This is the book that G. K. Chesterton said “made a difference to my whole existence.” I am not sure that I can say the same but I did find myself impressed once again with George MacDonald’s writing and asking why I hadn’t read this sooner.
Princess Irene lives on the side of a beautiful mountain that harbors a dark secret in terms of a goblin kingdom, whose rulers are pursuing a nefarious purpose–nothing less than kidnapping the princess. She and her nurse are rescued from one nearly tragic venture into the wilds at night by the son of a miner, Curdie by name, who sings the goblins away with his verse and leads them to the castle.
Though chastised, the princess acquires a mysterious friend, a wise great grandmother, ageless it seems. Not all believe she exists or can see her, but Princess Irene can. Later, a strong silver thread that the grandmother has given her leads her to return the favor and rescue Curdie, when he falls captive to the goblins after repeated attempts to discover their nefarious purposes in digging under the mountain. Irene takes him to see the great grandmother, but he can see neither the thread nor the grandmother and leaves pettishly, despite his rescue.
From here events lead rapidly to the climax of a goblin invasion to seize Princess Irene. I will leave you discover what happens, particularly to the awful goblin queen with stone shoes to cover her six toed feet!
Like a good fairy tale or fantasy, the story works on multiple levels. We have the fear of things that go bump in the night and acts of courage and heroism and the thin line between these and foolhardiness. There is the question of what is belief–is it the delusion of believing something that doesn’t exist or the belief in something marvelous and yet the “substance of things not seen.” Both the Princess and Curdie are faced with this choice. Is there really a grandmother? Can I trust where the thread will lead me or that it is even there? How will I act when others don’t believe me? And there is the question of how one will conduct oneself in the absence of the king-papa as one awaits his return. How watchful will we be? Will Irene become who she is as the Princess and not simply a protected child?
This book came as a pleasant diversion from “weightier” books and yet not from “weightier” themes. And perhaps that is the value for adults of reading a story supposedly for “children”.