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The Princess and the Goblin–multi-layered fairy tale for all ages

The Princess and the Goblin

by George MacDonald

Ready for another, good-for-all-ages fairy tale? My book club read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, a Scottish minister, poet, and novelist, who inspired and influenced many authors through the ages including C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and Madeleine L’Engle. Like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess and the Goblin is first and foremost a fun fantasy tale, beautifully written. As it progresses, layers of symbolism are added with themes of courage, honor, belief, trust, virtue, and faith. As any good fairy tale does, The Princess and the Goblin differentiates between good and evil. Children and adults are living in a rather messy world today where ethics often are blurred, but there are still truths that need to be valued. There are morals that hold us to a standard that forms a good society.

With the author’s great descriptive powers, all of the characters are detailed both physically and morally. The goblins are all evil with designs on the full destruction of the human race. The humans in the story are not perfect, but demonstrate character development based on their experiences.

Irene is a little princess who lives in a country castle. Her noble king-papa visits her regularly as he tours his kingdom staying in touch with his people. Irene discovers her great-great-grandmother living in a section of the castle. No one else has seen her or her rooms. She acts as a God figure in the story, guiding Irene to safety and to belief. A very wise woman, she helps Irene understand that not everyone is ready to believe at the same time. This is apparent in Lootie, Irene’s nurse, who has responsibility for the child’s safety and in Curdie, a clever and brave young miner who befriends and helps Princess Irene. The goblins desire the little princess as a mate for their prince.

There is a lot of adventure in this tale as Curdie works underground (literally) to discover the goblin plots and thwart them. The Princess and Curdie are at odds as he does not initially see what Irene sees because the great-great-grandmother does not actually disclose herself to him.

The settings include a castle with lots of hallways, some beautiful mountains, a small miner’s cottage, pitch black caves where miners toil away picking out ore, and goblin caverns and tunnels. These are the backdrops for the dramatic action of the goblins’ convocation, the Princess’ wanderings, and Irene and Curdie’s courageous rescues of each other. The battle scenes are well played out as Curdie defeats them with poetry and foot stomping.

This is a book that I am sorry I missed earlier in my life. I would love to have shared it with my children and grandchildren when they were younger, but I am happy to pass on the word now to new generations looking for well-written books with substance and value. I look forward to reading The Princess and Curdie, which was written eleven years later, as well as some of MacDonald’s other works (numbering over 50) which encompass a variety of genres. I believe that even reading a biography of this author’s life and influence would be quite interesting as his work did not take a straight forward path. He and his family were plagued with health issues, and despite his success and the admiration of his colleagues, he was not always financially solvent.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fairy Tale, Fantasy

Publication: November 16, 2010—Project Gutenberg (which includes beautiful illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith from the 1920 version.
First published by Strahan & Co. 1872
Also published by David McKay Co. 1920

Memorable Lines:

Her fear vanished: once more she was certain her grandmother’s thread could not have brought her there just to leave her there…

“But it wasn’t very good of him not to believe me when I was telling him the truth.” “People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less. I doubt if you would have believed it all yourself if you hadn’t seen some of it.”

…Lootie had very foolish notions concerning the dignity of a princess, not understanding that the truest princess is just the one who loves all her brothers and sisters best, and who is most able to do them good by being humble toward them.

The Enchanted April–looking for happiness

The Enchanted April

by Elizabeth Von Arnim

In an exceptionally rainy and dreary March in England, four strangers decide to get away by sharing the rent on a medieval castle in sunny Italy for the month of April. Lotty Wilkins, who can “see” or visualize people at their best and happiest initiates the effort, recruiting Rose Arbuthnot. Both in their early thirties, they do not have happy marriages. Lady Caroline is a little younger and extremely attractive, but is tired of the superficial cloying of people bewitched by her good looks. The very authoritative Mrs. Fisher in her sixties is still wearing mourning blacks years after her husband’s death and focuses her thoughts and conversations on childhood memories of encounters with famous people, particularly authors. This fictional account relies strongly on character development as these ladies’ situations are examined and they react to each other and to their temporary environment for the month. As I reread the many lines I had highlighted, I found that the writing is indeed exquisite.

The Enchanted April is the kind of book that holds beauty and introspection and gently insists that readers immerse themselves in the deliciousness of a sunny month of flowering plants and enticing foods. There are humorous situations thrown in as Lotty and Rose speak no Italian and the other two ladies don’t want to undertake the bother of dealing with the servants or managing the finances. There are also some surprising plot twists at the end of the tale. If you join the ladies in their Italian castle, your only regret will be saying “Arrivederci” at the end of the stay.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: Originally published in 1922.

Publication: July 19, 2005—Project Gutenberg

Memorable Lines:

She wanted to be alone, but not lonely. That was very different; that was something that ached and hurt dreadfully right inside one. It was what one dreaded most…Was it possible that loneliness had nothing to do with circumstances, but only with the way one met them?

“Oh, but in a bitter wind to have nothing on and know there never will be anything on and you going to get colder and colder till at last you die of it—that’s what it was like, living with somebody who didn’t love one.”

In heaven nobody minded any of those done-with things, one didn’t even trouble to forgive and forget, one was much too happy.

Sense and Sensibility–guided reading of a classic

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen

with A Guide to Reading and Reflecting by Karen Swallow Prior

Sense and Sensibility was first published anonymously in 1811; it was Austen’s first book. She was thirty-five. She published three more in her lifetime and two more were published after her death in 1817. Although the focus of this novel is love and marriage, it is not a romance in the modern sense. It is a satire finding humor in the manners and customs at the turn of the century.

The main characters are the pragmatic, self-controlled Elinor Dashwood and her sister Marianne who feels everything deeply and openly. Their financial situation is based on the inheritance system in place at that time in which the eldest son receives the lion’s share of the patriarch’s property and wealth. Thus the young ladies and their mother and younger sister are left with little to live on and are somewhat dependent on an ungenerous half-brother. As the older girls are at marrying ages (19 and 17), the main part of the novel tells of the ins and outs of various suitors and relationships. We watch the characters change and grow as their circumstances alter. The events work to balance out the extremes of character found in Elinor and Marianne.

Karen Swallow Prior takes this classic and becomes a guide for the modern reader. As an English professor, she begins with a thorough introduction befitting her profession. She provides information about the time period, Austen’s background, and the form of the satirical novel. She explains situational and verbal irony as well as free indirect discourse. She also discusses Austen’s Christian background and how a Christian today might view this work. Prior includes footnotes for words, terms, and concepts that harken from the last part of the eighteenth century and might cause confusion or difficulty for a reader in the twenty-first century. As Sense and Sensibility is divided into three “volumes,” Prior follows each section with discussion questions and then ends the book with more general “Questions for Further Reflection.” All of these features improve the reading experience and yield opportunities for a deeper understanding.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Classic

Notes: I found the introduction useful before I began reading Sense and Sensibility, but when I referred back to it in preparation for writing this review, I found it helpful to reread the information as I was able to apply some of it better having completed the novel.

Publication: The novel was originally published in 1811. This edition was published in 2020 by B&H Publishing Group.

Memorable Lines:

From Prior’s Introduction:
Some of its satire is directed at significant human flaws and social structures such as romanticism, greed, falsity, and the prevailing view of marriage as a business transaction. Other objects of satire in the novel are less serious but incur no less delight in being skewered incisively by Austen’s sharp eye and even sharper wit: silly women, idle men, and gossiping tongues.

From the novel:
This specimen of the Miss Steeles was enough. The vulgar freedom and folly of the eldest left her no recommendation, as Elinor was not blinded by the beauty, or the shrewd look of the youngest, to her want of real elegance and artlessness, she left the house without any wish of knowing them better.

Marianne, with excellent abilities and an excellent disposition, was neither reasonable nor candid. She expected from other people the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions on herself.

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