LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The God-Grandma

on January 31, 2013 2:33pm

In The Princess and the Goblin, there are hints of religious aspects that can be found in the text. Irene’s great-great-grandmother is seen as a cross between a fairy godmother (as we see in past fairy tales such as Cinderella) and an omniscient, god-like figure. The grandmother is always willing to help Irene in times of need (following the godmother archetype), but there is a catch. She only helps Irene when she retains faith in the existence of the grandmother, thus giving her a god-like quality. Even MacDonald’s descriptions of her give her an ethereal suggestion: pale white skin, long silver hair, young yet old, wise, patient yet playful, supernatural qualities, mysterious. It seems that MacDonald attempts to slip in a Christian moral and remind the doubtful that they have to believe what they can’t see—you have to believe in order to receive.


However, I am of the opinion that the grandmother is omnipotent only to a certain degree. Though she helps others besides Irene, like Curdie’s mother, I think it is very easy to argue that she only did so that Curdie could help Irene in the future. If she knew about the flood and had the power to prevent it, why didn’t she? It seems she only cares for the true well-being of little Irene. This could in part be due to sort of loving, familial reason—as if it is to ensure that the heir to the throne and kingdom is kept away from danger. It seems as though her supernatural qualities only seek to aid her in accomplishing that goal. Why else would she choose to live so long, only to live alone where no one can find her while she sits and spins thread? In this sense, MacDonald is inventive with his merging of duel qualities of the grandmother (the god-like and the godmother), while not following the classic archetype normally presented in fairy tales.

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smithand Arthur Hughes

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith
and Arthur Hughes


2 responses to “The God-Grandma

  1. dkamauf says:

    While I understand your point of comparing Irene’s great-great-grandmother to God, I have to take a different stance. While your main point isn’t on the comparison, but actually the question of the omnipotence of this God character, I would like to address the comparison for now. I feel that she is more representative of Lady Wisdom instead of God, for Lady Wisdom is a beautiful mother who guides and instructs her children to live in good fashion. I also feel that she cannot be God because in Judeo-Christian scripture, God is cast as being masculine for he is referred to as “The Father” and sometimes “The Son”. As for your main point, the question of God’s potency, you mentioned that the Grandmother is only omnipotent to a certain degree. That is contradictory to the very definition of omnipotent, for omnipotence has no degree because it is an absolute state. However, since you compared the Grandmother to God, I would argue that neither, if they exist, are omnipotent. For example, when you said, “If she knew about the flood and had the power to prevent it, why didn’t she?”, I agree with you and wonder, if both figures are all powerful, why would they allow pestilence to exist?

  2. Emily Troilo says:

    I agree with the idea that the grandmother is somehow being related to God, whether she is God or Sophia or some other Christian figure. The idea of “seeing is not believing” and the need to have faith is strengthened in this story by how the grandmother does not spin unless she has someone to spin for, someone to believe in her. I think it is also strengthened if you imagine Curdie’s mom and Lootie as representative of a believer and non-believer. Curdie’s mom scolds Curdie for not believing Irene’s story about the grandmother and is characterized as a wise, hard-working woman. Curdie’s mother recounts a moment where she was lost in the woods and the grandmother’s light guided her home. Lootie on the other hand, scolds Irene for “telling stories” about the grandmother and is characterized as a foolish, skeptical woman. When the grandmother mentions Lootie, it is because the grandmother says Lootie will not believe Irene about her.

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