“Now in these subterranean caverns lived a strange race of beings, called by some gnomes, by some kobolds, by some goblins. There was a legend current in the country that at one time they lived above ground, and were very like other people. But for some reason or another, concerning which there were different legendary theories, the king had laid what they thought to severe taxes upon them, or had required observances of them they did not like, or had begun to treat them with more severity, in some way or other, and impose stricter laws; and the consequence was that they had all disappeared from the face of the country…They had all taken refuge in the subterranean caverns, whence they never came out but at night, and then seldom showed themselves in any numbers, and never to many people at once” (Macdonald 3).
Reading George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and his exposition of the goblin characters, this introduction passage kept clouding my hate for the allegedly villainous goblins. A reading of this text introduces the political and social implications that surround the less-than-favorable relationship between the humans and the goblins and raises the question, at least for me; can you really blame the goblins?
Presenting the landscape of the kingdom and its distinctive characteristic of having underground mines, Macdonald introduces the setting of these subterranean (a big word for a kid!) caves, which later become important locations in the story. In these caves lives a race of beings – described as strange, especially considering they live in the ground. The insertion of the different of their different labes is intriguing; do they each mean something different or are used in different contexts? Macdonald later uses the term “cob” much more than any of these terms – could that be considered a racial slur for the goblins?
Throughout the novel, I kept referring back to the subsequent passage explaining why the goblins “disappeared from the face of the country.” Firstly, no one even really remembers the exact reason why they left, and interestingly enough, they were probably like other people prior to their departure underground. Most of the legends as to why they left trace it to oppressions imposed by the human king, either severe taxes, observances the race of goblins opposed, or maltreatment. Macdonald surprisingly contends that the goblins took “refuge,” a term normally associated with the notion of having been wronged or victimized. The goblins seek asylum in the night and learn to never reveal their true numbers, their population, to the many humans.
This passage reveals the reason why the goblins voluntarily erased themselves from the kingdom – they were an oppressed minority escaping the dominant class and searching for new opportunities. They removed themselves from their suppressors peacefully and silently, and their plans of revolution and desire to return to the kingdom, while obviously unethical, are somewhat understandable. Macdonald, well-versed with how the Scottish were oppressed by the English ruling class, uses the relationship between the humans and the goblins to introduce children to the social and political implications of class distinctions in the 18th century Western world.