I remember reading and loving this as a child, but I’m fairly astonished by that. The vocabulary in this book is killer. MacDonald himself says that he does not write for children, but rather the childlike and he is not kidding. This book could be used for SAT vocabulary prep: enmity, undulating, ancestral, subterranean, globular, ludicrously, excogitated…we’re definitely talking about a challenging read. That coupled with MacDonald’s 19th century turn of phrase makes sections of this quite dense going indeed.
The princess in question here is eight year old Irene, whom many modern readers will find to be quite babyish for her age. If you don’t focus on her age, you have a marvelous fantasy story about goblins, friendship and believing. Incidentally, MacDonald seems to have been a favorite of both C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, so do with that what you will.
One day, Irene dashes up a set of stairs in her nursery to find herself in a hallway filled with doors. Upon exploring she finds more stairs, more doors, and eventually a woman sitting at a spinning wheel who declares herself Irene’s great-great-great-great grandmother. Meanwhile, Curdie, working late in the mines to earn money for a present for his mother, discovers he is on the verge of breaking through the cave wall into the goblin world. Upon investigating further, he overhears a goblin plot to wreak havoc on the human kingdom. It takes Curdie, Irene and a bit of help from that secret great-great-great-great grandmother to put things right again.
Great for: Reading aloud to your older child. It’s not just young children that love to be read to. This story would be a good read aloud to children grades 4 and up. It will require some effort on your part to help with the difficult vocabulary.
This is also a princess book that boys can easily get into, as Curdie has a major role. Also, he and Irene take turns saving each other, so neither gender comes up as the ultimate savior of the other.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – The princess promises Curdie a kiss. At the end she does give him one kiss on the mouth.
Profanity – None
Death, Violence and Gore – A goblin queen died in childbirth. A goblin creature gets shot with an arrow. Curdie kills a goblin creature (a goblinlike animal). Curdie is shot and injured by the king’s men-at-arms. The goblin prince threatens to skin his stepmother’s toes. Curdie cuts the goblin queen’s face in a skirmish. There are several battles between humans and goblins although all specific violence is listed above.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – One solider is accused of “taking too long a pull at the ale jug.”
Frightening or Intense Things – The princess is under nearly constant threat from the goblins. It is a bit intense when she and her nurse are lost after dark. There is a plot to capture the princess and marry her to the goblin prince. There is concern that the princess will be killed if captured and the king doesn’t comply with demands. Curdie is captured and trapped by the goblins.