Title: The Princess and the Goblin
Author: George MacDonald
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Publication Date: January 23, 2013 (paperback version. First published in 1872.)
NOTE: This book is in the public domain and is available as a free ebook through Project Gutenburg and it is also available at LibraVox as a public domain audiobook.
Audience: Reading audience 10 and up. It is an excellent family read-aloud book beginning at 6 or 7 years.
Summary: Princess Irene lives with her nurse, Lootie, and other servants in a large, old castle/farm house on a mountainside. In the mountains surrounding the house are mines worked by such men as Curdie (12 years old) and his father. There are also subterranean caves and caverns where goblins live, goblins who bear a grudge against the ‘sun people’ because they took the land above ground from them. The servants in the castle know about the goblins; they are never to let the princess be out after dark. One rainy day Princess Irene explores the house alone and discovers an unknown staircase that leads up several flights to a room where a beautiful old lady is spinning. She is Irene’s great, great grandmother, Irene, a lady of undetermined age, who had given her name to the princess and, unknown to anyone in the castle, has come to take care of her. She is spinning a ball of thread for Irene. The princess returns downstairs, eager to tell Lootie about her grandmother. Lootie says she imagined her and, as Irene fails to find her grandmother the next time she looks for the stairs, she wonders if this is true. Irene and Lootie stay out after dark while out walking and Curdie rescues them from goblins with his songs, for goblins are repulsed by music and rhymes. Irene succeeds in finding her grandmother the next time she tries and receives from her the ball of thread she has been spinning. Curdie discovers by working late the goblins’ plot to kidnap the princess,wedding her to the goblin prince. He also discovers that the goblins’ weakness is their feet, unprotected by shoes. Curdie is captured while learning all this. Following the thread that her grandmother has woven, Irene reaches Curdie in the goblins’ cave and frees him. He cannot see the thread that guides Irene, nor does he see her grandmother when they eventually reach the castle. He leaves in anger because he thinks she is making a fool of him. He talks with his parents about this and his mother cautions him that just because he does not understand something is no reason to say that it isn’t true. The goblins’ attack is defeated by Curdie and the King’s guards while Irene sleeps soundly at Curdie’s house where her grandmother’s thread has led her.
Literary elements at work in the story: Published in 1872, the book marks the beginning of a golden age in children’s fantasy. The story transcends the rather dated writing, the author’s voice which breaks into the story, the advanced vocabulary. It has inspired the works of Kipling, Chesterton, Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and Madeleine L’Engle, among others. Alice in Wonderland was published after MacDonald and his children read it with approval. The author’s interruptions contain some real nuggets ( Every little girl is a princess except that she is always in danger of forgetting her rank and behaving as if she had grown out of the mud.) but these may annoy children who want to get on with the story. There have been numerous editions and illustrators. Lewis considered MacDonald’s adult fantasy, Phantastes, the beginning of his conversion because it “baptized my imagination.”
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Princess Irene rescues Curdie in a reversal of the usual role. The character who may be identified with God is a woman. The King displays emotions not often attributed to males. The author emphasizes princesses and makes no reference to boys or princes.
Theological Conversation Partners: A central idea in this story is believing, meaning not just intellectual assent but trusting enough to obey. When Irene believes what her grandmother has told her and acts on this knowledge, she finds her again. When Lootie and Curdie cannot believe Irene’s story, the grandmother cautions understanding on Irene’s part. “Seeing is only seeing, “she says, ‘It isn’t believing.” Seeing/faith/belief seems to be a gift, but a gift based on following the smallest bit of light. Irene has the ability to see her grandmother; both Curdie and Lootie lack this but they cannot be judged. Curdie’s mother, on the other hand, cautions him not to doubt because he cannot understand. She has had a similar experience. Thomas’s doubts in John 20:24-29 may contribute to this discussion. The word trust is not used by MacDonald but belief as he uses it is associated with trusting, as Irene trusted her grandmother’s guidance through the thread. Self esteem is based on whose we are, children of the King. ( See 1 Cor. 6: 19, 29 for Paul’s approach.) Telling the truth, courage and keeping promises are three important virtues in the book.
Faith Talk Questions:
- The author says that “all little girls are princesses” because they are daughters of the King. Could we say that all boys are princes for the same reason? Who is the King?
- Grandmother Irene keeps a great light glowing. It guides her pigeons and guided Irene. Why don’t more people see it? What happens if they do?
- Curdie’s courage is mentioned several times. What is courage? How did Curdie show it. Who in the story showed the most courage?
- Have you ever had anyone not believe you when you are telling the truth. ? How does it feel?
- What does the grandmother say about what you should do when you are doubted?
- What does the grandmother think about age. (Ch. 5) Do you agree with her?
- In some ways Irene’s grandmother is like God. Can you see some comparisons?
- Why can’t Curdie see when the princess takes him to her grandmother?
- When is Curdie finally able to feel the thread? Why could he feel it then?
- When the grandmother gives Irene the ball of thread, she then takes it and puts it in her cabinet saying, “It wouldn’t be yours at all if it did not lie in my cabinet.” What does she mean?
- George MacDonald uses his imagination to create a fire of roses, a beautiful bedroom, the grandmother in different dresses, the goblins’ hideous creatures, the goblin queen. Did he make you see these things? Could you draw a picture of some of them?
This review was written by alumna and regular reviewer Virginia Thomas.