Top Ten: Northanger Abbey

Title: Northanger Abbey

Author: Jane Austen

Nutshell: Catherine Morland does not have any of the hallmarks of a heroine. She is not an orphan, nor a ward, nor even a dead parent. She does not have incomparable beauty or strength of character to suffer trials that would break a person’s spirit. She is barely above plain in looks and has an uncomplicated, straighforward character. Indeed, nobody would suspect her of being the leading lady in a novel. Yet she is one.

A childless couple from her neighborhood are staying in Bath for a time and invite her to go with them. Bath is nothing like her plain home. The people are unlike anything she has ever met, and as she makes friends, it begins to be obvious (but not to her) that the people who profess their admiration for her are trying to use her. Her family friend, in charge of her care, is happy to let her get into whatever trouble she likes. Will Catherine be taken advantage of because of her virtues, or will she escape with her reputation intact?

Read-alikes: If you wanted, you could try Anthony Trollope, or Charles Dickens, or the Brontë sisters. Frankly, though, these are from a later era of literature, and have a very different tone. You could get ahold of Ann Radcliffe, but only if you want to roll your eyes a great deal. To find that dry humour and sense of a bygone era, you’ll have to find Georgette Heyer. For similar style applied to a very different genre, try The Princess Bride. For a modern book with a somewhat similar theme, the Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.

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Top Ten: The Princess and the Goblin

Title: The Princess and the Goblin

Author: George MacDonald

Nutshell: Irene is a princess in a long-ago kingdom. Her doting father keeps her in a fine house in the mountains, while she is too young to be at court. She has every good thing and is well cared for.

And there is a magical room at the top of her staircase.

Inside the room is her many-times-great-grandmother, who spins spiderweb and sees pictures in the firelight and keeps pigeons. She is Wise, in the tradition of the old, great Wise women, tending to the patch of world around her with gentle urging here, a warning word there. She gives Irene a gift: a magical ring that always leads her home.

Also in the mountains around the princess’s house is a mine, and so there are miners. Curdie is one young miner with a quick mind. And beyond the mines, and below them, in the depths of the mountain, there are goblins, cowardly but wicked. They are hatching vicious plots in their dark caverns. Before the end of it, Curdie and Irene will both need rescuing.

Read-alikes: I’m having trouble with this. George MacDonald stories are not like other stories. They are very like fairytales in construction, but there is an element of reality to them that most fairytales lack. The Narnia books are like them, of course. I also have an old book called Ernest and the Golden Thread, which may or may not be available, but is rather like.Read More »