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The Princess and the Goblin

by George MacDonald

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Student Question

Who is great-great-grandmother Irene in the story, and what might her true intentions be?

Everyone is focussed more on what great-great-grandmother Irene is spinning. But right now I'm looking at this situation from a different perspective.

Has anyone actually wondered about great-great-grandmother Irene? We know she's said some weird things. For example she told princess Irene she was her great-great-grandmother. She's told princess Irene that she's over 100 years old, and she's a princess too? That she's been there ever since little Irene was born, and was there to take care of her?

She has the silver hair of an old worman, but the wrinkless skin of a young woman. She spends all day spinning whatever it is that she is spinning, and her posture is not slumped, but straight.

How nice she is to little princess Irene. But does anyone get the feeling there's something else behind this old woman? I don't think she's really little princess Irene's great-great-grandmother, else she wouldn't be alive, right?

When the storyteller talks about old lady Irene with little princess Irene, it makes me feel as if there's something sly in old lady Irene's words that we're meant to figure out. My senses scream that perhaps she's not to be trusted, even if she didn't harm little Irene. There's something sneaky and not right about her.

Expert Answers

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Irene's grandmother plays the role of the advisor in this story.  It is a common archetype in a myth.  She has elements of magic and a mysterious past, and she has special powers.  She advises Irene and then lets her go.

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