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Eight-year-old Princess Irene resides in a remote castle with her nurse Lootie and several other servants while her papa-king travels all over his kingdom. The reason that the Princess lives in seclusion is that the goblins who dwell under the mountain have sworn revenge on the king’s family. In addition, she has a mysterious and magical great-great-grandmother who is watching over her but who is seen by nobody else besides her. Also, she becomes friends with a twelve-year-old boy named Curdie who is the son of a local miner. When Irene and Lootie get lost after dark while on a walk in the mountains and are chased by goblins, they first meet Curdie who protects them from the goblins and helps to get them home safely. He pledges himself to guard the Princess.
The goblins have hatched a double plot in which they plan to steal Irene to become the wife of their Prince Harelip and to use the mines to flood the castle. While working in the mines, Curdie overhears part of their plans but is captured and imprisoned by the goblins. However, Irene’s grandmother gives her a special thread by which she is led to rescue Curdie and get both of them back home again. Curdie sneaks onto the castle grounds one night to see if he can learn more about the goblins’ plans but is mistaken for a prowler by the king’s guards and shot with an arrow. He not only is imprisoned but also becomes quite sick with a fever. It is during this very time that the goblins mount their attack. Will they be successful? Will the Princess be saved or will she become the bride of Harelip? And what will happen to Curdie?
Scottish-born author George MacDonald (1824-1905), though theologically considered a heretic, was a masterful storyteller who is often credited with inventing the genre of children’s fantasy literature and influenced such later youth fantasy writers as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Madeline L’Engle. MacDonald began his literary career by telling fairy stories to his eleven children and then putting onplays for the poor in his neighborhood with his large family as the cast. His first such novel was At the Back of the North Wind published in 1871. The Princess and the Goblin was serialized in a journal called Good Words for the Young between 1870 and 1871 and then published in book form the following year. To be honest, this is one of the most fascinating and enjoyable books that I have ever read. The story of the Princess Irene and her friend Curdie continues in a sequel, The Princess and Curdie. I guess that I’ll just have to read it too.