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The Princess and the Goblin–multi-layered fairy tale for all ages

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The Princess and the Goblin

by George MacDonald

Ready for another, good-for-all-ages fairy tale? My book club read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, a Scottish minister, poet, and novelist, who inspired and influenced many authors through the ages including C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and Madeleine L’Engle. Like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin is first and foremost a fun fantasy tale, beautifully written. As it progresses, layers of symbolism are added with themes of courage, honor, belief, trust, virtue, and faith. As any good fairy tale does, The Princess and the Goblin differentiates between good and evil. Children and adults are living in a rather messy world today where ethics often are blurred, but there are still truths that need to be valued. There are morals that hold us to a standard that forms a good society.

With the author’s great descriptive powers, all of the characters are detailed both physically and morally. The goblins are all evil with designs on the full destruction of the human race. The humans in the story are not perfect, but demonstrate character development based on their experiences.

Irene is a little princess who lives in a country castle. Her noble king-papa visits her regularly as he tours his kingdom staying in touch with his people. Irene discovers her great-great-grandmother living in a section of the castle. No one else has seen her or her rooms. She acts as a God figure in the story, guiding Irene to safety and to belief. A very wise woman, she helps Irene understand that not everyone is ready to believe at the same time. This is apparent in Lootie, Irene’s nurse, who has responsibility for the child’s safety and in Curdie, a clever and brave young miner who befriends and helps Princess Irene. The goblins desire the little princess as a mate for their prince.

There is a lot of adventure in this tale as Curdie works underground (literally) to discover the goblin plots and thwart them. The Princess and Curdie are at odds as he does not initially see what Irene sees because the great-great-grandmother does not actually disclose herself to him.

The settings include a castle with lots of hallways, some beautiful mountains, a small miner’s cottage, pitch black caves where miners toil away picking out ore, and goblin caverns and tunnels. These are the backdrops for the dramatic action of the goblins’ convocation, the Princess’ wanderings, and Irene and Curdie’s courageous rescues of each other. The battle scenes are well played out as Curdie defeats them with poetry and foot stomping.

This is a book that I am sorry I missed earlier in my life. I would love to have shared it with my children and grandchildren when they were younger, but I am happy to pass on the word now to new generations looking for well-written books with substance and value. I look forward to reading The Princess and Curdie, which was written eleven years later, as well as some of MacDonald’s other works (numbering over 50) which encompass a variety of genres. I believe that even reading a biography of this author’s life and influence would be quite interesting as his work did not take a straight forward path. He and his family were plagued with health issues, and despite his success and the admiration of his colleagues, he was not always financially solvent.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fairy Tale, Fantasy

Publication: November 16, 2010—Project Gutenberg (which includes beautiful illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith from the 1920 version.
First published by Strahan & Co. 1872
Also published by David McKay Co. 1920

Memorable Lines:

Her fear vanished: once more she was certain her grandmother’s thread could not have brought her there just to leave her there…

“But it wasn’t very good of him not to believe me when I was telling him the truth.” “People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less. I doubt if you would have believed it all yourself if you hadn’t seen some of it.”

…Lootie had very foolish notions concerning the dignity of a princess, not understanding that the truest princess is just the one who loves all her brothers and sisters best, and who is most able to do them good by being humble toward them.


  1. WendyW says:

    It sounds lovely. I still have hope for some grandchildren soon, so I’ll keep this one in mind!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t ever read fantasy or fairy tale books like this, it does sound very well written and dramatic, with complex characters and themes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      I you have read The Hobbit or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you are more familiar with this genre than you think, but it is more fairy tale like and the books I mentioned are more fantasy. Regardless of how you label it, it is a good read.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Gretchen says:

    I love George MacDonald. I read this and The Princess and the Curdie to my children when they were young. They enjoyed them both. I have read one of his adult novels and have a few more on my shelves. He has amazing insight into a life of faith.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      Better late than never for me! I do plan on reading more of his works now that i have “discovered” him. I’m happy to hear your positive feedback on other works by MacDonald.


  4. Carla says:

    I found this book on Scribd and it is in my library. Would my 8 year old grandson be old enough for this one? It sounds like an interesting story. I would read it first before reading it with him of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      I think he would be. It has quite a story line. Like Narnia, he may not get it all on the same level you will, but that’s OK. If you decide to read it to him, I’ll be interested in his reactions. I hope your version is illustrated; Gutenberg has a free version that is illustrated. If you want to use the one you have, you could always download the Gutenberg one and share the pictures from it. I’m not an artist, but I found them quite appealing.

      Liked by 1 person

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