George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin

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George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin In his novel The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald has cleverly crafted an underground society populated by a distorted and "ludicrously grotesque" race. Within the body of his tale, he reveals that these people are descended from humans, and did in fact, once upon a time, live upon the surface themselves. Only eons of living separated from fresh air and sunlight have caused them to evolve into the misshapen creatures we meet in this story (MacDonald, 2-4). MacDonald calls the beings goblins, and while they certainly may fit that definition from a 19th century point of view, they are far more akin to the dwarves that we have come to know from classic stories like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and popular games like "Dungeons & Dragons," as well as countless movies, cartoons and video games. Still, it is clear that MacDonald had a considerable knowledge of folklore and mythology and that he drew upon that background to help evoke and manifest a convincing culture of underground dwellers, or little folk. There seems to be little agreement, at least in a modern world of mass communication, of what exactly a goblin is. The origin of the word appears to come from the medieval French town of Evreux, which claims to have been haunted by a demon named Gobelinus (who may or may not have been, at one point, an actual living person). From there the term evolved to refer to any small spirit or creature who (unlike modern interpretations of the word) may be either good or bad, but is almost certainly mischievous (Wiseley). Dwarves, on the other hand, are also small creatures, but the popular connotation is one of a generally amiable and hard-working being who lives underground building mines. MacDonald's creations fall somewhere in between these descriptions, but they probably lay closer to the latter. Scandinavia and Germany are the primary homes to the legends that inspired both MacDonald and many other writers both before and since. The Scandinavians spoke of the land that the dwarves hailed from, calling it Svartalfheim. This land of "dark elves" was described as a dark, cold realm of caverns, sounding convincingly like the twisting, black underground tunnels which Curdie is forced to blindly explore. An alternative to this hidden land was Nifleheim, a land of the dead that could also easily pass for MacDonald's subterranean labyrinth (Mott).
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