Guest Blogger R.J. Anderson (Check out at her fantastic book series at http://www.rj-anderson.com)
I can’t remember exactly what age I was when I first read The Princess and the Goblin, but I suspect I was at least nine or ten. My father, a full-time Bible teacher in the “open brethren”, had introduced me to Lewis and Tolkien by reading them aloud to my older brothers (bless him for it!) and I had plunged headlong into fairy tales, mythology, and all the “juvenile” (as they were then called) fantasy stories I could find as a result — L’Engle, Le Guin, Alexander, and so on. My father’s habit was to scour the Christian bookstores for fantasy stories that might interest me, and give them to me for birthdays and Christmas presents: a four-book set of the Curdiebooks, The Lost Princess and The Golden Key and Other Stories was the happy result.
I have re-read the Curdie books, and read them out loud to my own children, at least ten or perhaps fifteen times since. They exerted an influence on me almost as powerful as that of Lewis and Tolkien, albeit in a more subtle way that I find difficult to describe. Interestingly enough the main and most obvious “borrowing” I did from MacDonald ended up being the same part that Lewis and Tolkien borrowed from him: the powerful imaginative element of the goblin tunnels leading to a vast, labyrinthine underground world. (We see it most clearly in The Hobbit when Bilbo must rescue the dwarves from the goblins, and again in LotR during the passage through Moria; in Lewis we find it most in The Silver Chair, when Eustace and Jill and Puddleglum venture underground to find Prince Rilian; and in my own books it manifests as the Delve, an abandoned tin mine which is both a place of safety and great danger for my Cornish piskey heroine and her people.)
On a faith level, however, I find the symbolism of the young princess Irene following her “grandmother”‘s thread through the tunnels by touch more than sight, with the skeptical Curdie unable to see or feel the thread at all, is a marvellous use of spiritual metaphor — ringing true to Scripture and to life, without feeling contrived or preachy in the least. MacDonald had an amazingly deft way of weaving faith elements into his fiction in a way that seemed natural to the plot of the story and even enhanced it, while still containing a deeper truth and meaning that even the youngest child reader would find difficult to miss. I love that.