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The Princess and the Goblin

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The Princess and the Goblin
Cover of the 1911 Blackie and Son edition, illustrator uncredited[1]
AuthorGeorge MacDonald
IllustratorArthur Hughes (serial and 1872 book)
GenreChildren's fantasy novel
PublisherStrahan & Co
Publication date
Publication placeUnited Kingdom
Media typePrint
Pages308, 12 plates (1911, Blackie and Son, above)[1]
Followed byThe Princess and Curdie 
TextThe Princess and the Goblin at Wikisource

The Princess and the Goblin is a children's fantasy novel by George MacDonald. It was published in 1872 by Strahan & Co., with black-and-white illustrations by Arthur Hughes. Strahan had published the story and illustrations as a serial in the monthly magazine Good Words for the Young, beginning November 1870.

Anne Thaxter Eaton writes in A Critical History of Children's Literature that The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel "quietly suggest in every incident ideas of courage and honor."[2] Jeffrey Holdaway, in the New Zealand Art Monthly, said that both books start out as "normal fairytales, but slowly become stranger", and that they contain layers of symbolism similar to that of Lewis Carroll's work.[3]

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1920
From The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1920


Eight-year-old Princess Irene lives a lonely life in a castle in a desolate, mountainous kingdom, with only her nursemaid for company. Her father, the king, is normally absent, and her mother is dead. Unknown to her, the nearby mines are inhabited by a race of goblins, long banished from the kingdom and anxious to take revenge on their human neighbours. One rainy day, the princess explores the castle and discovers a mysterious lady who identifies herself as Irene's namesake and great-great-grandmother. The next day, Princess Irene heads outside but is chased by goblins and rescued by a young miner, Curdie.

At work in the mines, Curdie overhears the goblins talking and learns their weakness: they have very soft, vulnerable feet. He also hears that the goblins intend to flood the mine. Irene is about to see her great-great-grandmother again, but is frightened by a cat and escapes up the mountain; the light from her great-great-grandmother's tower leads her home. Her great-great-grandmother gives Irene a ring attached to an invisible thread, which connects her constantly to home.

When Curdie explores the goblins' domain, he is discovered by the goblins and stamps on their feet with great success; when he tries to stamp on the Queen's feet she is uninjured due to her stone shoes. The goblins imprison Curdie and Irene's magic thread leads her to his rescue. Curdie steals one of the goblin queen's stone shoes. Irene takes Curdie to see her great-great-grandmother but she is visible only to Irene. Curdie learns that the goblins are digging a tunnel in the mines toward the king's palace, where they plan to abduct the Princess and marry her to goblin prince Harelip. Curdie warns the palace guards about this, but is imprisoned instead and contracts a fever through a wound in his leg, until Irene's great-great-grandmother heals the wound.

The goblins come to abduct the princess, but Curdie escapes from his prison and stamps on the goblins' feet. He follows the magic thread to Irene's refuge at his own house, and restores her to the king. When the goblins flood the mines, the water enters the palace, and Curdie warns the others; the goblins drown. The king asks him to serve as a bodyguard; but Curdie refuses, saying he cannot leave his mother and father. Instead he accepts a new red petticoat for his mother.

Film adaptations[edit]

In the 1960s, the novel was adapted in animated form by Jay Ward for his Fractured Fairy Tales series. This version involved a race of innocent goblins who are forced to live underground. The ugly goblin king falls in love with a beautiful princess, but a prince saves her by reciting poetry because goblins hate it.

A full-length animated adaptation of the book, directed by József Gémes, was released in 1992 in the United Kingdom, and in June 1994 in the United States. This Hungary/Wales/Japan co-production, created at Budapest's PannóniaFilm, Japan's NHK, and S4C and Siriol Productions in Great Britain, starred the voices of Joss Ackland, Claire Bloom, William Hootkins and Rik Mayall.[4] The film's producer, Robin Lyons, also wrote the screenplay and voiced the Goblin King. However, it was not well received commercially nor critically upon its US release from Hemdale Film Corporation in summer 1994, reportedly grossing only $1.8 million domestically and receiving mainly negative reviews (compared to Disney's very successful The Lion King that was released during the same month in the United States).

The film's title is "De Prinses van het Zonnevolk" in Dutch (English: The Princess of the Sun-people), "Prinsessan og durtarnir" in Icelandic (The Princess and the Trolls), and "La princesse et la forêt magique" (The princess and the magic forest) in French.

Other adaptations[edit]

  • The Princess and the Goblins is also a poem by Sylvia Plath (1932–1963).
  • Shirley Temple played Princess Irene in a production on an episode of her television show. Although the plot follows the basic outline of Macdonald's story, it glosses over the darker elements and is played primarily as comedy. Irene and Curdie are portrayed as young adults instead of children (with hints of a budding romance), and the goblins are forgiven their evil deeds and reform.
  • It was a book in the "100 Classic Books" collection for the Nintendo DS.
  • Twyla Tharp used the story in the full-length ballet of the same title. It was her first to incorporate children and was co-commissioned by Atlanta Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 2012.[5]


The sequel to this book is The Princess and Curdie.

I for one can really testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a certain way from the start; a vision of things which even so real a revolution as a change of religious allegiance has substantially only crowned and confirmed. Of all the stories I have read, including even all the novels of the same novelist, it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life. It is called The Princess and the Goblin, and is by George MacDonald, the man who is the subject of this book.[7]

— G. K. Chesterton, Introduction to George MacDonald and His Wife (1924), page 1


  1. ^ a b WorldCat library records report "twelve full-page illustrations in colour, and thirty text illustrations in black and white", presumably from the title page; and 308 pages, 12 plates: OCLC 1114809890, OCLC 16568450. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
      Probably the 12 colour illustrations are by a new artist and the 30 black-and-white are those by Hughes from the original serial and book publications, both uncredited in this edition. Other publishers created new editions thus, with artwork credited. For instance, J. B. Lippincott used new colour illustrations by Maria L. Kirk in 1907, OCLC 1582102.
  2. ^ Eaton, Anne Thaxter (1969). Meigs, Cornelia (ed.). A Critical History of Children's Literature. Macmillan. p. 200. ISBN 0-02-583900-4.
  3. ^ Holdaway, Jeffrey (August 2005). "Eight Important works". New Zealand Art Monthly. Archived from the original on 7 March 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
  4. ^ "Behind The Voice Actors – The Princess and the Goblin". Behind The Voice Actors.
  5. ^ Seibert, Brian (12 February 2012). "Toe Shoes That Carry a Princess to Victory". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
  6. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (2003) [1937]. Anderson, Douglas A. (ed.). The Annotated Hobbit. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-713727-5.
  7. ^ MacDonald, Greville (1924). George MacDonald and His Wife. New York: Lincoln MacVeagh The Dial Press. p. 1.

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