The Lost Prince

Explore: The Lost Prince as an Allegory

Think of every good story you've heard. Think of the stories that inspire you, the ones that make you want to live a noble life, filled with purpose and sacrifice and love. They could come in any form—books, movies, poetry, or tales shared among friends sitting near a crackling fire—as long as they make you want to be a better person and live a better life. Chances are that all of these stories have something in common: they are in some way very similar to the Good News of Jesus. Themes of heroic self-sacrifice, unconquerable love, and victorious faith permeate all the truly good literature in any culture. After all, human beings were created to know God. Nothing else can touch our hearts and satisfy our souls like knowing Him. Maybe that's why stories that resemble God's amazing plan to rescue the human race are so deeply satisfying, and stories that somehow retell the Life of Jesus are the most satisfying of all. In fact, let's just call it the Law of Good Literature: the more faithfully a story resembles the Good News, the more rewarding that story is likely to be.

Usually, of course, this imitation of the Gospel will be totally unintentional. The writer may only recognize a good story when he or she hears or imagines one. And while some authors may take a perverse pleasure in shocking or depressing the reader, many genuinely try to write uplifting words that will touch the heart. By picking a truly good theme and skillfully weaving a story around it, the writer is unconsciously retelling the Gospel.

Maybe that explanation can account for the amazing way The Lost Prince seems to embody some profound biblical truths. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the book's author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, was a Christian. Both her religious beliefs and her way of life testify otherwise. She lived at a time (1849-1924) when most people in England and America were at least exposed to the Bible. Some of its themes undoubtedly worked their way into her imagination even if she never chose to put them into practice in her own life. Mostly, though, she was a successful writer who pulled herself up from an impoverished childhood by creating wholesome children's literature. Take someone with imagination and a talent for language, then mix in a desire to write good literature—and perhaps a sovereign decision by God to use a book for His purposes unbeknownst to the author—and the end result, every once in a while, is a story like The Lost Prince.

Let's consider, then, how to read The Lost Prince as an allegory of spiritual truths. An allegory is a story with a literal, surface meaning but also a deeper, figurative meaning. In an allegory, the characters, places, and objects may actually represent something else.

One well-known example is Pilgrim's Progress. On the surface, it tells the story of a man's adventures as he travels from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. On a deeper level, however, it is meant to describe the "progress" of a Christian as he overcomes trials, temptations, and persecutions on his journey from earth to heaven. Pilgrim's Progress is not a hard allegory to interpret. Many of the characters (like Christian, Worldly Wiseman, and Pliable) have names that tell exactly what kind of person they are meant to represent. Even places represent something: Vanity Fair is the world, for example, while the House Beautiful is the local church.

Some allegories are a little less obvious, but the second level of meaning is there for any who care enough to look for it. The Chronicles of Narnia is a good example. It has an exciting plot with interesting characters, and many people probably fail to look much deeper than that. If you have eyes to see, though, it doesn't take long to realize that the lion Aslan stands for Jesus and the Emperor Beyond the Sea is the Father. The witch is the devil, and Turkish delight, which tastes good going down but leads to a horrible slavery, is sin. The entire book is an allegory that is intended to teach spiritual truths.

We can take the same approach to understanding The Lost Prince. It is well to keep in mind that the author probably never intended for her book to be read as an allegory. She meant it to communicate true principles, no doubt, but she did not intentionally make the characters and places stand for specific spiritual realities. But because of the Law of Good Literature, it is fair enough for us to use the book as a way to think about the Gospel of Jesus. Let's take a few moments to do just that!

Loristan. The central figure in The Lost Prince is Stefan Loristan. He is a tall man with a "royal look" whose movements are "full of dignity and grace." As the Rat observes about Loristan:
There was something about him which made you keep on looking at him, and wanting to know what he was thinking of, and why you felt as if you'd take orders from him as you'd take orders from your general, if you were a soldier. He looked, somehow, like a soldier, but as if he were something more—as if people had taken orders from him all his life, and always would take orders from him. And yet he had that quiet voice and those fine, easy movements, and he was not a soldier at all, but only a poor man…
Although Loristan's clothes may be "worn and threadbare," the "poverty and shabbiness" have "no power to touch him." Not even "rags and tatters" can make him "seem insignificant or undistinguished." His "air of absolute and serene authority" is based on his noble character, not on some outward show.

Despite his commanding presence, Loristan is approachable and likable. He has a "beautiful smile" and "soft, dark" eyes. He mingles just as easily with street people as with princes. Children are drawn to Loristan because he has "the power of making all things interesting to fascination." When he speaks to the poor boys of the Squad, they marvel that "you could understand him, and he stirred up your spirits."

Loristan never forgets who he is. In the words of the book, he is "always the same." Yet he is capable of great feeling and passion, especially when he thinks about the hardships faced by his beloved people. Once, Marco discovers Loristan "walking to and fro like a lion in a cage, a paper crushed and torn in his hands, and his eyes blazing." Why? Because he has "been reading of cruelties wrought upon innocent peasants and women and children." More than anything, Loristan is defined by his deep commitment to the good of his country. He tells Marco: "We are of those who must LIVE for Samavia—working day and night, denying ourselves, training our bodies and souls, using our brains, learning the things which are best to be done for our people and our country."

If we read The Lost Prince as an allegory, who might the character of Stefan Loristan represent? Jesus! Although He was a great Prince, Jesus laid aside all the outward forms of power and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). He was rich, but He made Himself poor so that He could help others (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus had no outward trappings of power to attract people to Him (Isaiah 53:2), yet they were attracted anyway. Common people listened to Him with delight (Mark 12:37). He didn't talk down to them, yet they understood Him. They saw that Jesus was a man of great compassion for "harassed and helpless" people (Matthew 9:36). Those with eyes to see looked beyond the dusty feet and calloused hands of a simple carpenter from Nazareth and saw someone with authority. They wanted to keep looking at Jesus. They wanted to know what He was thinking. And they felt like they would take orders from Him as if He were their general.

Consciously or unconsciously, the author of The Lost Prince must have modeled the character of Stefan Loristan on Jesus. The parallels are simply too great to be a coincidence. Loristan is a copy; Jesus is the original.

Samavia. Loristan's passion is for his ancestral homeland of Samavia. At one time, hundreds of years earlier, it was almost a paradise:
It had been as celebrated for its peaceful happiness and wealth as for its beauty. Its people were in those days shepherds and herdsmen, whose rich crops and splendid flocks and herds were the envy of less fertile countries. Among the shepherds and herdsmen there were poets who sang their own songs when they piped among their sheep upon the mountain sides and in the flower-thick valleys. Their songs had been about patriotism and bravery, and faithfulness to their leaders and their country. The simple courtesy of the poorest peasant was as stately as the manner of a noble.
The history of Samavia took a tragic turn, however, when an uprising toppled a weak king, ushering in centuries of wicked rulers and civil strife.
From that time, the once splendid little kingdom was like a bone fought for by dogs. Its former peace was forgotten. It was torn and worried and shaken by stronger countries. It tore and worried itself with internal fights. It assassinated kings and created new ones. No man was sure in his youth what ruler he would live under when he was old, or whether his children would die in useless fights, or through stress of poverty and cruel, useless laws.
The situation has continued to degenerate, and Marco and Loristan, living in exile in England, are distressed to hear of the brutal foreign oppression and bloody civil wars that wrack their homeland. That is why they pledge themselves to "work for Samavia day and night."

The parallel is not exact, of course, but the passion of Loristan for Samavia is at least a dim reflection of the passion God has always felt for His people, whether Israel under the Old Covenant or the church under the New. God rejoiced over Israel "as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride" (Isaiah 62:5). Jesus loves the church and "gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:25-27). But God also grieves more deeply than you could ever imagine when His people rebel (Isaiah 63:10) or live in bitterness, rage, and slander (Ephesians 4:30). Throughout the history of Israel, God always longed to deliver them from oppression and slavery, and He would do so with great power whenever they would turn to Him in repentance and faith. The same is true today: if His people will reject spiritual coldness, false teaching, immorality, and lukewarmness, Jesus promises fill them with spiritual strength and intimate love (Revelation 2-3).

Samavia, then, can stand for the church, during any time in any place in which she is ravaged by sin, infiltrated by worldliness, or impoverished spiritually by ungodly teaching. Jesus grieves and weeps, and when He finds those who will "LIVE for the Kingdom of God—working day and night, denying themselves, training their bodies and souls, using their brains, learning the things which are best to be done for God's people"—He will use them to make a difference. Of course Jesus is NOT looking for people who are self-important or ambitious, who view themselves as heroes "riding a white horse" and "doing great things." He wants lovers, who like Loristan's household will humbly and unpretentiously offer their daily lives in service to Him and to His people. Will you be one of the loving servants Jesus is looking for?

The Secret Party. The troubled land of Samavia is not the only picture of the church in The Lost Prince. Far from it! The truth is, a condition of spiritual poverty, slavery, and oppression is NOT the normal condition of the church. According to Jesus, the church that He will build is to be a potent force in the spiritual realm—in fact, "the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). The church is meant to be a demonstration of God's power. As Paul put it, "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!" (Ephesians 3:20).

In The Lost Prince, this aspect of the church can be seen in a group known as the "Secret Party." They are unconquered and unintimidated by the enemies of Samavia. Despite her dire circumstances, they have never lost their vision for what Samavia can and should be. They are determined that she live up to her high calling, and they are willing to make any sacrifices necessary to bring her back to her former days of glory. The Rat heard from his father that:
It was the most wonderful Secret Party in the world, because it has worked and waited so long, and never given up, though it has had no reason for hoping…There are people in nearly all the countries in Europe who belong to it in dead secret, and are sworn to help it when they are called. They are only waiting. Some are rich people who will give money, and some are poor ones who will slip across the frontier to fight or to help to smuggle in arms.
That attitude of patience, hope, sacrifice, and hard work is the normal condition of the church. It should not be the property of some "secret party" of Christians, but should be the heartfelt attitude of every child of God!

The Forgers of the Sword. A special group of Samavians in The Lost Prince are known as the Forgers of the Sword. They have been preparing for centuries for the day that Samavia would rise up and restore their rightful ruler. We learn that "they, and their fathers, and grandfathers, and great-grandfathers have always made swords and stored them in caverns no one knows of, hidden caverns underground" in readiness for that day. We read:
Kings had come and gone, had died or been assassinated, and dynasties had changed, but the Forgers of the Sword had not changed or forgotten their oath or wavered in their belief that some time—some time, even after the long dark years—the descendent of their Lost Prince would be among them once more, and that they would eagerly submit to his rightful rule.
A very similar attitude characterizes some very special people who are recorded in the Scriptures. When Joseph and Mary came to present Jesus at the temple, they encountered a man named Simeon, who was "righteous and devout." Luke tells us that Simeon "was waiting for the consolation of Israel."
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:25-32)
Simeon's attitude had much in common with the Forgers of the Sword. And that is to be the mindset of all who have truly been born again—a patient hope, an unwavering faith, a passionate desire to see Jesus honored far and wide as Lord, and an eager willingness to "submit to His rightful rule." Paul spoke of "the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award…to all who have longed for His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8). John added, "We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3). The focus of all believers is to long to see Jesus and to purify themselves in preparation for His coming.

The Rat. We now come to three characters in our story who each can symbolize a different aspect of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. There is only one kind of Christian, really, even though there are many different gifts and roles in the church. Every believer, if he or she truly does believe and so has been born again, sincerely desires to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. But just as there is a physical growth that comes after the first birth, there is also a spiritual growth that comes after the second birth. The apostle John described the growth process as this:
I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:13-14)
That's an interesting order, isn't it? First come children, then fathers, and then young men. But if you look at what John says about each "stage" of maturity, you can understand why he chose that order. And one character in The Lost Prince exemplifies the "child" stage of maturity more than any other: "Jem" Ratcliff, better known as The Rat.

When Marco first meets him, The Rat is a hardened, mean product of a broken home life. He is physically disabled on the outside, but emotionally and spiritually disabled on the inside. We are told, "One of the first things that Marco noticed was that he had a savage little face marked with lines as if he had been angry all his life." As soon as he notices Marco watching him, The Rat responds by yelling angrily and throwing a stone that hits Marco's shoulder. His hostility is deeply ingrained in his character. He has nicknamed himself The Rat. "I feel like one," he explains to Marco. "Everyone's my enemy. I'm a pest. I can't fight or defend myself unless I bite. I can bite, though…I bit my father once and he hasn't bothered me since."

The Rat is a clear example of unsaved, unredeemed human life—as every person on our planet has been, and most still are. Paul describes that miserable, fallen kind of life: "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another" (Titus 3:3). But The Rat also wonderfully exemplifies the transformation that takes place in a person's life when he or she is saved. As Paul goes on to say,
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
When he meets Loristan, The Rat experiences a transformation just that radical. His whole world is turned upside down. We are told, "He wanted to see Marco again, but he wanted more to see the tall man with the soft dark eyes and that royal look." When Loristan shows him a simple gesture of kindness, it "lifted from The Rat's shoulders a load which he himself had not known lay there."
Somehow he felt as if something new had happened to him, as if he were not mere "vermin," after all, as if he need not be on the defensive—even as if he need not feel so much in the dark, and like a thing there was no place in the world for. The mere straight and far-seeing look of this man's eyes seemed to make a place somewhere for what he looked at.
After his father's brief funeral, The Rat assumes that Loristan will turn him away. He doesn't want to be separated from this man. "In The Rat's eyes there was a kind of desperate adoration. He did not know what he would do when this man turned and walked away from him. It would be as if the sun itself had dropped out of the sky." To The Rat's immense relief, Loristan offers him "a place" with him. At the time, The Rat assumes "that it meant some bit of space, out of all the world, where he would have a sort of right to stand, however poor and bare it might be. What he would find out later was that Loristan meant much, much more than that." The Rat's entire future was changed by Loristan's simple "Come with me. We won't part."

For the first time in his life, The Rat was loved—and learned to love in return. Until then, Samavia was just an exciting game to him, a brief escape from the painful realities of his life. Now, because Loristan became his passion, Samavia became a passion, too. Over the days to come, The Rat would experience brotherhood, usefulness, and meaning. He was a new boy.

That is just what it is like to meet Jesus, for real. The Rat is an excellent example of what it means to be reborn, to become a "dear child."

Lazarus. After living as a "child" in God's household, the next stage of growth is to become a "father" in the house. John wasn't meaning literal fathers; he was including men and women, young and old, married and unmarried in his "categories" of growth. He was describing a Christian who had begun to take responsibility to care for others, like a father does. Paul said he had been like a father to the Thessalonian believers, "encouraging, comforting, and urging them to live lives worthy of God" (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Being a "father" in the church isn't a position. It certainly isn't a religious title (Matthew 23:9)! It is spending your life for others. That's what fathers do. And that's what Lazarus does.

Lazarus is an old Samavian soldier who now lives to serve Loristan and Marco. He is tireless in his service and diligent in his attention to detail. He cares for them with selfless devotion, attending to their needs with efficiency and competence. But Lazarus' defining characteristic is that he cares. Once, when Loristan has read deeply disturbing news about the sufferings of Samavia, Marco finds Lazarus "standing staring at him with huge tears running down his cheeks." Lazarus steers Marco away, then tells him, "No one must see him, not even you. He suffers so horribly." Then Lazarus "bent his grizzled head, and wept like a beaten child."

He cares—deeply.

Because Lazarus cares, "their poor boarding house was always kept with a soldierly cleanliness and order. When an object could be polished it was forced to shine, no grain of dust was allowed to lie undisturbed." Because Lazarus cares, "however plain and scant the food they had to eat, it was always served with as much care and ceremony as if it had been a banquet." And because he cares, Lazarus also does not mind at all when The Rat moves into a new place of relationship with Loristan. He simply expands the scope of his service to include the new boy. When The Rat suggests that Loristan somehow belongs to Lazarus, the old soldier answers, "I am his. I am his—and the young Master's." Giving his life away for others was Lazarus' passion and purpose.

Lazarus is supremely devoted to Loristan. But that devotion drives him to devote his life also for those whom Loristan has entrusted to him. On their final journey to Samavia, he passionately begs the noblemen who are in charge:
Until…I can stand before my Master and behold him embrace his son—BEHOLD him—I implore that I may not lose sight of him night or day. I implore that I may travel, armed, at his side. I am but his servant, and have no right to occupy a place in the same carriage. But put me anywhere. I will be deaf, dumb, blind to all but himself. Only permit me to be near enough to give my life if it is needed. Let me say to my Master, 'I never left him.'
It is the heart of "fatherhood" that the apostle John spoke of: supreme devotion to Jesus and therefore devotion to the ones Jesus cares about.

Marco. Clearly, the "young man" that John wrote about who is "strong" and who "overcomes the evil one" is exemplified by Loristan's son, Marco. Growing into a young man spiritually doesn't mean that you forget to be a child. In fact, in God's church you grow into a young man because of your ongoing relationship with Him.

If Loristan is the central character of The Lost Prince, then the central relationship of the book is the one between Loristan and his son. In fact, the word "son" appears 70 times in the text, and the word "father" over 300 times! Marco is a strong and fascinating character, and his strength flows from his devotion and loyalty to his father. Marco is able to accomplish amazing tasks, far beyond the abilities of most boys his age, simply because he loves and trusts Loristan and obeys him with a calm and joyful heart. Marco's service to Samavia doesn't come from a proud, ambitious drive to accomplish great things. He just knows that Samavia is important to his father, and that makes Samavia important to him, too. In one touching passage, Marco kneels and kisses his father's hand:
"Father!" he said, "You don't know how I love you! I wish you were a general and I might die in battle for you. When I look at you, I long and long to do something for you a boy could not do. I would die of a thousand wounds rather than disobey you—or Samavia...I took my oath of allegiance to you, Father, when I took it to Samavia. It seems as if you were Samavia, too," he said, and kissed his hand again.
Loristan is likewise overcome with love for his son:
A sudden great tenderness glowed in his father's face as he raised the boy and put his hand on his shoulder. "Comrade," he said, "You don't know how much I love you—and what reason there is that we should love each other! You don't know how I have been watching you, and thanking God each year that here grew a man for Samavia.
Marco's devotion to his father has bred in into him a beautiful character.
The climax of the book comes, not with a battle or some other courageous deed, but with a simple reunion between father and son. Not until then does Marco realize that it is his father who has been crowned King of Samavia. "The King had the eyes he had longed to see—the King's hands were those he had longed to feel again upon his shoulder—the King was his father!" The Samavia people are touched to see that "the two were bound together by an affection of singular strength and meaning, and their love for their people added to their feeling for each other."

In all of these ways, Marco is a powerful example of what it means to be a Christian. Christianity means salvation, of course. But a relationship with God is what we are saved for. The faith and love Marco has for Loristan are a wonderful picture of how those same attitudes should fill the heart and life of any child of God. Marco exemplifies the "young men" that the apostle John wrote about. He is strong; the words of his father live in him; and he overcomes evil in this world. That can be your future, if you will express the same love and trust for your Heavenly Father that Marco has for his earthly father!

The End…and the Beginning! The story of The Lost Prince ends with a coronation. Loristn, whom we now know is the descendent of the legendary Lost Prince of Samavia, returns to his people and is crowned king. At long last, the usurper has been dethroned and the rightful ruler is in place. An age of justice and a reign of love has begun.

The history of planet earth will end in much the same way. Jesus has been "exalted to the highest place" and given "the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-10). Every knee hasn't bowed yet—but it will. The Father has told Him, "Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet" (Hebrews 1:12). As Paul said, Jesus must "reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). At that point, Jesus will bring everything, including Himself, under subjection to the Father so that He can be "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). What then? Is that the end? Or only just the beginning?

It is interesting that The Lost Prince comes to a close with a very open ending. "What next, Father?" Marco asks. "Great things which will come, one by one," Loristan replies, "if we hold ourselves ready."

Like Marco, all genuine believers are citizens of another country. "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body" (Philippians 3:20-21). It is a wonderful truth that "if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him" (2 Timothy 2:11-12). Like Marco, we will be welcomed to the throne by a King who is our Father. What glorious assignments will He give us? What adventures will we share with Him? All we have to know is, "Great things which will come, one by one, if we hold ourselves ready."

Will you be ready?
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