George Macdonald was born in Aberdeenshire in 1824. He wrote a number of fantasy stories for both adults and children, and was a formative influence on many later writers – notably Auden, J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis.
‘The Princess and Curdie’ written in 1882 is a sequel to ‘The Princess and The Goblin’ which was published ten years before. It is, I think, the better of the two, though perhaps not quite so well known.
This situation recurred in Lewis’ writing – ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe’ is by far the best known of the Chronicles of Narnia, but not the best written – which may be why the later books are not so popular.
Macdonald, Lewis and Tolkien all fell into the trap of putting knowing, avuncular asides into their first books. ‘The Princess and The Goblin’ is full of them, and they do break up the flow of the story in an irritating fashion. ‘The Princess and Curdie’ has a few comments about ‘real princesses’ and so on, but on the whole the story is allowed to flow.
The first book tells how the young Princess Irene is in danger from the goblins who live in the mountain on which her home is built, and how the young miner Curdie becomes involved by his discovery of their plans. Irene’s ‘very great grandmother’, a mysterious figure who lives in the topmost attics on the house, watches over them both, and enables each to save the other from disaster.
The sequel, which I’ve read times beyond counting, takes place a little later and is concerned with Curdie’s progress and the danger which now surrounds Irene’s father, the King. Like its predecessor the book has morals and metaphors which some might find too obvious, but my enjoyment of the story of Curdie’s mission to rescue the old King from his treacherous courtiers has always enabled me to slip past the morals and concentrate on the story.
Macdonald has a wonderfully weird imagination – perhaps fed by old Scottish myths and legends – and the creatures which people this story are both amusing and thought provoking. Our family had the 1949 J M Dent edition, and I particularly loved the illustrations by Charles Folkard, one of which is reproduced above.
Macdonald always said he didn’t write for children, but ‘for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five,’ but I’ve never needed an excuse to read and re-read children’s books, and this is still a favourite of mine.