LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Princess and the Goblin and Christianity

Irene’s grandmother is perhaps the most interesting character of George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. For most of the story the reader believes that the only one who knows of her existence is Irene. She is characterized as omniscient/godlike, as a sort of shape-shifter (she appears as an old woman, a young woman, and a bird). She is beautiful…but old… but timeless. She also has magical healing powers, spins a thread that leads Irene out of danger, and knows how people are going to act and react to things. It is very easy to look at the grandmother as a representation of a Christian god (or god-like figure, maybe the feminine goddess Sophia?) especially when you consider Macdonald’s own religious history.

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With the interpretation of Irene’s grandmother as God (or another Christian figure), it is interesting to look at the other women in this story. Curdie’s mom is of a lower class (she is the wife of a miner—Scottish folklore always glorified the humble working class) and is characterized as domestic and a loving mother. She is also responsible, trusting, honest, wise, and full of common sense. Her opinions and beliefs have weight among even the men of the family. When Curdie tells his mom the stories Irene has told him about her grandmother, she scolds him for not believing Irene and tells her own story of when she was rescued in the woods by a bright light that guided her home. She emphasizes that if he does not have an explanation for something, he cannot know that what someone else believes is false. Lootie, on the other hand, is of a higher class (she is the nurse of the princess Irene) and is also characterized as domestic and a loving mother-figure. Lootie is, however, a sort of foil to Curdie’s mom in every other way: she is irresponsible (getting lost in the woods and sometimes losing track of Irene), nervous, skeptical, proud and a bit foolish. She is a people-pleaser and is always worried about losing her job. She scolds Irene for “telling stories” about her grandmother and when the Irene asks her grandmother about Lootie she says that Lootie will not believe in her.

It is very easy to imagine these two women characters as representative of the believer and the non-believer of God and of Christian morals.

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Pinocchio: Collodi’s Guide to a Unified Italy

The author of The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi, was an Italian soldier who fought in the War for Unification for 1870. After Italy was established as a singular political nation, Collodi strived to connect the people culturally, too. The Adventures of Pinocchio provides examples of how Collodi instructs his readers on how to unify the country. Some key aspects of bringing together a people are education and hard work. Each of these ideas plays a central role in the novel and provides a background on how Collodi wants to consolidate the Italian people.

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The importance of education is present throughout Pinocchio. At the time when the book was written, only privileged Italian children attended schooling. However, when the War was ended, public education was established. Collodi fought for this right and believed that education for all was necessary to unify the nation. In the novel, the importance of going to school is very prevalent. Pinocchio, like many children, does not want to study; he would rather eat and play all day. Each of Pinocchio’s parental figures, the cricket, Geppetto, and the fairy, stress the need for children to receive an education. Finally, after many trials and tribulations, Pinocchio learns to read and write on his own and eventually becomes a good little boy. In my opinion, the continuous appearance of education is Collodi’s way of guiding Italy towards unification.

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Another idea that is discussed throughout the book is the notion of hard work and success. The fairy warns Pinocchio, “Remember that every man, rich or poor, must find something to do in this world; everybody must work. Woe to those who lead idle lives! Idleness is a dreadful disease.” (p. 148) If a nation is to be successful, its citizens must be willing to work hard and make a living. Collodi understands that Italy cannot prosper unless people earn money and bolster the economy. Throughout the course of the story, Pinocchio repeatedly refuses to do work. In each instance, he remains hungry and weak. After finally seeing the light, Pinocchio devotes his life to physical labor in order to provide the basic needs to Geppetto and himself. As a result of his hard work, he is greatly rewarded. Like public education, Collodi uses the notion of hard work to show the Italian people how to become a successful nation.

This site also discusses the importance of education to Collodi and its presence in his novel.

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The Princess and the Puppet: Contrasts in Presentation

            

In both The Princess and the Goblin and The Adventure of Pinocchio, the authors present the audience with moral lessons and values. These lessons, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, and are designed to instruct and develop children into responsible and respectable adults. While both MacDonald and Collodi present these lessons, one big difference in these stories is the method of delivery; the polite and courageous Irene and Curdie stand in stark contrast to the frustratingly mischievous Pinocchio in providing examples to children. MacDonald presents the reader with Curdie and Irene, both excellent examples of nobility, honor, courage and humility to stress these values and to teach the audience his moral lessons. Collodi on the other hand gives the audience Pinocchio, the character who teaches us everything not to do while stumbling from bad decision to bad decision. While the development is more evident when the character starts with a lack of virtue – as Pinocchio clearly did – both strategies can yield the desired effect of teaching kids how to be good. Both authors tie in the lessons to their stories and both stories have a relatively clear moral imperative that is rather accessible and clear. The dueling delivery styles are not mutually exclusive however, as The Princess and the Goblin showed with characters like Harelip and the Goblin Queen and as The Adventures of Pinocchio demonstrated with the blue-haired fairy. These characters served to create dynamic contrast between the characters; whether to highlight the virtuous Princess Irene and Curdie or to emphasize the failings of Pinocchio, these supporting roles were important in developing stronger protagonists and helped refine and guide them on their quests. In the end, both stories deliver potent lessons important in the development of children into adults; whether learned from the strong examples set by the characters in The Princess and the Goblin or acquired in the trials and tribulations that Collodi puts his characters through in The Adventures of Pinocchio.

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Pinocchio the Jackass

Symbolism of the Donkey

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Collodi’s version of Pinocchio is an obvious attempt to teach young boys, or children in general, how to be good, but the severe punishments are atypical to techniques used in many other children’s literature stories of the time. One particular punishment Pinocchio endures that puzzled me was his transformation into a donkey. Why a donkey? Why did the author choose this animal over others? What traits or characteristics does the donkey possess that would parallel the wrongs of the boys?

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In Italy, where the original tale was written, the donkey symbolized stupidity or lack of use of the brain. Depicted in the tale as well as the most recent Disney adaptation, the place where children go to escape is intended to bring out idiotic behaviors or to “make jackasses out of the boys.” In the tale, the children literally turn into jackasses (another name for donkey) when they reach a certain level of stupidity or when enough time has passed so that it is unlikely the children will ever recommit to their studies.

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Donkeys also can depict laziness, which mirrors the boy’s actions in this chapter of the story. In this case, the donkey symbolizes the desire to not do anything productive but to spend time playing and avoiding responsibilities.

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In the 1940 Disney film, you can see the degree to which the “curse” transforms the boys due to level of idiocy, mischievous behaviors, or the level of inherent “jackassness” depicted by the individual. The boys who were not as ill mannered kept their voices for longer or transformed at a later date all together. Those who were good in their heart and core were unaffected, such as the cricket in the Disney film whom spent a long period of time in the play land but was not affected at all. This condition of the transformation implies that the transformation was only intended to bring out what is already underneath the surface. No jackass will be displayed if one is not already a jackass by personality (clever Collodi.)

This relates back to Collodi’s underlying impression of little boys in general: they are all jackasses at some level, but some are more than others. The transformation of boys to donkeys in Pinocchio is meant to externalize the boys’ inner character.

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Arthur Hughes and The Princess and the Goblin

Figure 1

Figure 1

 

As an Art History major, I am always drawn to the illustrations in books at least as much as the stories themselves. So, naturally, I was intrigued by the Arthur Hughes illustrations in my copy of The Princess and the Goblin, and I was curious to learn more about this artist.

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Figure 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur Hughes was born in London on January 27th, 1832. He began studying art in 1846 at Somerset House, and shortly after he entered the Royal Academy where he became friends with some of the leaders of a group known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is known for their use of intense colors and extremely precise attention to detail as well as their frequent portrayal of historical subjects, especially those drawn from medieval times and Arthurian legend. Hughes’s paintings, such as one of his best-known works April Love, clearly demonstrate the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, and he remains closely associated with them today, although he was not an official member of the Brotherhood.

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Figure 3

In addition to his paintings, Hughes is also known for his numerous book illustrations, such as those that appear in The Princess and the Goblin. In fact, he frequently collaborated with George MacDonald, contributing illustrations that appeared alongside MacDonald’s stories in the journal Good Words for the Young. These illustrations, like his paintings, demonstrate a Pre-Raphaelite influence that can be seen, for example, in the beautiful and idealized depiction of Irene’s great-grandmother (fig. 1) and in the cheerful springtime setting of the illustration of Irene on a hillside among flowers and lambs (fig. 2). Also notable in his illustrations is the tight focus that brings the viewer directly into the action of the scene and the moment of the story, as seen in figures 3 and 4.

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Figure 4

 

Hughes died in London on December 22nd, 1915, leaving behind numerous paintings and illustrations such as those that still enrich The Princess and the Goblin today.

Sources:
Arthur Hughes on The Victorian Web (see also link “Hughes as an Illustrator”)
Arthur Hughes on Wikipedia
Pre-Raphaelites on Wikipedia
Hilton, Tom. The Pre-Raphaelites. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 1970.
Illustrations: Macdonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. New York: Puffin Books, 1996.

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Brave and The Princess and the Goblin: Scottish Girls with A Determination to Defy Gender Norms

As I was reading George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the children’s story of 1872 and the Disney film that was released recently entitled Brave. Both young girls share a Scottish heritage and have an intense craving for adventure along with a strong sense of self. Their defying of gender roles seems very ahead of its time given that MacDonald was writing The Princess and the Goblin in the 1800s, where a woman’s abilities often went unrecognized. As Irene’s character becomes revealed, we realize that she is much more than a little Scottish girl who just so happens to be a princess, but rather she possesses a wisdom beyond her years and courage that would be limited to men in armor at the time that MacDonald was writing. In the Disney film, the female protagonist, Merida, also possesses great courage and endeavors to defy her parents’ decision to marry her off.  The peace of her father’s kingdom depends upon this marriage, but her happiness becomes her first priority so she runs away into the woods and turns her mother into a bear. A similar plot involving marriage is included in The Princess and the Goblin, in which the goblins plan for their prince Harelip to marry Irene in order to attempt “peace” between the two kingdoms against the princess’ will.  Though Irene is unaware, Curdie, the male protagonist (and her future husband) realizes their plan and saves the princess. The two girls are also very sheltered and the discovery of self often takes place in the wilderness and away from the home. These females serve as strong role models for girls and though they may not accomplish all their goals alone (we have to give Curdie some credit!), they surely do not sit idly much like the character archetype assigned to females in works of the time.

Here is a link to the trailer for the Disney film Brave:

Princess Irene and Curdie

Princess Irene and Curdie

Meridabrave

Merida of the Disney film Brave

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