To Be Royal in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin (1 of 3)

To be called a “princess” by anyone in my grade 7 class is not a compliment. The term is used pejoratively to say the least–a term used to convey that a person is acting selfish, arrogant, egocentric, and entitled. It is a term that can be directed at both boys and girls, but most often towards the girls who are perceived as being a little too big for their own breeches. It is a term we endow on younger girls and despise in the older ones. And while calling a boy a “prince” seems antiquated, the term still generally has positive connotations. No doubt, today’s princes inherently struggle with vanity, arrogance, and probably a little absent-mindedness, there is still room for courage and a sense of honour in the term, making it a more graciousness term than that of a “princess.” And while there is lot to be said about the gender issues presented here (Monika Hilder’s newer book on the subject is fantastic!), I believe that there is an overall misunderstanding of the symbol of royalty. This begs the question–

Is there more to these terms than the emaciated shells of royalty we are presently asked to accept? The answer, I believe, is yes.

To answer this question, I would like to take a few posts to discuss how George MacDonald defines the term “princess” and ultimately the term “royalty” in his book The Princess and the Goblin. As an introduction to the topic, I would like to share Ursula Le Guin’s introduction to the Puffin Classic edition of the book:

“MacDonald is also stern and clear about what nobility is. It has nothing to do with money or social status. A princess is a girl who behaves nobly; a girl who behaves nobly is a princess. Curdie the miner, being brave and kind, and behaving (or anyhow trying to behave) nobly and wisely, is a prince. The king is king because he’s good man. No other definition is allowed. This is radically moral democracy. It’s very different from the lazy-minded stories that call some characters good and others bad although they all behave exactly the same way; the Goods win the battles and the Bads lose, besides being ugly. MacDonald’s goblins are ugly only because they behave badly.”


To Be Royal (2 of 3)

To Be Royal (3 of 3)

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