Sara's Reviews > The Princess and the Goblin

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
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Jan 10, 11

bookshelves: 19th-century-fiction, childrens-fiction, fantasy
Read from December 27 to 30, 2010

Published in 1872, this book bears all the hallmarks of compelling children's fiction, from The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley to Abarat by Clive Barker (and like so many others). It has a young person for a protagonist, Irene the titular princess. She is alone - that is, her parents are, through malevolent circumstance, absent from the story. The protagonist enters a mysterious realm visible only to her and gains secret knowledge there from a secret protector/protectress, in Irene's case from her luminescent great-great grandmother who dwells at the top of a magic staircase and only appears when Irene has faith in her. Over the course of the story, the protagonist matures emotionally and achieves a self-sufficient confidence based on her experiences defeating the "bad guys" of the piece (the goblins, here) and believing in her protectress despite the disbelief of others.

The Princess and the Goblin is less original than Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and moralizes a bit more than Barrie's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but it deserves to be remembered and read more often than it seems to be. Sally Adair Rigsbee* aptly compared MacDonald's story with C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in that both books feature a young female protagonist who finds a hidden realm and whose faith in this realm, in the face of the incredulousness of others, saves it and enriches her. MacDonald's moralizing is subtler and less Christocentric than Lewis', which appeals to me personally. MacDonald's hidden realm that he crafts for Irene speaks more to a creative, non-specific and verdant spirituality that it does to specifically Christian spirituality, as Narnia clearly does. Although in any event, they are both "fantasy" places that help the protagonist, through her adventures relating to these hidden realms, to develop strength of character and inner purpose.

MacDonald also got "meta" in The Princess and the Goblin, breaking the third-person narration to address the reader directly. He even imagines the reader's response and has side conversations with this hypothetical reader. He warns some future would-be illustrator against attempting to depict a certain difficult scene. Frequently, he references his own position as author and justifies his authorial choices. I found this aspect of the book exceedingly appealing, for while it implies that the author seeks to exercise some specific control over the way his readers experience the work, it inherently assumes the reality that readers will read as they wish and understand according to their own abilities. Which is, after all, the lesson he imparts regarding Irene. A true princess uses her own judgment, regardless of the influences under which she finds herself.


*In "Fantasy Places and Imaginative Belief: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Princess and the Goblin," Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1983 (10-11).

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