Father restraining us from something that might be our undoing? Or do we believe he is capriciously withholding good from us? Our response reflects our theological assumptions. Are God and his ways always good? Or is he a miser who sometimes needs our help to figure out what the good life looks like?

Such reflection forces us to examine our methods just as much as we examine our goals. It requires us to have a big view of the providence and wisdom of God. It means we meditate on Jesus facing Satan’s temptations (Matt. 4:1–11) and persevering for the joy set before him, enduring the cross in order to reach the end of being exalted above all (Heb. 12:2). We must fix our eyes on Christ, not only as our example but also as our only hope of rescue from our devastating attempts to always get what we want.

Stories like The Light Princess are timely reminders—in our instant-gratification, follow-your-heart world—that getting what you want is not always best. Especially because, in Christ, we already have what’s best.