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Literature / The Princess and the Goblin

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The Princess and the Goblin is a children's fantasy novel written by George MacDonald in 1872.

When a peaceful kingdom is menaced by an army of monstrous goblins, the brave and beautiful Princess Irene joins forces with resourceful peasant boy Curdie to rescue the noble king and all his people. The lucky pair must battle the evil power of the wicked goblin prince armed only with the gift of song, the miracle of love, and a magical shimmering thread.

It was made into a full-length animated film in 1992.

A sequel, The Princess and Curdie, was written in 1883.

The Princess and the Goblin novel has examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: When Lootie doesn't believe her story, Irene wonders if she dreamed her first meeting with her great grandmother. Her grandmother implies it is this doubt which kept Irene from finding her so easily for a second time. Curdie also dreams (he thinks) about Irene's grandmother healing him, which is implied to have actually happened.
  • Ambiguously Human: Irene is only aware that her great-great-grandmother is old by the agedness in her eyes. Her grandmother clarifies that she is more than a hundred but changes her appearance to that of a younger woman later in the book. Later, Curdie's mother suggests that there is some blood other than human in the royal family.
    Curdie's Mother: I may as well mention that, according to old whispers, there is something more than common about the king's family; and the queen was of the same blood, for they were cousins of some degree. There were strange stories told concerning them all good stories but strange, very strange.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Prince Harelip (Froglip in the movie) and his parents. Averted with the King and Princess Irene, of course.
  • Badass in Distress: Curdie can fend off goblins exceptionally well for a twelve year-old boy, but he gets captured at one point while sneaking around in the goblin lair, and has to be rescued by the princess.
  • Big Good: Irene's grandmother, who seems aware of everything that goes on on the mountain and even of what will happen in the future. When the king sees Irene wearing a ring that her grandmother gave her, he is assured enough of her safety that he allows her to stay on the mountain, even after a close encounter with a goblin animal.
  • Brown Note: To goblins, any singing or music counts, the merrier the worse.
  • Damsel in Distress: Played straight and later averted. Near the beginning, Curdie rescues Irene from some goblins after she has gotten lost on the mountain. Later on, when the goblins have invaded the king's house, everyone thinks Irene has been captured by them, but she had already gotten out of danger with the help of her grandmother's magic thread.
  • Death by Childbirth: Irene's mother. Also, Harelip's human mother.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Surprisingly, for the goblin king and his first wife, despite the opinion of the goblins that he's better off with one of his own kind. The narrator notes that goblins have enough affection for each other not to be cruel for cruelness sake.
    Helfer: Did she die very soon? They didn't tease her to death, did they?
    Goblin Mother: Oh, dear, no! The king worshiped her very footmarks.
  • Fairy Tale Motifs: In spades, played with George MacDonald's usual finesse.
  • The Good King: Irene's father, who is described as the wisest man in the country. And in The Princess and Curdie, it says that "he was a real king - that is, one who ruled for the good of his people and not to please himself."
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Harelip, whose mother was a 'sun-woman.' Possibly also his stepmother, the second goblin queen, since they are both have toes, though this is never suggested in the book.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Most of the goblins are drowned when they try to flood the miners' tunnels, because the miners had found out about their plan and blocked their tunnels, causing the water to flood the goblins' own dwellings.
  • Honorary Princess: In spirit the narrator likens Curdie to a prince in that he feels bad for accusing Irene of playing a trick on him, and says that a true prince or princess will always recognise when they have done wrong by somebody and seek to make it right again.
  • I Gave My Word: Irene explains to her father about her promise and finally fulfils it.
  • Kryptonite-Proof Suit: The goblin queen wears stone shoes to protect her sensitive feet. It's never quite explained why other goblins do not do the same aside from some vague idea of them not being fashionable. One goblin complains about this and gets his foot stomped for his pains.
  • Lineage Ladder: Princess Irene meets her great-great-grandmother, for whom she was named, but isn't quite sure what all the 'greats' mean. The elder Irene explains that "I'm your father's mother's father's mother" as a way to help her understand, a good demonstration of how a person understands ancestral patterns by mentally climbing a "ladder" on the family tree.
  • Master of Threads: Irene's grandmother creates a magical thread to guide her.
  • Missing Mom: Irene's dead mother.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The creatures that the goblins have bred underground are described this way.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted; the princess and her great-great grandmother are both named Irene. (Justified because the princess was named after her.)
  • Our Goblins Are Different: The goblins have incredibly tough skin, to the point that boulders falling on their head don't bother them and swords bend when they strike. They're incapacitated by even light blows to their feet though, and cheerful singing repels them.
  • Powerful Pick: Curdie's weapon of choice is his miner's mattock.
  • Princess Classic: Irene is an innocent young girl who is unfailingly polite, truthful, humble and kind to everybody she meets. This ideal is apparently the standard for a true prince or princess.
  • Princess Protagonist: Lampshaded in the opening, where the narrator is interrupted to discuss why he uses princess heroines so often.
  • The Promise: Irene's promise to kiss Curdie.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Whatever caused the goblin's ancestors to start living underground. Several competing theories are brought up but the precise reason is never given.
  • Song of Courage: Curdie's rhymes are used to both repel goblins and embolden the heroes. "A Spark Inside Us" in the film.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Princess Irene's grandmother, who is also royalty, is often found spinning at her spinning wheel.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The goblins, as stated before, hate cheerful singing and being hit on the feet.
  • Weirdness Censor: Curdie doesn't believe in Irene's grandmother, so he sees her attic room as bare. It's mentioned that he would have seen her if she'd been in her workroom, but Lootie (who has much less imagination) "would rub her eyes, forget the half she saw, and call the other half nonsense".
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: The narrator describes Irene as a 'true princess' and acting like it by learning from her actions, behaving humbly and kindly to people and honouring her debts. Even when very frightened, she tries to act sensibly. Many times the eight-year-old princess comes across as wiser than her grown nurse, Lootie.