Friday, June 11, 2010

Time Tested Tome: The Princess & The Goblin

"there was once a little princess whose father was king over a great country full of mountains and valleys."

The Princess and the Goblin By George MacDonald
256 pages (Paperback)
Published: Originally in 1872
Publisher: Strahan & Co.
Genre: Young Reader, Fairy Tale
Series: There is a sequel.
Goodreads Rating: 3.99/5
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
Shelfari Rating: 4.5/5

The Princess and the Goblin is the story of the young Princess Irene, her good friend Curdie--a minor's son--and Irene's mysterious and beautiful great great grandmother, who lives in a secret room at the top of the castle stairs. Filled with images of dungeons and goblins, mysterious fires, burning roses, and a thread so fine as to be invisible and yet--like prayer--strong enough to lead the Princess back home to her grandmother's arms, this is a story of Curdie's slow realization that sometimes, as the princess tells him, "you must believe without seeing."

I remember reading The Princess and the Goblin when I was in elementary school, which feels like so many years ago. When I came across it again just last year, I was hit with some nostalgia. I couldn't seem to recall the exact details of the book. I do remember that the grandmother freaked me out a little, and that the writing style was a little over my head at the time. But since I'm a little more educated now, I figured I could give it another go. I have an undying love affair for fairy tales, and the gorgeous old cover of the edition my library had made me fall head over heels.

The Princess and the Goblin follows Princess Irene, a young princess who lives in a removed house in the country. She was moved her, with a whole household of servants, when she was very young. She doesn't know why she is here and not in the castle with her father. One day, she wanders off and happens upon a staircase that leads to a mysterious room, which her grandmother is waiting. As mysterious as her rooms, her grandmother is magical and powerful while still being kind. The story also follows Curdie, a young but skilled miner, who saves Irene and her caretaker from the goblins when they become lost in the woods one night. He discovers a whole in the ever precarious seperation between the goblins and miners in the underground caves. He begins to follow a family of goblins to learn more about them. He uncovers a sinister plot that involves the young princess and the caves.

George MacDonald is an extremely influential writer. If you haven't read any of his works, than you can be sure that you have read the works of someone influenced by him. J.R.R Tolkien and and Madeleine L'Engle are just a few of the A-list writers who owe a lot of thanks to the works of George MacDonald. Not too mention C.S Lewis, one of my personal favorite authors, who was basically the president and number one fanboy of the George MacDonald fanclub during his lifetime. Lewis was so touched by MacDonald's work that he was even moved to convert to Christianity in part thanks to MacDonald, especially his work Phantastes. Like the Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin has a running undercurrent of theological themes. The story deals with the issue of faith: if you can't see something, can you really believe in it? And would you have the faith to remain a believer even when someone contradicts your beliefs? It is especially touching if you are a Christian, but it's not strictly allegorical. You don't necessarily need to be a Christian to get something out of the story.

The story and writing is reminiscent of old-fashioned fairy tales. In this day and age, our stories have to have pages and pages of characterization and relationship building to be considered 'acceptable'. The characters are mostly cariactures, focused mainly on one characteristic that defines their personality. Irene is precocious and a princess, which means that she is automatically more respectable, well-behaved, and honorable than other little girls in the world that George MacDonald has created. However, it is Irene's innocence that defines her and is the whole backbone of the story. She never lies, and yet her caretaker and friends are so quick to believe she is telling a lie when she reveals that she met her grandmother in the tower. She honorably believes that all of her people, who she will one day rule over, are created equal although her caretaker believes she shouldn't affiliate with the peasants surrounding her house. The relationship between Curdie and Irene reminds me of Peter and Wendy from Peter Pan, in that the reader knows that when they grow up (if, in the case of Peter) they would fall in love. However since they are only preteens, these relationships merely start and end with a simple kiss.

George MacDonald aims to be informal in his writing in The Princess and the Goblin. Since the style of writing and the wording is old-fashioned, the familiarity doesn't read as well in this day and age. The writing tends to go in circles, taking a few paragraphs to get back to the original thought. I also happen to write in circles in my writings, so I had little trouble following the train of thought. For someone who is a straightforward thinker, this task might not be as easy. If you are weary of redone fairy tales that twist a old tale into a modern story, I would suggest this story to you. It might help you get back into the original fairy tale frame of mind, while still being modern. Irene is a heroine, not a hero. She is not a damsel in distress, but a rescuer. She will not tire you with fainting or calling out in dispair for the hero to save her. I have added Phantastes to my To Be Read this list after reading this, not only because it so inspired C.S Lewis but as because George MacDonald writes such beautiful stories.

Rating: 7 out of 10. A touching and sweet fairy tale, but there is more between the words and pages than meets the eye. The Princess and the Goblin is a story about faith and retaining innocence that touched my heart. Highly recommended for fairy tale lovers.

Source for copy: Borrowed.

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