George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin presents the tale of a young princess in a kingdom under siege by malicious and conniving goblins. Like many fairy tales of the time period and similar to many that we have studied in the “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” class, Princess Irene is a young female protagonist who possesses many qualities representative of purity and femininity. She is a young member of a royal family known for her beauty—notably her long, golden hair—and is placed under many restrictions by her caregiver, Lootie, that prevent her from making many mistakes that young women could often find themselves making at such an age. However, this novel took a turn in a new direction in that it presented additional female characters who each possessed almost entirely different characteristics from the next. The text delivers descriptions of just as many female characters as it does male characters, which displays a shifting view towards feminism in children’s literature.
Each of the female characters throughout the tale is presented in a manner that represents their various traits and qualities. This gives the plot of the story a more dynamic quality that readers may not have seen in fairy tales prior to this time. The princess is no longer a damsel in distress in desperate need of salvation by a male hero. She is a cunning, while simultaneously polite, young lady who overcomes the struggle for her father’s kingdom by defeating the wicked goblins who have arranged for their Prince Harelip to marry her without consent. She does this using the help of a seemingly god-like character brought to the story as her somewhat omniscient great-great grandmother. This brought to the modern, global culture a wise, female character often represented in Scottish literature.
I feel that the portrayal of these various female characters in such a dynamic manner truly made this story what it was as an outstanding tale. It represents a shift in literary culture that allowed female readers to relate to the characters in stories and consequently feel empowered by their daring adventures. I believe that male authors such as George MacDonald represented the powerful female figures in their lives through their literature, which led to a trickle-down effect in female empowerment. The young girls reading these fairy tales undoubtedly felt empowered by strong, heroic, female protagonists, and consequently felt empowered to live fruitful lives with more independence than they had in the past. These women then began writing and told more tales of heroines to inspire young girls of their time, who grew up to be even more independent and even arguably rebellious. I feel that stories like The Princess and the Goblin paved the way for feminist literature, which planted the roots for a more tolerant society that eventually grew into the predominantly egalitarian structure that we know today.