The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
I read it as an: audiobook
Narrator: Frederick Davidson
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Year: 1872 (originally pubbed, obviously not the audiobook version)
Irene is a princess, and a very sheltered one at that. She lives in a castle in a mountain, unaware much of the world outside, or of what the night sky looks like, or that there are goblins living underneath the castle. She isn’t allowed outside after dark because the goblins come out then, and the castle staff are under orders by her father to keep her safe by keeping her ignorant of the existence of the goblins. When she is trapped inside one day because of rain, she discovers a door in her room which leads up to a garret room. In the room is an old woman who doesn’t always look old. She is Irene’s many-times-great grandmother, who may or may not be some kind of faerie. The grandmother teaches Irene about her name and how to believe without seeing (which made me twitch but whatever) and that not everyone in the castle would see her if Irene showed them the garret room. Eventually, Irene meets a miner’s son, Curdie, when she and her nurse get caught outside at night and become lost. Curdie saves them from the goblins and he and Irene become friends. When the goblins later capture Curdie, Irene goes to her grandmother for help and goes on a quest to rescue him.
This children’s novel actually has quite a lot going on in it. It’s been described by Tolkien himself as a source book for The Hobbit. The argument can be made that it is in part a discussion of post colonialism, since Irene and her people moved in on the goblins’ territory and made them have to leave their homes because of it. It is also very much a hero’s quest, since Irene goes on her quest to save Curdie, growing as an individual in the process. She becomes a young woman rather than a child by the end of the book because of her experiences. I wrote a paper for a class about the quest, actually, which I posted here.
I listened to the audiobook version of this, which I got from the library. If I hadn’t, I am not sure I could have made it all the way through the book. The story itself was fun enough and I obviously found enough worth talking about to write a short paper about it. But OMG I absolutely HATED the narrator. The narrator was sooooooooooo intrusive and condescending and obnoxious. I initially tried to eyeball read this and found myself rolling my eyes too much to pay attention because the narrator was so annoying. So I tried the audio version, because I HAD to read it somehow, and that was a little more tolerable, more like an old, out of touch person who just doesn’t know any better talking and so I could ignore it easier. It was impossible to ignore while reading because I couldn’t not see it.
Overall, I could see how this might be a source book for Tolkien, though I am glad he didn’t take the narration style too much to heart. I never could have got through LOTR if he was as annoying as MacDonald’s narrator. I think my daughter will enjoy this story, for Irene is a strong female character, despite the strong traditional gender roles.