Fantasy as Innocence: A Review of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

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By the time George MacDonald wrote his classic fantasy, The Princess and the Goblin, he had already written numerous novels in both the fantasy and realistic mode. Though MacDonald isn’t as famous as some of the writers–Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien, for example–he deserves wider readership than he has. In The Princess and the Goblin, he has given the world a charming novel that has the innocent tone of a fairy tale.

The Princess Irene is a charming girl of 8 who lives in a great home while her father, the King, travels about his kingdom. Her home is in the mountains, and in her world, the Goblins live underground and consider themselves superior to surface dwellers. The Goblins love nothing more than coming out at night to tease and trick the humans who happen to be out.

One day, Irene decides to take a staircase in her castle that she had never taken before. After wandering and getting lost, she finds herself in the presence of a beautiful old woman who turns out to be her grandmother. Irene doesn’t seem to realize how mysterious and magical her grandmother clearly is, and her innocence more than once leads her to frustration that people won’t believe her when she tells them what wonders her grandmother does for her.

The other key character the gentle drama is a miner boy named Cuddie. Irene and Cuddie meet when the princess is out walking too late with her nurse and the Goblins begin to try to scare them. Cuddie happen upon them and knows the main weakness of the Goblins: they do not like rhymes. So like a modern rap artist, Cuddie spins taunting rhymes that drive the Goblins away and so becomes a hero to the princess.

Out of this simple structure, all the action of the novel proceeds. Cuddie discovers a plot by the Goblins. The princess, the grandmother and Cuddie each do their part to insure that the Goblins’ plot cannot succeed, and apart from some minor violence, everything resolves itself in a way that would make the Disney Studios proud.

If you are looking for a dark fantasy, then this will not be what you seek. But if you have a desire for an innocent tale–for yourself or to read to a child–then this novel may be just what you seek.

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