27/06/2011

The Princess and the Goblin (by George MacDonald)

This is one of the few books by George MacDonald that I read as a child; I have a paperback edition somewhere, but as it was published in 1872 it's long out of copyright (although almost continually in print) and was thus available free for the Kindle.

'The Princess and the Goblin' is a delightful classic fantasy for children. I'm not sure why 'Goblin' is in the singular in the title since there are many of them; but perhaps the Goblin referred to is the horrible Prince Harelip...

Irene is a much-loved, rather over-protected and decidedly independent eight-year-old princess who is surprised to find that she has a great-grandmother who spins in an attic. She doesn't know, however, that she's in constant danger from the goblins who live underground; indeed, at the start of the story she doesn't even know that they exist, although she finds her curfews and constant surveillance to be rather frustrating. She's a believable child, with some excellent qualities and plenty of faults; given the time of writing, she is really surprisingly strong-willed. I liked her very much.

Curdie is an intelligent and highly motivated miner's son who meets and looks after Irene when she gets lost. He also succeeds in uncovering some dastardly plots by the goblins. Curdie is perhaps a little too good to be true - he can even make up verse on the spur of the moment (goblins, apparently, hate rhyming songs) and appears to be the only person in the entire mining community who is not afraid of these nasty creatures.

Overall, it's lovely fantasy story about heroism and the importance of belief. MacDonald was a Christian, but this story has no preaching or moralising other than occasional brief comments about what princesses can or can't do. It's not allegorical as such, although there are certainly thought-provoking moments for those who want to see them.

This book would probably appeal to good readers of eight and over, although it's the kind of book that can be read and enjoyed by adults and teenagers too. It would also make a good read-aloud slightly for younger children - possibly with a little parental abridging. There are some scary moments, and some rather long-winded sections too; but overall it's an exciting and satisfying story.

Links are to paperback editions of the book - there are many of them, some illustrated, some abridged - but it can be found free for the Kindle at Project Gutenberg.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 27th June 2011

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