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The Princess and the Goblin

The Shire

Oct 4 2012, 8:35pm

Post #1 of 5 (832 views)
The Princess and the Goblin Can't Post

Recently read The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald. Has anyone else found the descriptions of goblins in MacDonald to be very familiar? I know that Tolkien was familiar with MacDonald. Is this image of goblins older than MacDonald?

Grey Havens

Oct 4 2012, 11:57pm

Post #2 of 5 (393 views)
Have read the book [In reply to] Can't Post

books with reading of Princess and Curdie. Agree that the goblins are exceptionally familiar. A case of Great minds thinking alike... and/or building upon their own prior experiences with such creatures in literature I would expect.

What books preceded both MacDonald and Tolkien?

Fourth Age Adventures at the Inn of the Burping Troll http://burpingtroll.com


Oct 5 2012, 12:07am

Post #3 of 5 (398 views)
tolkien did talk about them? [In reply to] Can't Post

I believe that (and sorry I cannot dig out a source) Tolkien thought that the soft foot weakness of the goblins was quite silly.

Hobbit firster, Book firster.

Have you explored all of TORN's forums?

Grey Havens

Oct 5 2012, 12:07pm

Post #4 of 5 (379 views)
Head and feets [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien once noted...

'They [Orcs] are not based on direct experience of mine; but owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition (goblin is used as a translation in The Hobbit, where orc only occurs once, I think), especially as it appears in George MacDonald, except for the soft feet which I never believed in.' JRRT letters

Some description about goblins from George MacDonald (I added some breaks in the description)...


'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 other, concerning which there were different legendary theories, the King had laid what they thought too 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.

According to the legend however, instead of going to some other 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. It was only in the least frequented and most difficult parts of the mountains that they were said to gather even at night in the open air. Those who had caught sight of any of them said that they had greatly altered in the course of generations; and no wonder, seeing they lived away from the sun, in cold and wet and dark places. They were now, not ordinarily ugly, but either absolutely hideous, or ludicrously grotesque both in face and form.

There was no invention, they said, of the most lawless imagination expressed by pen or pencil, that could surpass the extravagance of their appearance. But I suspect those who said so had mistaken some of their animal companions for the goblins themselves -- of which more by and by. The goblins themselves were not so far removed from the human as such a description would imply. And as they grew misshapen in body they had grown in knowledge and cleverness, and now were able to do things no mortal could see the possibility of. But as they grew in cunning, they grew in mischief, and their great delight was in every way they could think of to annoy the people who lived in the open-air storey above them. They had enough of affection left for each other to preserve them from being absolutely cruel for cruelty's sake to those that came in their way; but still they so heartily cherished the ancestral grudge against those who occupied their former possessions, and especially against the descendants of the king who had caused their expulsion, that they sought every opportunity of tormenting them in ways that were as odd as their inventors; and although dwarfed and mishapen, they had strength equal to their cunning. In the process of time they had got a king and a government of their own, whose chief business, beyond their own simple affairs, was to devise trouble for their neighbours. It will now be pretty evident why the little princess had never seen the sky at night. They were much too afraid of the goblins to let her out of the house then, even in company with ever so many attendants; and they had good reason, as we shall see by and by.'

Why The Princess Has A Story The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald

The feet of these goblins appears to be their weak point (the toeless goblin feet). According to some goblin conversation...


'Well, to be honest, it is a goblin's weakness. Why they come so soft, I declare I haven't an idea'.

'Specially when your head's so hard, you know father'

'Yes my boy. The goblin's glory is his head. To think how the fellows up above there have to put on helmets and things when they go fighting! Ha! Ha!' The Goblins

[there seems to be an issue concerning fingers too] 'Indeed, he had not been able even to satisfy himself as to whether thay had no fingers, although that also was commonly said to be the fact.' The Goblins

Anyway, more on 'goblin-heads'...

'For, while each knight was busy defending himself as well as he could, by stabs in the thick bodies of the goblins, for he had soon found their heads all but invulnerable, the queen...' The Goblins In The King's House

Other possible tales about goblins aside, about 'goblin-heads' in any case: I note that the Great Goblin in The Hobbit was a tremendous goblin with a huge head, and in The Return of the King, Azog was described as a great Orc with a huge iron-clad head.

The Shire

Oct 8 2012, 11:33pm

Post #5 of 5 (678 views)
Excellent, Everyone! Thanks [In reply to] Can't Post

I appreciate that quote very much. I think it is interesting that Tolkien didn't say, "I didn't like the soft feet." Instead he says, "I never believed in [them]." Of course, I'm not sure exactly what he meant or who he was writing to, but it is almost as if he is attempting to discern the Truth about orcs.

I've been wading through the writings of MacDonald, and the soft feet are right at home in his writings. His stories are at times poetic, at times epic, and at times straight up goofy. He seems to me like a story teller who cannot keep a straight face, nor can he resist the extremes. Parts of his writing are quite enjoyable and compelling, other parts are a little sticky sweet for me. Personally, I loved that his goblins had soft feet. They also were frightened by rhymes and songs.

Is it really so much worse than Tolkien's orcs being adverse to sunlight?

Anyway, the similarity of some of the descriptive passages in the mines and of the goblins made me think that Tolkien had to have been influenced by them. Now I think I'll go back and revisit some of the "fairy" type scenes from both authors. It seems like Frodo's encounters with Galadriel and with Bombadil are similar to some of MacDonald's fairy encounters. MacDonald's fairies are usually trying to teach or improve the protagonist in some way. I think a comparison might be interesting.


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