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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:

  • 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.
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  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Lampshaded in the opening, where the narrator is interrupted to discuss why he uses princess heroines so often.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • I Gave My Word: Irene explains to her father about her promise and finally fulfills it.
  • 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.
  • The Promise: Irene's promise to kiss Curdie.
  • 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".

The Princess and Curdie novel has examples of:

  • Aesop Amnesia: At the beginning, Curdie has forgotten that he did believe in Irene's grandmother, and has convinced himself it was all a dream.
  • Babies Ever After: Averted; it is stated they never had any children.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Curdie and his allies defeat the traitors and restore the rightful king's rule, and Curdie finds gold under the city to restore the king's treasury, and then later Curdie marries Princess Irene and becomes king. But after they die, the kingdom degenerates again, people become greedy and selfish once more, and the new king continues mining under the city so much that the city collapses, killing everyone.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Irene's grandmother warns Curdie against using his new Detect Evil power for personal gain.
  • Detect Evil: Irene's grandmother gives Curdie the ability to touch someone and feel what kind of animal they are on the inside (e.g., pig, snake, dog, etc.). This reflects what kind of temperament and moral values the person has, which is handy for identifying traitors.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Curdie is treated badly by most of the people he meets in his travels, despite saving the princess, almost single-handedly defeating the goblins, and being personally honored by the king in the previous book. Even his miner co-workers treat him as just one of the guys.
  • Evil Chancellor: Not just the chancellor, but apparently the king's entire court has plotted against him.
  • Feathered Fiend: Curdie is attacked by some evil birds after he unwittingly travels through a Forbidden Zone.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: Lina is a hideous-looking, but very friendly, vaguely dog-like creature who follows Curdie around and proves very useful in his quest.

Alternative Title(s): The Princess And Curdie


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