Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

Yes! I'm on schedule this month! I finished this month's book club read with one day to spare!

Actually, I wasn't sure we were going to make it, but then Bookworm3 was being very weepy yesterday morning and so I sent her back to bed and she slept the entire morning away! That was highly unusual but it left the boys and I to fend for ourselves so we crawled under some blankets and cuddled on the couch while reading the last few (eight) chapters of George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. (Apparently we can get a lot of reading done when the girl sleeps. Grant it though, a couple of those chapters were super short.)

If you didn't have a chance to read along with us this month, here is the storyline, in a nutshell:

Princess Irene is living a very innocent, carefree life with her nurse maid in one of her father's summer houses. One day she and her nurse venture a little too far away from the home and Irene discovers that life is not all sunshine and daisies. She discovers that there are goblins who live in the mountain next to her home and that they aren't very nice creatures. As it turns out there is an old bitter feud between the goblins and the royal family and the goblins would like nothing better than to catch a pretty princess for the goblin prince's wife. Thankfully for the Princess, there is a also a brave young boy named Curdie who is unafraid of goblins and who comes to her rescue on more than one occasion.

This book is classified as a children's fantasy story and it is filled with soft-footed goblins, miners protecting the king's home from goblin destruction, and strange grandmothers who magically appear when most needed. Our kids loved it and I'm very glad to have read it aloud with them. It should be noted, however, that in certain spots in the story I found the language to be rather archaic and the vocabulary words quite beyond my seven year old. So as I read along I changed the words to match MacDonald's meaning in order that my kids would be able to appreciate the tale. I think they did as it happened that as I was closing the book, my boys requested we immediately start the sequel, The Princess and Curdie. (We aren't going to do that, however. I want to get to Peter Pan.)

One of the aspects of this story which, I think, helped make it so interesting for us is that last month we were able to tour a silver mine up in northern Idaho. This was a fascinating experience wherein we were taken down into the mine and shown equipment, what it would be like chipping rock in the dark with only a candle to light the area, and how to gather samples. Of course, we also experienced how cold, echo-y and eery it is in the dark of a mountain. As a large majority of the story of The Princess and the Goblin takes place in a mine, I think our recent experiences brought the book more to life. It was much easier to imagine the scenes which MacDonald was painting, that's for sure!

Here is one of the pictures that we took inside the mine. Our guide was showing us how they loudly take samples from the rock:

Wanting to know a little bit more about the book itself, I looked up some "fun facts" on the fabulous research tool known as The Internet. There isn't much detailed info about the book online, but there are a few things I discovered:

  • The book was first published in 1872.
  • MacDonald went on a lecture tour in America that same year.
  • There is a ten year gap between when the first Princess book was published and the sequel, The Princess and Curdie.
  • Both C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien have credited this story by MacDonald for inspiring them to write their own fantasy stories.
  • George MacDonald served as a mentor for Lewis Carroll.
  • George MacDonald's obituary is lengthy and impressive. I wouldn't mind my own obituary looking like that, with a discussion of my lineage and belief system included. That's so awesome.
  • Critics find MacDonald's works to be too heavily religious and there is some concern being expressed that his stories do not fit neatly into the 20th and 21st centuries.

I find that last bit rather humorous. No, his stories don't fit our modern mold for stories, hallelujah. These days we are relentlessly taught that bad guys aren't really all that bad if we could just understand them. We're are told to sympathize with them. Love means looking away rather than pointing out the evil in order to help them and others deal with it purposefully and effectively. Our modern vision is currently being blurred and we are left confused about what we are supposed to support and when we should stand opposed. This is why I'm particularly glad that I read The Princess and the Goblin to my boys. It's not just a fun fantasy story these days but necessary reading! Children need to know and understand how to differentiate between right and wrong and MacDonald has given us story to help educate them how to do so.

In MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin he created a race of goblins which are in every way loathsome. There is no question that you are not to like them. Their motives are impure and their plans to kidnap and, essentially, to destroy are pure evil. There is no doubt. MacDonald also gives us a hero in Curdie, a young boy who isn't afraid to step on the toes of others (literally) when called upon to do so. Curdie admirably pays attention to what the goblins' plans are so that he can warn, defend and protect the King, the Princess and the royal property. He is brave in the face of fearsome creatures and I found him to be quite inspiring when it comes to wanting to do right.

This story might make certain people balk but from where I stand, we need more heroes today who aren't afraid to stand for right even when it threatens to cost them something dear.

MacDonald gives us a treasure of a story in The Princess and the Goblin and I'm so glad that Rebekah recommended that we read this one. If you didn't get around to this book this past month, make some time for it in the near future. As for our family, shall keep it on our shelf and re-read it often.

This song comes to mind and I have to share in case you have not heard it. It fits the story well.

Reading to Know - Book Club


Annette Whipple said...

Unfortunately, I often need a post like this to convince me to pick up a book as a read aloud.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I read it aloud last year and enjoyed it immensely. However, I always felt I was just on the periphery of meaning, if you know what I mean.

Barbara H. said...

I enjoyed this so much and regret that I didn't discover MacDonald when my kids were younger. I agree with Amy - it was obvious there was meaning behind the story, and some of it was easy to pick up, some of it less so. That was especially evidenced when, after reading the book, I looked on the Internet for other people's thoughts about the symbolism and meaning and found a wide variety of opinions. I liked Rebekah's mention that it provided glimpses of truth rather than being a full-on allegory.

Had to smile over your mention of Curdie's stepping on their toes literally. :-)

Part of me wants to go to The Princess and Curdie, too, but I don't know when I might.

bekahcubed said...

I think the clear distinctions between good and evil are part of what makes fairy tales so much more appealing than most modern tales. That's not to say that I don't like modern blurry tales - life is often ambiguous when we are humans made in imago dei AND bearers of original sin, and some modern tales represent that tension well. But in order to understand and make some sense of this life, we must have a clear sense of good and evil that allows us to affirm whatever displays God's character and condemn whatever comes of humanity's sinfulness. We must have a clear framework with which to interpret our fallen and wonderful world - and fairy tales like MacDonald's help us establish that framework. I so enjoyed reading this book this past month (thanks again for including me in the line up of book clubbers) and enjoyed reading your thoughts on it.

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