A gentle grandfatherly-looking man with a long beard is sitting comfortably in a chair with a group of children gathered around him. In a Scottish accent he exclaims, “Now then children, what will it be tonight?” As if in one voice, they all exclaim “A fairy tale Papa! A fairy tale!” With a twinkle in his eye, as if he expected this answer, he picks up a pile of papers by his side. On the top page we see the following words written in ink: ‘The Princess and the Goblin.’ The man begins to read. “There was once a little princess whose father was king over a great country full of mountains and valleys. His palace was built upon one of the mountains, and was very grand and beautiful.” The children nestle closer to their father, looking expectantly. He continues. “The princess, whose name was Irene, was born there, but she was sent soon after her birth, because her mother was not very strong, to be brought up by country people in a large house, half castle, half farmhouse, on the side of another mountain, about halfway between its base and its peak.” At these words, the scene fades to the castle-farmhouse he is describing, set against a backdrop of beautiful mountains and clouds.

After losing herself in the upper regions of the castle, the princess discovers a beautiful old women at the top of a mysterious set of stairs, who claims to be her very own great, great, great grandmother, a vibrant, ancient woman extremely comforting and pleasant.  Grandmother Irene notices the dirt and tear stains upon the princess’s face. “Why didn’t you come to me to wipe them for you?” The Princess replies, “Please, I didn’t know you were here. I will next time.” Her grandmother did indeed swoop her up in her arms and wipe the tears from her eyes.

Upon returning downstairs to her room, the princess’ worried nurse refuses to believe her story of a great Grandmother up in the castle’s towers. In a nearby village, Curdie and the other miner’s work hard to provide for their families.  They merrily toil in their familiar mines to provide a simple life.  Curdie, still a boy, but on the edge of manhood in his own right, keeps a secret from his mother to work extra to soon buy her a new red petticoat for the winter. Self-reliant to a fault, Curdie works hard.  Meanwhile, the princess’s castle rests on a mountain with a deep, twisted history full of goblins, misshapen from generations past, who had sought refuge underground.

One day, while enjoying the giddy laughter of the princess, her nursemaid Lootie allows their stroll into the forest to linger too long, and the sun sets upon them in the woods.  It was unbreakable law in the land to never stay out of the Castle beyond the daylight.  Princess Irene soon learned, from the desperate pant, to the frantic hustle, that more was at stake for her nurse Lootie than a simple reprimand from her father.  They were in real danger. Princess Irene is all too careless with this once bothersome rule, and now she knows why!  Goblins began to appear. Here, no there! Faster, faster please Princess; but she is only 8 years old. How could she keep up! In a flash, young Curdie discovers the girls, just in time.  He sings a crude, yet rhythmic rhyme that drives the creatures from their pursuit. The women are safe for the time being. A stranger to the maidens, Curdie introduces himself.

Princess Irene, flabbergasted by the discovery of the goblins and smitten by her savior on the spot promises a kiss to the young boy once he returns them safely to the castle. Nurse Lootie doesn’t know which is worse, that she has broken the curfew, or has allowed this distasteful encounter with a miner boy.  She is sure to be put out for either!

The princess can’t wait to talk with her grandmother about all that had happened --the  goolish goblins, and the brave Curdie. To her surprise, her father returns to the castle from a long and distant journey.  The princess loves her nurse dearly, and is afraid to speak of breaking curfew for fear of losing her, so she addresses the news of her grandmother, who has been living in the tower all this time.  The king, loves the time spent with his daughter, but is surprised and too uncomfortable to talk about the grandmother, and denies ever seeing her at the castle. The princess respects her father dearly and resolves that the notion of a grandmother must have been from a dream.  Weeks pass, and the princess takes interest in all the new hustle and bustle of all the new people.

Curdie has a new spring in his step as he helps with the chores around the house.  His mother and siblings tease him for his absent-mindedness. He ponders how he really rescued the princess.  A charming and friendly princess at that! He returns to his own world, realizing that there was no more to be had with the princess.  He works in the mines, and devises his rhymes, and the miners note his unusual talent for it.

Back at the mines, Curdie stays overnight, in hopes to gain some extra pay, but by chance discovers a plot by the goblin race to invade the human villages above ground, and specifically the castle! He comes dangerously close to getting caught, but escapes and confides in his family.  They devise a plan to discover more of the Goblin’s plans.

Weeks later, while patrolling the Castle’s garden, a few knights from the king’s entourage discover a goblin-like creature, on four legs, mysterious even to them, lurking in the garden, dangerously close to the Castle.  It’s chased away. Why so close? Why now?

Lying down in her bed, somewhere between being awake and asleep, the princess reaches out to her dear great grandmother.  She supposes that since her grandmother is only in her dreams, what harm is there in pursuing her within one. She once again finds the stairs and ventures up them, believing it to be a dream the entire time.  She meets her grandmother while she is spinning a fine line of a very special thread in her workroom, and then is invited into her grandmother’s bedroom.  She steps into a beautiful and lofty room with a marvelous doom ceiling lit by a large bright moonlit orb and a beautiful fireplace with enchanting blooming roses of fire. The grandmother discovers the princess’s injured hand, and binds it up with a soothing ointment. The room is so peaceful and the young princess soon falls asleep in the comfort of her grandmother’s arms.  Princess Irene wakes alone in her own room, but finds her hand is no longer swollen, or injured. In fact, there isn’t even a scar! She knows now that her good sweet grandmother up the stairway is no dream at all.

Curdie braves the tunnels of the goblins, overhear more details of the plot to overthrow the King above ground. The goblin queen captures young Curdie and imprisons him.  They toy with him and decide to eat him by the end of the week.

Irene’s memory of her great-great grandmother fades unusually quick, perhaps due to their uncanny, unique encounter.  She remembers her promise to visit her this coming Friday, but was that promise only a dream? Friday morning, the princess is refreshed and wakes to the perils of that disgusting catlike creature with long legs lurking within her own bedroom!  She escapes, comes to the passage leading to her great, great grandmother, but in her panic, as foolish as it may be, she runs past and busts out of the castle and into the woods.

Curdie is still imprisoned by the Goblin Queen.  The Princess has nearly forgotten about her dear great-great grandmother and is lost in the woods.  She struggles with looking the fool and calling upon what all say is a dream.  She musters her courage with a glance at her ring, a gift from her grandmother, and recalls the sweet promise, “If you ever need me, use the ring.  It will guide you to me.” She remembers the thread attached to her ring and she follows it. This thread clearly guides the young princess in the opposite direction then towards her great-great grandmother.  However, the princess decides to trust her dear ancestor, rather the question the path she is on.  She is guided deeper into the woods.

The relieved princess sees a fulfilled promise as the thread leads straight to her good friend Curdie, now trapped deep in the tunnels of the goblins.  She now sees why her good grandmother led her in this direction, so she can help her friend Curdie!  The dumbfounded Curdie realizes he is being rescued by the lone Princess.  Unbelievable indeed, however, any aid is well received!

The princess trusts the guidance of her dear old great, great grandmother all the more now that she was able to rescue her good friend Curdie, through the help of her holding on and following the thread, the gift of her grandmother.  Instead of guiding them straight to safety, the line leads the princess and the reluctant Curdie deeper into the tunnels, next to the scheming goblins.  Here they discover the destructive plans to flood the princess’s castle and the mines. The mysterious thread of the grandmother leads them to safety outside the mountain and back to the castle, where the princess is greeted with celebration and love as she was thought to have been lost forever. Curdie devises a plan with the other miners to create a simple misdirection of the tunnels, so that if the goblins ever decide to follow through with their plans of destruction, it would backfire upon themselves. Sure enough, at the height of the kingdom’s celebration, a deep rumbling is heard within the castle.  Curdie quickly asks the king to trust him and evacuate everyone outside of the castle and to seek the highest points for shelter. The news comes in time to rescue all from the rushing waters that burst through the tunnels below. Apparently, when the goblins attempt to flood the mines of the townsmen, the tunnels of the goblins are flood instead, and in such a fashion that it overflows into the great castle as well.  The flooding lasts for days. Most of the goblins are destroyed by their own flood, only a few have escaped.

Returning to the opening scene of the father reading this story to his children, as he talks about the fate of the goblins, a young boy exclaims “But, Papa, we would rather hear more about the Princess and Curdie. We don't care about the goblins and their nasty creatures. They frighten us—rather.” He replies “But you know if you once get rid of the goblins there is no fear for the princess or of Curdie.” The little girl responds, “But we want to know more about them.” Holding them close, he says with a twinkle in his eye, “Some day, perhaps, I may tell you the further history of both of them; how Curdie came to visit Irene's grandmother, and what she did for him; and how the princess and he met again after they were older—and how—But there! I don't mean to go any farther at present.” The girl responds again, “Then you're leaving the story unfinished, Mr. Papa!” “Not more unfinished than a story ought to be, I hope. If you ever knew a story finished, all I can say is, I never did. Somehow, stories won't finish. I think I know why, but I won't say that either, now.”

ABOUT GEORGE MACDONALD, author of the Curdie books

George MacDonald, 1824-1905, was a novelist, poet, minister, and father of ten.  A friend of Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Longfellow, and Walt Whitman, MacDonald’s literary influence stretches far past his 19th century contemporaries.  W. H. Auden, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Walter de la Mare, E. Nesbit, Madeleine L’Engle, and William Paul Young were impacted by MacDonald’s writings. MacDonald is the father of fantasy.

G.K. Chesterton regarded him as “one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century”. Perhaps C. S. Lewis gave MacDonald the highest praise of all.  

I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him… Now Phantastes had about it a sort of cool, morning innocence. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise my imagination. —C.S. Lewis