by George MacDonald
This little fantasy gem was first published in 1872. As you may have guessed by now, I really like old stories. It turns out that this tale by George MacDonald was also a favourite of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis; elements of MacDonald’s stories appear in The Lord of the Rings, as well as the Chronicles of Narnia series.
George was Scottish and born to farmers. Sadly, his mother died when he was only eight years old. He shared life with his four brothers. While his family originally owned a linen mill as well as a bank (besides the farm), economic conditions swamped them. Later, George set off for university at age 15. He earned a degree in Science and Moral Philosophy at Aberdeen University. It is a little surprising that he turned to writing poetry and fairy tales.
He and his wife had eleven children together, and he first wrote his tales for his children to guide them, and himself, through darkness. It holds not only little gems of wisdom, but delicious tension, a good bit of danger, and just a faint dusting of magic. And just one more note: while many fairy tales are stories with helpless princesses needing rescue, this heroine, Princess Irene, receives her own guidance; therefore, despite the fact that Curdie does help her a great deal, she also has agency. Given that out of MacDonald’s eleven children five were female, he would have witnessed capable and clever girls. No doubt, he was also trying to instill virtues, so the story is a teeny bit didactic; however, that aspect does not ruin the larger story.
The goblins are quite bad, and there is the expected bit of violence while good triumphs over evil, but there is nothing horrific for younger children to hear as a read-aloud. Since the protagonist, Princess Irene is eight years old, I think this story is suitable for children aged six and up.