About two years ago, I decided to pick up Weighted and Wanting, which for me has spawned a great interest in regard to George MacDonald. I have since read many of his poems, a play titled Within and Without, The Princess and the Goblin, and I have almost completed Hope of the Gospel. The ways he employs Scriptural ideas and themes in his works reinvigorates my faith. The Princess and the Goblin, upon which this article will focus, employs ideas from the Gospels and the Pslams especially: God is a loving Father (something which receives particular emphasis in all MacDonald’s works), faith is logical though above reason, and evil beings fall into the very same traps they laid for the righteous.
The Princess and the Goblin stands as my favorite work of his thus far. In this novel, MacDonald manages to inculcate his themes without resorting to sermons–a weakness both he and his most fervent disciple, C. S. Lewis, share even in works of fiction. This work focuses on the adventures of Princess Irene and the nefarious plot of the goblins to conquer a human kingdom–or the sun kingdom as they call it–by subterfuge. The fairy tale MacDonald weaves for us combines elements of mystery, fantasy, and darkness. I would say that the novel’s best parts involve Curdie’s efforts to spy on the goblins. Since Princess Irene and Curdie met on one fateful evening, Curdie became my favorite character. He stands as the most courageous character next to the king himself: he sings in the face of his goblin enemies and has no qualms about risking a crossbow bolt to warn the castle of the danger imperiling them.
I mentioned that Curdie sings in the face of goblins before. This is because goblins and their enemies are so warped that they hate anything joyful. In this regard one sees that MacDonald based them on demons, who are similarly warped and hate the light. The goblins have small hearts and small statures with rock hard heads. Their hard heads must symbolize their pride and hardness of heart. They cannot repent or μετανοειν–“to have a change of mind” as the Greek word for repentance literally means.
On the other hand, the best characters in the story are often icons pointing to beings greater than them. For example, the king’s conduct easily brings to mind MacDonald’s understanding of God the Father, Princess Irene is an excellent example of a faithful Christian, and Curdie’s mother of the ideal Christian wife–free in that her opinions have an influence on her husband and child and free in that her service and obedience to her husband and son ennoble her. I am sure that Irene’s great-great-grandmother also symbolizes something greater than she appears, but I am not sure what. A soul in paradise? The scenes with her, some of the most fantastic in the work, tend to be happy and inspiring.
Some parts of the book strike one as very slow, but MacDonald inserts enough suspense that this only causes the reader to turn pages more energetically. The lessons regarding faith, trust, and good cheer in difficult situations are particularly worth imbibing. Now, I must read Phantasies and Lilith–otherwise my partner on this website will chide for not trying those books again by this point!
And, another way to enjoy The Princess and the Goblin is through this excellent cartoon movie made in 1991: