Part One: Similarities
"Speaking of the history of stories and especially of fairy-stories we may say that the Pot of Soup, the Cauldron of Story, has always been boiling, and to it have continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty. "
-J.R.R Tolkien in On Fairy Stories
Tolkien's mythology of Middle Earth is undeniably and fascinatingly unique. But Tolkien himself might be the first to tell you that his stories could not have been brewed without first sipping from what he called the Cauldron of Story. This now relatively famous analogy describes timeless story elements as having "been put into the Cauldron, where so many potent things lie simmering agelong on the fire" (OFS,10). The elements that make a good fairy story simmer together and when each Cook dips his ladle into the pot, more and more ingredients are added.
One 'Cook' Tolkien openly admired around the time The Hobbit was written and published was George MacDonald, author of, among many other great works, The Princess and the Goblin. In On Fairy Stories Tolkien observes that MacDonald achieves "stories of power and beauty when he succeeded...and even when he partly failed" (OFS, 9). A high accolade from such masterful storyteller, and not the only one either. There are several more moments throughout Tolkien's early career where he applauds MacDonald not only as a great fairy tale writer but as a source of inspiration. In a 1954 letter Tolkien writes that his goblins "owe, I suppose, a good deal to the goblin tradition...especially how it appears in George MacDonald" and that they" do to some extent resemble" MacDonald's (Annotated Hobbit, 108). And earlier in a 1938 letter he states that while his sources do not include victorian fairy tales, "George MacDonald is the chief exception" (History of The Hobbit, 140).
The Princess and the Goblin is a great book and its easy to see what Tolkien admired in it. On the surface it is a story about (you guessed it) what happens when a young princess leaves the castle and unexpectedly explores the underground world of the Goblins. But of course, it's much more than that. It's a novel that explores and challenges what we think of magic, faith, belief, and love. And, like so many great works of literature, it is an exploration of what makes us human. The goblin race in The Princess and the Goblin has a big role in that exploration. In the opening chapter they are described as "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" (PatG, 2). Outraged at the treatment they were getting from the King (high taxes and strict laws, some say) they turned their backs to the sun and drove themselves underground, where they became physically and mentally transformed. Throughout the novel the goblins are cunning, mischievous, and strong. They seek "every opportunity of tormenting" (PatG, 5) the above humans and even come close to overtaking the entire castle.
|Artist: Alan Lee|
For both George MacDonald and J.R.R. Tolkien it seems the ultimate evil and the most pitiable sort of creature is the corrupted; the creature that is turned away from his fellow peers, not by their influence, but by his own twisted, corrupted desires.
|Artist: John Howe|
Part 2 will explore some of the major differences between the goblin race in The Princess and the Goblin and The Hobbit. In the meantime further ideas and questions are always welcome!
MacDonald, George. The Princess and the Goblin. London: Puffin Books, 2011. Print.
Olsen, Corey. Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2012. Print.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Annotated Hobbit: The hobbit, or, There and back again. An. Douglas Anderson.Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2002. Print.
Tolkein, J.R.R. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. The Monsters and the Critics. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1983. Print.
Rateliff, John. The History of The Hobbit. Part One: Mr. Baggins. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2007. Print.