Before I even begin to share my thoughts about George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, let me say this: I am in no way qualified to really discuss this story in which there is obviously more than meets the eye. Lulu and I read it together over a period of many weeks (a few months?), and many weeks we only managed to read one chapter. It was an experiment, really, to see if I could manage to read a longer work to both girls together (with the DLM listening in, of course) and then also manage to read something separately with each girl. (Whether or not this was wholly successful I cannot say yet. I’m still mulling it over and trying to come up with a better way to do it.) I chose The Princess and the Goblin because it’s on the third grade Ambleside Online booklist, my Classics Club booklist, and I loved MacDonald’s The Light Princess when I listened to it in audiobook format several years ago. Aside from a failed attempt to read The Lost Princess to the girls when they were much younger, this was my first time to read MacDonald aloud. I read the free Kindle e-book, although I recognize now that an illustrated version would’ve been nice.
With all that preliminary business said, I’m not sure what else to say. Rather than write up a synopsis, I think I’ll just link to the one from Wikipedia for those who are unfamiliar with the story, and instead share my observations.
There is a certain loftiness to this story, both in tone and in plot, that I love. I love that Princess Irene’s father, who is absent for most of the story, is referred to as her “King Papa.” The description of the King Papa illustrates what I mean by loftiness:
He had gentle, blue eyes, but a nose that made him look like an eagle. A long dark beard, streaked with silvery lines, flowed from his mouth almost to his waist, and as Irene sat on the saddle and hid her glad face upon his bosom it mingled with the golden hair which her mother had given her, and the two together were like a cloud with streaks of the sun woven through it.
Of course, I love the whole grandmother bit, and while I haven’t researched or delved into much of MacDonald’s symbolism, the importance of the grandmother is hard to miss. There are lots and lots of quotable lines in The Princess and the Goblin, and most of the ones I highlighted on my Kindle pertain in some way to the grandmother. For example, she spins some sort of magical thread that guides Irene in her adventures in rescuing Curdie. This is what grandmother says about the thread:
“Yes. But, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread. Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.”
And this bit of wisdom, which certainly would stand us all in good stead in our relationships:
“We are all very anxious to be understood, and it is very hard not to be. But there is one thing much more necessary.”
“What is that, grandmother?”
“To understand other people.”
The closest thing I can think of to compare this story to is the Narnia series, with all the talk of goblins and underground creatures and mysterious helpers, etc. I know that Lewis was greatly influenced by MacDonald, so this isn’t surprising.Honestly, I feel like I should re-read this one at a quicker pace and on my own to try to absorb more of both the plot and the meaning. Lulu seemed to follow it well enough, despite our slow meander through it. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to tackle The Princess and Curdie right away, but I’m sure we eventually will. Maybe I’ll let Lulu read it on her own and I’ll read it on my own, too.
Does anybody who has read The Princess and the Goblin care to share any insights?
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