- The Princess and the Goblin and Other Fairy Tales by George MacDonald
The Princess and the Goblin and Other Fairy Tales is a thoughtfully curated collection of George MacDonald’s most popular fairy-tale texts and supplemental materials that provide critical context for the reader. The edition’s strength lies in its supplemental materials; the primary texts themselves are readily available online and in many other print editions, but the additional content supplied by editors Shelley King and John B. Pierce offers useful information about the author and the literary culture in which he wrote—and the ways in which his writing went on to influence other authors, most notably C. S. Lewis.
The body of the book consists of an accessible but thorough introduction on MacDonald; a chronology of MacDonald’s life and publications; explanatory notes on the illustrations and texts reproduced in the collection; and five of MacDonald’s best-known fairy tales (The Princess and the Goblin , “The Light Princess,” “The Giant’s Heart,” “The Golden Key,” and “The History of Photogen and Nycteris: [End Page 411] A Day and Night Märchen”). King and Pierce also provide four appendixes: “Contemporary Reviews,” “MacDonald on the Imagination,” “Victorian Fairy Tales,” and “MacDonald’s Composition and the Manuscript of The Princess and the Goblin.” They close the text with a “Select Bibliography,” divided into primary sources, biographies, bibliographies, selected criticism, and useful websites, a particularly navigable resource for those interested in further study of the author.
The introduction provides basic biographical information about MacDonald and delves into his careers in both the ministry and literature, illustrating how these two passions intertwined through the emergence of his literary fairy tales. Noting his interest in British and German Romanticism and how they informed his personal approach to Christianity, King and Pierce identify the “central tenets of MacDonald’s literary art” as “the elevation of mystery over rationality, the celebration of meaning acquired intuitively through symbol and association, and the insistence on the interconnection of the natural world and the divine spirit” (13). They contrast this to the realist mode that characterizes many contemporaneous literary works. However, they also recognize the active fairy-tale tradition that was thriving in Victorian Britain. By contextualizing MacDonald within the Victorian culture of children’s literature and of a fairy-tale tradition “that owed more to the fantastic than to the didactic,” King and Pierce demonstrate how MacDonald’s writing is integrally bound to the period in which he wrote (17).
The introduction also offers brief overviews of each of the fairy tales included in the book, identifying major themes that resurface across the tales and providing notable information about their publication history, particularly when the tides of the market affected the form in which the stories were made public. In addition, King and Pierce emphasize the importance of the imagination to MacDonald and reiterate his assertion that there is no one meaning to be found in his fairy tales: “Closure of this story, or any story, would mean an end to the world of the imagination and to the intellectual growth that MacDonald always prized throughout his writings. Stories, he indicates, always go on in the mind of the reader, and the final statement—‘I think I know why, but I won’t say that either now’—draws the reader’s mind onward to discovery of her own possibilities” (35). A reader with no prior knowledge of MacDonald and little familiarity with the Victorian period would find his fairy tales much more accessible after reading this introduction, making this a particularly useful text for undergraduates. Likewise, the chronology and notes on illustrations and text are helpful for contextualizing MacDonald within his period and illuminate the complexities of publishing, including such concepts as serial publication, in ways that are especially useful for those not familiar with the history of the Victorian literary market. [End Page 412]
The next section, the fairy tales themselves, makes up the bulk of the book. The stories are thoughtfully annotated and...