melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2017-03-23 12:14 pm

FMK: The Princess and the Goblin

Princess Irene is definitely D'Angeline, isn't she. Which of the angels is her Great-Grandmama?

...Anyway, somehow I was expecting this to be about a princess and a goblin, not a princess and a peasant boy and a WHOLE BUNCH of goblins, none of whom she really interacts with. I think somehow I had got the impression that Curdie was a goblin who helped her out.

That's really the core of my response to this book. As I was reading it (and I'm very glad I did) I was seeing all the ways in which this is really an important foundation block in the later fantasy I've read, missing pieces that I haven't found in extensive folklore reading but still turn up every now and then in post-Victorian stuff, even such little things as the physical descriptions of the goblins. (Such as having a jack-o-lantern face, when folklore pumpkinheads are usually very distinct from folklore goblins.)

And then there's the very strong, and very Victorian, thread in this book of beautiful = good and ugly = bad. Not to say that post-Victorian kidlit has totally solved that one, but still, there's enough pushback against it in newer kids' fantasy (and in folklore) that my response to the lady who is beautiful beyond imagining (*especially* if she admits she's wearing a glamour) is BEWARE, and you should probably go find an ugly crone to talk to instead. Also I can't think of a single reason why the goblins aren't in the right here, given the way they are being dehumanized and their lands are being steadily stolen and then destroyed. They even try for a diplomatic solution first!

Of course, the fairy-story books I was imprinting on instead when I was the age for this were The Ordinary Princess (all about how Ordinary doesn't have to be Beautiful to be Good) and Goblins in the Castle (where Our Hero realizes halfway through that the displaced goblins are in the right and he's been on the wrong side all along). Both of those books are almost certainly arguing with MacDonald and his peers, whether consciously on the part of the writers or not, but I got their side of the argument first and it's a much better side. :P

I was also interested in how young Irene was. There's a standard in kidlit publishing (or at least there was, awhile back) that your protagonist should always be at least a couple of years older than the reading level you're writing for, presumably as an aspirational thing, and also so kids who read a lot can feel smug about reading books for older kids and kids who are a little slower don't have to be talked down to.

But I'm wondering if it's also because adult authors tend to write their protagonists acting a few years younger than kids of that age feel like they are in their heads. Irene certainly feels younger than eight to me, for a lot of the book: at eight I could tell you who my cousins-once-removed were and how they were different from my second-cousins, and I can't imagine many second graders I know being confused by the concept of a great-grandma, or in general have Irene's maturity level. And when I was a kid, reading books about kids a few years older than me, the protagonists didn't usually feel like they were that much older than me. Maybe by telling grownups to write eleven-year-olds for eight-year-olds, you end up with characters who feel like eight-year-olds to eight-year-olds.

I did really like the strong message in this book that adults need to believe what kids say to them, and that if the adults don't, that's on the adults, not the kids. And if the kids let themselves be half-convinced the adults are right and the kids are imagining or exaggerating, it's also the adults' fault, and not the kids failing, and not just "part of growing up." And that the mysterious secret stranger actually tells the protagonist to tell all her grown-ups everything, not to keep it secret, because adults who tell you to keep your relationship a secret are probably not the adults you should rely on. That's something that is REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT to teach a lot of kids (although probably more important to teach grownups), and I think the way MacDonald did it was a lot more emotionally real and with a lot more conviction than a lot of other people, especially modern kids' fantasy, where the parents not believing or not being told is either taken for granted or treated as harmless.

Also wow, you really couldn't get away with handing a character a LITERAL PLOT THREAD in a modern book...
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[personal profile] muccamukk 2017-03-23 05:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I'd be interested to read this again as it was read to me as a VERY small child, and I'm not sure what I actually remember from it.

I loved Ordinary Princess though! And Paper Bag Princess, which were the two I had growing up as role models.
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[personal profile] muccamukk 2017-03-23 06:20 pm (UTC)(link)
It's meant for young children, but was pretty inspirational at that age.
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[personal profile] conuly 2017-03-23 06:34 pm (UTC)(link)
Never never? Well, Munsch is pretty affordable, especially that one and Love You Forever.

(Note: People who like most of Munsch's books tend to hate LYF and vice versa.)
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[personal profile] conuly 2017-03-23 08:37 pm (UTC)(link)
And it's one of his most popular books! Though not, if you ask me, one of his best books. Too conventional. I prefer Zoom or Smelly Socks.
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[personal profile] law_nerd 2017-03-24 02:35 am (UTC)(link)
Not showing up at used book sales tends to be a sign that it's a particularly good book ... or at least the sort that people hang onto.
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[personal profile] birke 2017-03-23 10:54 pm (UTC)(link)
Literal plot thread! You're right.
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[personal profile] petronia 2017-03-24 08:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I read The Princess and the Goblin as a Scholastic, probably age 6? It was definitely one of my earliest intros to the fantasy genre. I definitely knew what a great-grandmother was (mine was alive long enough for me to have met her), but my conclusion was that princesses were understandably sheltered and naive for their age, so I wonder if that isn't what MacDonald was going for.

I know the point of the exercise is to reduce your books, but if you ever come across a copy of The Light Princess, that's the MacDonald really worth reading -- it has the same weird intensity as the darker bits of Narnia.

I also really loved The Paper Bag Princess! I in fact make a point of buying it for all the kids I know, even and especially the boys.

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[personal profile] erinptah 2017-03-26 03:13 am (UTC)(link)
I first read that book when I was in the target audience, and loved it. Irene didn't seem unusually childish at the time, but I was really into the worldbuilding and happy to go along for the ride, so maybe that just made it nice and non-intrusive that the protagonist was so often doing the same thing.

It must be so cool/surreal to read a book and realize "oh, all those other authors I've read were definitely here first."

...don't bother with the sequel, though. It doesn't recapture the magic, and ends with "rocks fall, everyone dies." Like the plot thread, these are literal rocks.

You could give a modern fantasy kid a plot thread, you'd just have to be self-aware about it. Have someone raise an eyebrow, have someone else go "dude, I know. But it works."

I still remember being surprised at one book where the kid found a portal in the closet (it was more SF-flavored than fantasy, there was stuff about alternate dimensions and differences in matter density), and the kid went and told his dad, and then the dad got involved and they worked together to deal with it. Realistically, that's the outcome you want! But nobody ever goes there.