The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, is a decidedly peculiar book.
The children’s fantasy novel is Victorian through-and-through: it makes use of goblins, a good-natured monarchy, and a heroic working-class protagonist: Curdie, the miner.
It was published only seven years after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and certainly a reader can easily draw comparisons between the two. Both appeal to the same demographic: middle-aged children who find the miraculous amidst the tedium of every-day life. Both stories involve a heroine who is swept into serendipitous adventure. Neither girl was looking for said adventure.
As you progress through MacDonald’s story, however, you begin to notice some pronounced allusions to the spiritual world. Princess Irene stumbles upon her great-great (etc.) grandmother while exploring the labyrinthine passageways of her castle. Irene’s great grandmother seems to have a touch of the Divine–only some characters can see her, if they’re ready–but who or what she is exactly, remains undiscovered.
The Grandmother-figure gifts Princess Irene with a magic ring (fantasy readers may see parallels to the One Ring in Tolkien’s work) which is attached to a string that always leads Irene back to her Grandmother (and safety.)
What I love about MacDonald’s novel is that it is anything but heavy-handed. There are spiritual applications to be made, but he eschews allegory at every turn. Even for a book 147-years old, the tale took unpredictable twists.
Perhaps the best summation of George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin is told right from the get-go: “Every little girl is a princess,” he tells us, meaning that she’s a daughter of a King. He adds: “She’s always in danger of forgetting her rank.”
One can easily surmise that the string attached to Irene’s magical ring represents the spiritual life: sometimes it defies our understanding of the natural world. It is all but invisible. But if the wayfarer, and indeed the reader, walk by faith and not by sight, she’s sure to find her way.
Thank you, George MacDonald, for keeping us from forgetting our rank.