“The Princess and the Goblin” – How Are Old Children’s Books Different Than New Books

Book Review: The Princess and the Goblin
By George MacDonald

Spoiler Alert!


Princess Irene lives in a castle in a wild and lonely mountainous region. One day she discovers a steep and winding stairway leading to a bewildering labyrinth of unused passages with closed doors – and a further stairway. What lies at the top? Meanwhile, the miner’s son Curdie overhears a fiendish plot by the goblins that live below the mountain. But with the help of Irene’s magic ring, can they stop the goblins’ terrifying plans in time? Can the ring the princess is given protect her against the lurking menace of the goblins from under the mountain? (Courtesy of goodreads.com)


Adult Point of View

The Princess and The Goblin was written in 1872. I believe George MacDonald created a ground breaking novel for children. MacDonald was the inspiration for the rise of the fantasy genre and many authors, such as Tolkien, Lewis and L’Engle attribute his writing in forming their own works. It has the feel of an old fairy tales, as though it is a warning tale for children that they should trust their elders and stay out of trouble. It is more than a moral tale, it is full of adventure and mystery.

The characters are archetypes found in other fairy tales. The Princess Irene is inherently good and noble. Curdie is the honest homespun youth, true to his word. The nurse is a busybody and short sighted to the nearly divine nature of her charge. The King is noble and brave. The great grandmother is a mystical force, all knowing and protective. The goblins are bad and full of evil intent.

The plot moves forward in a predictable pattern, but the descriptive words are huge or should I say humongous. I love words! My mother used to say that some words were worth a nickle while others were quarter words. Many of the words used in this book would be worth fifty cents according to my mother’s scale. I enjoyed how MacDonald used words I wouldn’t expect to see in a children’s novel. MacDonald is quoted, “I write, not for children,” he wrote, “but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.” (quote courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_MacDonald) I did not like how he would hint at information, as an example, “I could tell you …. but, I won’t.” Even so, while reading The Princess and The Goblin I felt like I was under a charm.

Some of the differences I have observed in older books are first, they make use of complex sentence structure with descriptive words rather than short, choppy sentences. Second, the pacing is slower with lots of added detail that isn’t always central to the action. And third, they are generally told from third person point of view, which is less dramatic, while first person is frequently used in new books. I love to read old books between newer books.

3.5 out of 5 stars

  • Michelle


About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow-cooked in a tagine. I write stories and illustrate in ink.
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