The first of these books, “The Princess and the Goblin,” was a favorite of my childhood nearly 60 years ago, when fantasy books were much less common, and always something I was looking for. It was written in 1872, and has a Victorian style that might deter readers today, often very sentimental and “soft,” but the fantasy elements are enchanting (in the case of the magical grandmother) and scary (the goblins), and the writing is always heartfelt and honest. Princess Irene lives in a large royal house in the mountains with a governess, a staff of servants and guards, but no family. Her mother is dead, her father is far away running the kingdom in the capital, only visiting Irene occasionally. The area is one where mining is the main job for both humans and an underground population of goblins. Irene knows nothing of the goblins, which only come out at night, but one late afternoon on a walk with her governess, they get lost, and are menaced by a goblin. To the rescue comes a miner boy, Curdie, who scares off the goblin and returns them to the royal house. Thereafter, Irene and Curdie’s lives are intertwined. Irene finds her way to hidden attic rooms where her magical grandmother lives, watching over the house in secret, and Irene is shown wonderful things, but also given difficult tasks. Curdie, in the mines with his father and others, discovers a way into the goblin tunnels where he overhears a plot to steal the princess and destroy the human mines. It’s a great story, and though I’ve read it many times, I always enjoy reading it again.
“The Princess and Curdie” is a sequel which I never liked as well, and have only read two or maybe three times before, and not for decades. This time I found it more appealing than I remembered, but it’s a political story with much less magic, and I can see why I didn’t care for it as a child. Curdie is sent by the grandmother to the royal capital, where Irene and her ailing father now both live, with a mission to set the kingdom on a better path. It’s fallen prey to evil men in high places who have taken most of the king’s power and are exploiting for their own gain. To help him, Curdie has a companion, a very strange Goblin beast, sort of a Goblin pet, but one that’s much smarter than the Goblins, and not evil. Curdie finds loads of trouble when he arrives in the capital, and his work is cut out for him even to reach Irene.
Both books are well worth reading, in my opinion, and George MacDonald’s own life story is a fascinating one, too. Friends with Lewis Carroll and other leading writers of his time, subject to many personal tragedies, and yet a loving husband and father, and a fine writer.