The Princess and the Goblin was written by George MacDonald. It was first published in 1871.
“Princess Irene’s discovery of a secret stair leads to a wonderful revelation. At the same time, Curdie overhears a fiendish plot by the goblins. Princess Irene & Curdie must make sense of their separate knowledge & foil the goblins’ schemes.”
Oh, the pleasure of reading childhood favorites over again! While I didn’t remember precise details from when I read this (or had this read to me) as a child, I still remembered little things, such as Irene’s thread, the goblin’s tender feet, the goblin queen’s toes, and especially the wise woman in the attic. MacDonald always seems to have a wise woman present in his fairy tales (one plays a large role in his The Lost Princess [alternate title: The Wise Woman], which I read multiple times as a child), who is always magical, mysterious, and a little displaced from reality, as if she is beyond reality.
The fairy-tale aspect of The Princess and the Goblin and the sheer pleasure I received from reading it almost made up for the fact that Princess Irene is a cardboard character, and Curdie not so much better. As I mentioned in my review of Heidi, the moralizing and the character models are partly due to the time the book was written and not so much any lack of skill on MacDonald’s part (although he’s not the greatest writer), and the book was enjoyable regardless. Despite their one-dimensionality and perfection, I loved Curdie’s rhymes and his bravery in facing the goblins, and I loved that Irene is the one to rescue Curdie (with the help of the wise woman). I also enjoyed the split second of temper tantrum that Irene indulged in right before finding Curdie, since it made her less of a perfect princess.
For being the antagonists of the story, I found the goblins’ animals to be scarier than the goblins, and I enjoyed the glimpse at the goblin’s world that MacDonald gives us, especially the brief look at their customs. For a book that’s so short, MacDonald accomplishes quite a lot of worldbuilding. I think that’s why this fairy tale really stands out, and why it stayed with me all these years.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Children’s
“Why do they wear shoes up there?”
“Ah, now that’s a sensible question, and I will answer it. But in order to do so, I must first tell you a secret. I once saw the queen’s feet.”
“Without her shoes?”
“Yes—without her shoes.”
“No! Did you? How was it?”
“Never you mind how it was. She didn’t know I saw them. And what do you think!—they had toes!”
The Princess and the Goblin is a beloved story from my childhood and, reading it again however many years later, remains beloved. The glimpse at the goblin world and their amusing dialogue is a sharp, and sometimes welcome (although MacDonald likely didn’t plan it that way), contrast with Irene, sometimes Curdie, and the wise woman, who are almost sickly sweet in their perfection (the wise woman because she’s supposed to be, Irene and Curdie because they are moral models). Despite the presence of character types that I denounce in other books, I still think MacDonald’s fairy tale is sublime in almost every way.
You can buy this here: The Princess and The Goblin