When you ask Catholics about their favorite fantasy writers two names immediately jump to their minds, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. With the epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings and the children's series The Chronicles of Narnia, these two authors would cement their place in history, even if they had never written another word. Most people know that Tolkien and Lewis were colleagues and friends, but few people know of one man who inspired them and their writings. His name was George MacDonald. MacDonald was a Scottish author/poet as well as a Christian minister. In addition to inspiring Tolkien and Lewis, he also inspired Inkling members W.H. Auden and Charles Williams. Therefore, MacDonald was dubbed the grandfather of the Inklings. Most people know of MacDonald through his works Phantastes or Lilith. I know of him through The Princess and the Goblin and the lesser known sequel The Princess and Curdie. Today, I will be reviewing the audiobook version of both these books.
The Princess and the Goblin involves three main characters, Princess Irene, her great-great grandmother, and a young boy named Curdie. One day while Irene is bored and exploring the castle, she finds her great-great grandmother, but nobody believes her when she tells them that she found her. The following day, Irene and her nursemaid are out for a walk, but stay out til dark when goblins come out. Enter the hero, Curdie. Curdie manages to save the two from the goblins and tells them that goblins hate music, so he sings to keep them at bay. Curdie is a very honorable and noble hero. He refuses a kiss from Irene, but plans to claim one later. He is also an unlikely hero. He is a poor boy who works in the mines.
One day while staying late to earn more money, Curdie discovers another way to harm goblins and also discovers the goblins' plan to get even with the humans who chased them underground. Curdie is ultimately captured, but he ends up being saved by Irene's great-great grandmother. He is able to foil the plot of the goblins and as his reward he merely asks for a new coat for his mother (not riches or power) for that is the reason he was working so hard in the mines in the first place. A truly remarkable story of bravery and honor.
The Princess and Curdie is a bit more grown up as it takes place two years after the first story. Curdie seems to doubt the magic that happened previously and like others, he also doubts the existence of Irene's great-great grandmother. One day Curdie callously wounds a pigeon, and he remembers what Irene told him about her great-great grandmother and pigeons. Remorse sets in, and this leads Curdie to the great-great grandmother who blesses Curdie with the power to tell good men from evil men. Unfortunately, Curdie is still a doubter and has to get over his doubts before he can harness his powers.
The story definitely feels a bit like a coming of age book mixed with a hero's quest. We see more depth in Curdie in this book than in the first. We also see more growth in Curdie the character and Curdie the man. Curdie once again proves the hero, but in addition to overcoming the enemy (who is trying to kill Irene's father, the King), he must also overcome himself and his own weaknesses.
The audiobooks were very enjoyable. Both were approximately six hours and are the perfect length for a vacation car trip. Ian Whitcomb is an excellent narrator. His voice had an excellent timbre and pace, and he had the right level of emotion and range that it felt like MacDonald himself was reading it to you. I also really appreciate the fact that he was narrator for both books. It is always an annoyance of mine when you get into a story with one narrator and then a different narrator provides different voices to familiar characters. The audio downloads are also very affordable from Tantor Media at $6.99 each. That's $13.98 for two audiobooks, and is cheaper than one month of Audible, which is $14.95 for one book. You also get an ebook with each audiobook, and the fact that is MP3 format means you can listen to it anywhere, and not just when you're connected to the cloud. I am very impressed with Tantor Media's library, especially their selection of classic titles, and I plan to use them again in the future.
These audiobooks were provided to me for free by Tantor Media in exchange for an honest review.