This is an excerpt from my favorite book, The Lost Princess (also titled “The Wise Woman: A Double Story”), by George MacDonald. I don’t think it needs much more explanation than that.
All at once she jumped to her feet, and ran at full speed down the hill and into the wood. She heard howlings and yellings on all sides of her, but she ran straight on, as near as she could judge. Her spirits rose as she ran. Suddenly she saw before her, in the dusk of the thick wood, a group of some dozen wolves and hyenas, standing all together right in her way, with their green eyes fixed upon her staring.
She faltered one step, then bethought her of what the wise woman had promised, and keeping straight on, dashed right into the middle of them. They fled howling, as if she had struck them with fire. She was no more afraid after that, and ere the sun was up she was out of the wood and upon the heath, which no bad thing could step upon and live. With the first peep of the sun above the horizon, she saw the little cottage before her, and ran as fast as she could run towards it, When she came near it, she saw that the door was open, and ran straight into the outstretched arms of the wise woman.
The wise woman kissed her and stroked her hair, set her down by the fire, and gave her a bowl of bread and milk.
When she had eaten it she drew her before her where she sat, and spoke to her thus:– “Rosamond, if you would be a blessed creature instead of a mere wretch, you must submit to be tried.”
“Is that something terrible?” asked the princess, turning white.
“No, my child; but it is something very difficult to come well out of. Nobody who has not been tried knows how difficult it is; but whoever has come well out of it, and those who do not overcome never do come out of it, always looks back with horror, not on what she has come through, but on the very idea of the possibility of having failed, and being still the same miserable creature as before.”
“You will tell me what it is before it begins?” said the princess.
“I will not tell you exactly. But I will tell you some things to help you. One great danger is that perhaps you will think you are in it before it has really begun, and say to yourself, ‘Oh! this is really nothing to me. It may be a trial to some, but for me I am sure it is not worth mentioning.’ And then, before you know, it will be upon you, and you will fail utterly and shamefully.”
“I will be very, very careful,” said the princess. “Only don’t let me be frightened.”
“You shall not be frightened, except it be your own doing. You are already a brave girl, and there is no occasion to try you more that way. I saw how you rushed into the middle of the ugly creatures; and as they ran from you, so will all kinds of evil things, as long as you keep them outside of you, and do not open the cottage of your heart to let them in. I will tell you something more about what you will have to go through.
“Nobody can be a real princess–do not imagine you have yet been any thing more than a mock one–until she is a princess over herself, that is, until, when she finds herself unwilling to do the thing that is right, she makes herself do it. So long as any mood she is in makes her do the thing she will be sorry for when that mood is over, she is a slave, and no princess. A princess is able to do what is right even should she unhappily be in a mood that would make another unable to do it. For instance, if you should be cross and angry, you are not a whit the less bound to be just, yes, kind even–a thing most difficult in such a mood–though ease itself in a good mood, loving and sweet. Whoever does what she is bound to do, be she the dirtiest little girl in the street, is a princess, worshipful, honorable. Nay, more; her might goes farther than she could send it, for if she act so, the evil mood will wither and die, and leave her loving and clean.–Do you understand me, dear Rosamond?”
As she spoke, the wise woman laid her hand on her head and looked–oh, so lovingly!–into her eyes.
“I am not sure,” said the princess, humbly.
“Perhaps you will understand me better if I say it just comes to this, that you must NOT DO what is wrong, however much you are inclined to do it, and you must DO what is right, however much you are disinclined to do it.”
“I understand that,” said the princess.