"THERE was once a little princess who—
"But Mr. Author, why do you always write about princesses?"
"Because every little girl is a princess."
"You will make them vain if you tell them that."
"Not if they understand what I mean."
"Then what do you mean?"
"What do you mean by a princess?"
"The daughter of a king."
"Very well, then every little girl is a princess, and there would be no need to say anything about it, except that she is always in danger of forgetting her rank, and behaving as if she had grown out of the mud. I have seen little princesses behave like children of thieves and lying beggars, and that is why they need to be told they are princesses. And that is why when I tell a story of this kind, I like to tell it about a princess. Then I can say better what I mean, because I can then give her every beautiful thing I want her to have."
"Please go on."
So begins the original first chapter of George MacDonald's classic fairy tale. Though this section has (sadly) been cut from most modern editions, it still serves as the perfect example of what makes Princess and the Goblin one of George MacDonald's most popular works. It has all the classic elements of a good fairy story: the young princess, the honest and bravehearted miner's son, the wicked and ugly goblins, the gentlemanly king, the wise old woman, the foolish nursemaid, the castle on a mountain, the magic ring. But what makes it one of the greatest princess stories of all time is the strong insistence on what distinguishes good people from bad people. A princess is not a princess due to birth, but due to behavior. The goblins are not bad because they are ugly; they are ugly because they are bad.
Princess Irene lives in a castle on a mountain, but she has never seen the stars. The terrible goblins live under the mountain, where they are at war with the miners, and so the princess's attendants know that is far too unsafe for her to go out at night. One day Irene and her nursemaid go for a walk up the mountain and get lost, with sunset fast approaching. Luckily they meet Curdie, the miner's son, who shows them the way back to the castle. But later, while working in the mines, Curdie overhears the goblins' plot to kidnap the princess, and thus begins a great adventure for the Princess Irene.
A thrilling adventure through secret stairways, dark mines, and craggy mountains, Princess and the Goblin is full to the brim with George MacDonald's clever wordplay and kind humor. But it also unafraid to use large and complicated words and ideas, preferring to lift children up rather than talk down to them. And it makes it clear that being a prince or princess doesn't just mean being of noble birth—all children are children of the King. But those who are true to their birthright are those who (like Irene and Curdie) are honest, brave, resourceful, patient, and kind.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
Did you find this review helpful?