The Book Before Lord of the Rings

By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15

Love it or hate it, there is no denying the impact Tolkien’s novel has had on our society. From re-enacting battles in the park (something I have never and will never partake in) to getting Gandalf confused with Dumbledore at a fancy dress party, the Middle Earth series has slipped into our culture.

But goblins were sneaking around mines long before Tolkien.

In 1872, over 80 years before Tolkien, George MacDonald published The Princess and the Goblin. Whilst sounding like one of the more bizarre fairy tales, it’s actually a very sweet book. Despite being over a hundred years old, it’s understandable and much of the humour is still funny.

It’s set in a very split society, where sun-dwellers live by day above ground and, by night, lock the door from their fellow humans, the goblins, who have lived so long underground they have become hideous and cannot tolerate light.

Princess Irene is sent away from her father’s castle in an attempt to save her from the goblins, but when she discovers a secret stair, everything begins to change. Despite the efforts of her nurse to keep her safe, she sneaks away to explore the seemingly endless twists and turns and doors of her home.

Eventually, she discovers her great-great-grandmother (called grandmother to avoid confusion). There is something very mystical about the silvery figure in the attic. Few people can see her and most believe she isn’t there. There is a sense in which she is some magical being, some fairy godmother for Irene.

On the mountain one night, the Princess meets 12-year-old miner, Curdie and the cast for the book is complete. Curdie seems to be the younger version of Prince Charming, only with some life experience and a job. He rescues the Princess and her nurse, Lootie, from the goblins when they stay out too late.

After a great deal of rescuing on both sides, the two become tight friends. Curdie unveils a plan to kidnap the Princess and force her to marry their prince. Together with Irene’s grandmother, who he finally believes in, he fights the goblins, discovering their weakness to save her.

The charming tale sticks in my mind because of its simplicity. Compared to Lord of The Rings, it’s tiny in length, but for me, even more special; it’s like a fairy tale for grown-ups, reminding me of the happiness of watching Cinderella and Snow White as a child.


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