I am a huge fan of George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin — it’s probably one of my very favorite books of all time. I have a lovely old copy with stiff cardboard pages and beautiful illustrations that was probably my grandmother’s. It’s an eerie book, strange and beautiful and mysterious, and has haunted me in one way or another since I first read it as a little girl. I’ve always wanted a rose-colored coverlet for a bed, and a midnight-blue ceiling covered in stars. And a beautiful grandmother, who may or may not be the moon.
So I decided to read the sequel, The Princess and Curdie. Curdie is the miner boy who helps save the princess from the aforementioned goblins in the previous book. In this book, the princess has gone off with her papa, the king, to the faraway city of Gwyntystorm. Soon, we learn, the king and princess are in danger, and Curdie is off to the rescue. Along the way, he meets several strange creatures, including the horrifying Lina, a dog-like beast with a heart of gold. Lina rounds up 49 other bizarre beasts who may or may not have been evil people in life, sentenced to suffer for their sins in the most outrageous beastly bodies. With names like Ballbody and Clubhead, you can imagine.
Curdie gets to the city and discovers that it is populated with evil, lazy, dishonest citizens. The castle denizens are worse, and there is a conspiracy to kill the king. Curdie, the Princess Irene, and Lina, with the help of the monster-creatures, save the day.
That’s about it in a nutshell. Along the way there are a lot of minor adventures, some lovely old-fashioned language, lots of moral lessons, and some incredible fantasy. I didn’t love this book as much as I loved the first one, but it was still a lovely children’s fantasy, just the way I like them: scary enough to run a shiver down your back (even at age 30-something), but still light and charming and with a relatively happy ending and plenty of moral lessons to ponder. I don’t know why I like the moral-lesson part. I grew up with old-fashioned books that usually contained some message about honesty or hard work or something like that, and I find it sort of comforting.
The illustrations of course are wonderful. I just adore illustrations from old children’s books — that particular almost Art Nouveau style. Flowing and flowering with gentle faces and beautiful girls and children with large bows in their hair.
The nice thing was that since it was taking me forever to read this (caught up as I was in re-reading the entire Harry Potter series), I had run out of library time on it and still had a few chapters to go… but, I just received my Kindle and this book was available for free! So I finished it up on the Kindle. I missed the illustrations and the feel of the old book, but I still enjoyed the story and it was fun to try it out on a book I was already reading.
Recommended if you like old-fashioned children’s adventure stories. I strongly recommend you read The Princess and the Goblin, in any case. Such a favorite.