In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Goblins! And, you know, princesses too.

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It was so lovely to see you, Bob, and Lizzie this week!  Much joy of Thanksgiving pies and reading of books.

Your mention in your last post of a YA book involving goblins made me think of one of my childhood favorites, which I remember my father reading to me: George Macdonald's 1872 fantasy The Princess and the Goblin.  We have a bit of a goblin mythology going in our house, sparked by Jeff's habit of telling the girls that the metal doors in the sidewalk (going down into store basements) or in the walls of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel are "goblin doors."  Many a morning walk to school has involved Jeff's elaborate goblin stories, with Eleanor's eager participation.

Because of this, and because of my fond memories of the book, I picked up The Princess and the Goblin with Eleanor maybe a year ago, only to run into the Stuart Little Problem.  Perhaps it's time to try again.

It's a bit of a dark tale, centering on eight-year-old Princess Irene, who lives a cloistered life in her father's castle, unaware of the goblins who live in the hills just below.  One evening, she and her nursemaid Lootie stay out too late, and are almost captured by goblins, but are saved by a miner boy named Curdie, who sings to drive them away (in this world, goblins hate singing).  Irene becomes aware after this incident of the danger and darkness just outside her walls and beneath her feet.  Through Curdie's underground spying, she later learns of a plot the goblins have to make war on the humans, who exiled them belowground years before.  My memory is that there's some sympathy for the goblins' predicament, but that they're largely described as unpleasant and ill-formed -- a tribe of Calibans.

On the upper floors of the castle, Irene discovers her great-great grandmother, who lives up in a high attic raising white pigeons, and offers Irene advice.  I can't remember if the great-great grandmother is supposed to be some kind of spirit or is definitely corporeal -- it's that kind of book.  Over the course of the story, Irene develops a friendship with Curdie, who gets a chance to rescue her from the goblins later, and there's a sequel about the two of them: The Princess and Curdie.

In the last few weeks, Isabel has caught the Princess bug, and there's been a lot of Cinderella role-playing going on (though she likes to be one of the stepsisters more often than not, because she can pretend to be really mean).  I have a feeling we'll be reading princess books for quite some time yet.

Love, Annie

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