Monday, March 1, 2010

Tolkien's Inspiration

The Princess and The Goblin, by George MacDonald

Back in 1965, when I was in third grade, Miss Swedinski used to read to the class every afternoon. She read us Charlotte’s Web and other classics, but my favorite was a story about a princess and a mountainside filled with terrible goblins that competed with the villagers for control of the mines. This story had it all: adventure, bravery, terror, all the Jungian archetype stuff—it hit every hot button in my eight-year-old brain with such a powerful effect that for years I carried with me the vague excitement of being lost in mine tunnels pursued by goblins (I had not yet read Tolkien).

By the time I’d reached adulthood I’d forgotten the book’s title and I assumed it was gone forever, lost in the tunnels of childhood. That was before my life took another labyrinthine turn and I found myself working in a bookstore. Recently a customer came in looking for “The Princess and the Goblin,” by George MacDonald. It was her favorite book as a child and asked could we order her a copy? Something inside me went tingly; I pulled up the book on our database and as we read its description we both got excited--- we had found our book. I ordered two copies; one for her and one for the store. For myself, I ordered the George MacDonald Treasury, edited by Glenn Kahley, a collection of eight of his most famous stories, including The Princess and The Goblin.

That night I began reading, and all the old magic returned. MacDonald wrote these stories in the 1880’s and was the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien, C.L. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Lewis Carroll and Madeleine L’Engle. MacDonald’s writing is so good and his humor so clever that he appeals equally to adults as to children (as does Tolkien and the other well-loved authors he inspired).

The only complaint I have about my comprehensive Treasury edition is that it’s a bit heavy (although softbound) to read in bed comfortably, and the type is a bit small. I like the looks of the slimmer softbound volumes by Puffin Classics, which have lovely illustrated covers.

If you like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, read George MacDonald. And read him to your children.


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