Tag: fairy tale (page 2 of 2)

The Princess & the Goblin

One of my preferred methods for finding new authors involves reading the footnotes of my favorite books. This is spectacularly nerdy, I know, but sometimes there are gems tucked away in that tiny print, little citations that spur me on to explore a new author, an essay, a book. Perhaps a particular name sounds again and again through works I respect and I finally catch on that, hey, I should listen to that. I should find that book and read it.

Occasionally, an author makes this very easy for me and, like C. S. Lewis, refers to another author as his “master.” When dealing with someone as masterful as C. S. Lewis, that’s a statement that commands attention. Of George MacDonald, Lewis has this to say:

I have never concealed the fact that I regarded MacDonald as my master, indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.

Those words sent me on a mission to find all the MacDonald I could and, having read most of his works for children, I can say that The Princess and the Goblin rises to the top of his collected works like the very best cream. MacDonald’s skill lies in his images, and some of his best images lie in this story, so distinct and perfectly apt that you’ve probably heard them cited in other works. The great-grandmother’s fire of roses or Irene’s guiding thread are enchanting enough within the context of the story, but they stick with you and give you much to ponder long after the book is closed.

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

The Princess and the Goblin concerns certain events surrounding a little girl named Irene,  a princess, who lives in a house—part farmhouse, part palace—that is built into the side of a mountain. Now, you already know how I feel about princesses. Irene is absolutely one of those princesses of merit who keeps her promises, serves others and has better things to do than woo princes (a relief, as she’s only eight).

But if there are little boys in your life who cringe at the word “princess,” never fear: the story has two principle characters. The other is a boy named Curdie, who is no vapid Prince Charming, but a brave and chivalrous miner’s son whose own series of adventures overlaps those of the Princess Irene. There are also goblins, men-at-arms and the princess’s marvelous king-papa.

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

But as I said, MacDonald’s skill lies beyond the written story itself. In his introduction to MacDonald’s Phantastes (which is also worth reading), Lewis struggles to classify the sort of genius MacDonald exhibits, saying finally:

It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties until all questions are reopened and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives.

The Princess and the Goblin does exactly that.

The Princess and the Goblin
George MacDonald (1872)

The Book of Virtues

Based on the title alone, one might assume that The Book of Virtues is a dusty, half-forgotten classic chock full of words like “assuage.” But one would be sorely mistaken.

The Book of Virtues was published in 1993, when William Bennett, a former Secretary of Education, noticed that many children were growing up with a moral deficiency: concepts like loyalty were difficult for these children to identify, let alone put into practice, because they didn’t see them lived out in the lives of parents and peers. Many had lost contact with the wealth of literature that once trained children to value things like compassion, honesty and perseverance.

To meet this need, Bennett looked back  at our existing literature and history:

Every American child ought to know at least some of the stories and poems in this book. Every American parent and teacher should be familiar with some of them, too. I know that some of these stories will strike some contemporary sensibilities as too simple, too corny, too old-fashioned. But they will not seem so to the child…And I believe that if adults take this book and read it in a quiet place, alone, away from distorting standards, they will find themselves enjoying some of this old, simple ‘corny’ stuff.

And so, Mr. Bennett set out to compile some of the classic moral stories into a format meant for browsing. Within longer chapters with titles like “Responsibility,” “Friendship” or “Courage,” he ordered the content from nursery rhymes to more challenging pieces by Aristotle, say, or Cicero. Everything else fits neatly in between, so there’s something in every chapter for every age.

The Book of Virtues | Little Book, Big Story

I passed over a few selections–gruesome fairy tales, or old poems in which a child misbehaves/is selfish/slams the door and promptly dies–but most of them are wonderful: stories by Tolstoy and Oscar Wilde that brought me to tears; fairy tales told so beautifully that they bear little resemblance (sadly) to the simplified versions told today; poems with meat on their bones and blood in their veins.

Bennett includes beautifully written biographies on figures like Harriet Tubman, the Wright Brothers and Clara Barton. A letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter (quote: “Don’t worry about flies. Don’t worry about insects in general . . . Don’t worry about boys.”) Re-tellings of passages of the Bible, as well as excerpts from The Odyssey, Roman history, Greek myth and Shakespeare.

One can’t help but feel well read as one reads on.

Though Bennett states that this book is not meant to be read cover to cover, I couldn’t restrain myself: I took page markers along with me and marked my favorites as I read, and now I can pull out a poem to illustrate a point, or a story to fit a theme on any given day. (These classic stories make great fodder for storytelling, too, when book isn’t handy.)

We also have a children’s edition of The Book of Virtues, complete with color illustrations, but it just doesn’t get better than the simply illustrated original: this is a book that will grow with our family for years to come, and I look forward to leaving it out for my children to find and explore on their own.

The Book of Virtues
William J. Bennett (1996)