Chloe's Reviews > The Princess and the Goblin

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
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Feb 24, 08

bookshelves: children-s-and-young-adult, scifi-fantasy, theology-and-world-religions, favorites, lovely-things, scottish-lit
Recommended to Chloe by: A booklist (maybe by Michael D. O'Brien).
Recommended for: Children and fairytale lovers.

When I think of the magic of childhood, certain images come into my head. There’s a sort of sparkle, warmth, and yet there is always danger. However, childhood magic has an incomparable sweetness to it. There are few books that manage to touch on this nigh-indescribable feeling of childhood magic. The Princess and the Goblin is such a book.
The story is a fairytale, in the same order as Jack and the Beanstalk and The Goose Girl. There is a princess, a peasant boy, a castle and, of course, goblins. These elements do not automatically make magic, but they do in the hands of mater storyteller George MacDonald.
The characters in the story are charming. Princess Irene is a smart, spunky little girl, even though she is slightly spoiled (she is a princess after all). McDonald’s ability to write from her point of view is astounding. While reading the book I wanted to say, “I remember thinking things just like that when I was little!” This is especially amazing when one considers Irene’s age. Few authors manage to write fantasy with heroines so young. Yet, Irene is as compelling as any fantasy heroine, and perhaps even more so due to her sweetness and close-to-babyhood charm. Curdie, the brave peasant boy, is also well developed. I enjoyed his enthusiasm as well as his courage. I love to read about courageous children. However, he is far from perfect. For example, he has a hard time believing Princess Irene’s story about her mysterious great great grandmother. Both Irene and Curdie, then, are all the more real because of their flaws. And perhaps even more lovable.
The imagery used in the story is also delightful. McDonald’s creative abilities are known among all avid readers of fantasy, but some of his beautiful images used in this book are almost too good to be true. Scene after scene is just bursting with magic. This is enhanced by the child’s POV used throughout the tale.
The story itself has an excellent plotline about good vs. evil. There are some genuinely suspenseful moments. McDonald knows how to build atmosphere, too. The scenes in the mines, the goblin court and the forest are all hauntingly memorable. The dark quality of the old fairytales is present here, and the danger of childhood make-believe is just about perfect.
The symbolism of the story is also lovely. Like Narnia or The Lord of the Rings, Christian elements as well as bits of mythology are woven seamlessly together into a beautiful story. Parents and teachers (and older siblings) should enjoy discussing these books with children and pointing out the symbolic parts: the thread, the orb, the great great grandmother herself…
Charming and beautifully told, this is a fairytale that should find its place right next to the Brother’s Grimm and Anderson’s works.
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Cheryl in CC NV pointing out the symbolic parts: the thread, the orb, the great great grandmother herself… " I've read this several times over the decades and have no idea what you're talking about. I always assumed these things were creating their own significance, not being referent symbols. Please, what am I missing?


Chloe I wrote this a while ago and was perhaps careless with the use of the word "symbolic". Perhaps there is a looser term, as I do not want to imply allegory. Actually, I might at this point in my life eschew pointing out things like that altogether. However, I do know many critics have pointed out symbolic aspects to the story, and this is what I was referring to. This is mostly involved with fairytale archetype as well as MacDonald's background as a Christian minister. The idea of the thread being invisible to Curdie and visible to the princess would be an example of faithfulness, I would believe. The orb leading the children from the woods is both playing off of the fairytale "dark woods" motif and seems to very much fit with MacDonald's personal spirituality. MacDonald, in case you're not familiar with his biography, was very much an advocate for the idea of a loving, compassionate God. The great great grandmother seems to be the embodiment of goodness and an eternal wisdom, being neither young nor old and having a sort of omnipotence to her.
And, really, none of these things are so overt as to be strictly Christian. I would say that they were informed my MacDonald's imagination but remain eminently fairytale-based. This stands in contrast with some of C.S. Lewis' more obvious moments in The Chronicles of Narnia. But, MacDonald did inspire Lewis, and I think that his influence is apparent in the Narnia books. If I remember correctly, MacDonald is in fact a major character in The Great Divorce.
So, anyway, at this stage of the game (aka out of high school), I would not be so careless with the use of the word "symbolism", nor perhaps so definitive. But, I do believe those moments are informed by MacDonald's background, if that makes sense. =) Thanks for reading!


Cheryl in CC NV Thanks Chloe - I do feel richer for learning more about these kinds of motifs. I've read some of MacDonald's other stories and enjoyed them, too, and his perspective on God is made clear in such as Sir Gibbie.


Chloe Aw, you're welcome. ;) I haven't read Sir Gibbie, but I read some of his other books, like Lilith. He's an interesting writer, that's for sure, and very enjoyable!


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