Goblin Market

That’s a fantastic title isn’t it?
And I’m not saying it to pat myself on the back. The title actually belongs to Christina Rosetti’s poem, Goblin Market.

Written in 1862, Goblin Market is a tale recognized for its religious content. Many an academic journal and college paper will expand on Goblin Market‘s religious themes and messages, concluding them as insightful and significant for a simple, childlike poem.

Again, with the talking down to kids thing! (*Italian hand gestures*)

Yes, while Goblin Market is about two sisters who see a parade of goblins selling their wares –one of whom eats the goblins’ fruit and turns ill– there is more to it than that. Those elements appeal to children, but what appeals to a child should not be passed over. It was Philip Pullman, after all, who once said, “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.” Likewise, there is another side to this Goblin Market coin; a side that appeals to, and teaches, both children and adults, if adults allow themselves to be taught by such a thing as a fairytale.

I will begin by explaining what makes a fairytale a fairytale, applying those rules to Goblin Market:

First, comes a magical object. It is the magical object that acts as the inciting incident in many stories, Goblin Market is no exception. In Goblin Market, this magical object is the fruit Laura eats (there’s another sister, Lizzy, but their names are confusing, so to help, LaUra, ate the frUit. Simple, and lame, but you’ll thank me). The goblin’s fruit seems to mirror the myth of “fairy fruit.” In many legends, when a person partakes of fairy fruit, they are not able to leave the fairy world. This also occurs in Greek myths like Homer’s The Odyssey, when Odysseus partakes of the Lotos fruit. In this way, rather than Laura being unable to leave fairy world (since she ate the fruit in her world) she can no longer partake of any other food. The goblin fruit possesses Laura and leaves her connected to the magical world.

Second, are special first or last words. A common example is, “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after.” In Rossetti’s work, she has both special first and last words. Her first words begin with: “Morning and evening/Maids heard the goblins cry:/‘Come buy our orchard fruits,/Come buy, come buy…” (803). The first lines of the poem act as the prologue for the story, letting the reader know of the constant stimulation the goblins put on maidens. These first few lines introduce the problem, while the last few lines solve it:

For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.

The last lines are the epilogue to the story. Often in the last lines, there is a universal message. Akin to Shakespeare’s prologue for Romeo and Juliet, Rossetti overlays the plot in the beginning of the poem, then gives the reader the lesson learned in the last few words. This, I will more directly go over in a later.

Of course, there are good and bad characters, characters with riches, and characters who are impoverished, that also create the make-up of fairytales. Our good and impoverished characters are Laura and Lizzy, who have hardly a penny to spare. Laura and her sister’s pennilessness enhance the fruit’s forbidden nature. Not only is the fruit from goblins, it must also be bought with a fair sum. This gives the fruit double power when it comes to the need to taste it. When Laura gives in, selling her hair to the goblins, she later needs the fruit as a cure, enhancing the earlier mention of fairy fruit. Following, are the bad characters who are also the wealthy characters. The goblins cut off Laura’s hair and accept it as payment for what will kill Laura. The goblins know humans can’t bear to be away from the fruit, and yet they leave after feeding Laura anyway. When Lizzy finally finds the goblins, they ignore her money and instead, mug her, all the while shoving the fruit in her face. Obviously, the goblins aren’t “good.” On top of this, the goblins carry golden plates and allow Laura to pay with her hair. If money were scarce, goblins wouldn’t allow their fruit to be traded with hair. Let alone ignore Lizzy’s money when she brings it.

There are magical creatures –which the goblins fulfill– then there’s the pattern of either three or seven. To explain, in many fairytales, magical numbers are present. Usually these numbers appear in patterns of three or seven. Think of The Three Little Pigs, or Three Blind Mice. These patterns of three or seven enhance the magic of fairytales. It is said that witches often show in circles of three, and seven is a lucky number. By including these numbers, fairytales are given another layer and clue to be found. In Goblin Market, there are three girls that face the goblins: Lizzy, Laura, and Jeanie. Jeanie was the first girl to die because she ate the goblin fruit.
When the goblins are first described, six are named by facial feature, then six more as fruit-bearers. There is a scene where Lizzy has the fruit forced upon her, and it sounds as though there are scores of goblins, however, we never get an exact number. The ones that are mentioned in the beginning meet a count of twelve. Twelve is devisable by three.

Last, and most famous in the fairytale genre, is the universal truth. It’s normal for many stories to contain messages, however, fairytales convey messages to children that were originally meant to help them survive. The messages used to be, “Don’t go into the woods,” as times changed, the truths morphed to fit religion. In Goblin Market, religious undertones are picked up, yet they aren’t the subject of the story. The subject is the message, or, in this case, the universal truth. Most often, the universal truth can be found at the end of a text. The universal truth occurs when Laura tells her children one should avoid giving in to temptation; however, family is something you can always count on. Especially your sister.

It’s these details that come with fairytales that make them worth listening to. Rossetti is methodical when she uses her voice to convey a message. The religious undertones are subtle, yet better picked up on as religion is best known to carry a message. Beneath that, for those interested in the messages of fairies and goblins, she is convicting in her fairytale voice. Her main characters are children that learn a valuable lesson about family, siblings specifically. When Laura says her final words at the end of the poem, she’s speaking to her children about what she learned the day her sister braved the goblins to save her. In a sense, Laura is mirroring the parent reading Goblin Market. This is why I say her fairytale voice is convicting: she makes some serious parallels and statements. There was a message she wanted the reader to grasp, so much so, she put it in both religious and fairytale contexts.

Thanks for reading,

-M

P.s. In the comments section of Here Comes a ThoughtI included some meditation apps! Also, if you have an idea for a post, comment below!

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