Monday, November 1, 2010

Goblin Market

Some friends of mine gave me a copy of this lovely edition of Cristina Rossetti's atmospheric Victorian Poem, "The Goblin Market" a few years ago, and I adored it immediately.  I came across it this month and thought it might be a fun R.I.P. Halloween-time read-aloud for my kids, particularly as the rich text is accompanied by gorgeous reproductions of Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti's brother.  They weren't originally designed to illustrate the poem, but somehow they fit the tone and style of the tale perfectly.

"The Goblin Market" tells the story of two sisters who, as the story opens, are outside when they hear the goblins passing by, calling out to everyone to come and buy their fruit:

Our grapes fresh from the vine, 
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages, 
Damsons and bilberries, 
Taste them and try: 
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy."

The sisters hide in the bushes as the goblin men go by.  They know they shouldn't look at them, much less eat the fruit.  A young woman in their village succumbed to the temptation, and then she wasted away, longing for more of the otherworldly food.  Lizzie chides her sister, Laura, for peeking at the goblin men, and when she finds herself tempted to look, too, she puts her fingers in her ears, squeezes her eyes shut, and runs.  But not Laura.  Overcome by curiosity, she can't help but take a look at the strange men:

One had a cat's face,
One had a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail, 
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry scurry.

When the men stop to look at her, Laura spies the delicious, perfect fruit.  But she has no money, she tells them, as they press her to "Come buy! Come buy!"  They will give her some, though, for just a single lock of her golden hair...

And so begins this tale of sisters, temptation, love and redemption, told in descriptive, charming, atmospheric verse.  At first I thought my children (9 and 11 years old) might find it too much for them, with its unfamiliar vocabulary and old-fashioned language.  But they quickly got pulled into the timeless story, and wouldn't let me stop reading until we came to the end.  It was the perfect choice for a cozy, Halloween-time read, and I'm so pleased my daughters enjoyed it as much as I did.  Here is a link to a free audio version, and here is a link to the text of the poem.  Enjoy!

This is the original cover that Dante Gabriel Rossetti did for Christina's poetry collection, although it was not included in my copy of the book, which seems rather strange.

Goblin Market: A Tale of Two Sisters by Christina Rossetti; illustrated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Chronicle Books, 1997; originally published in 1862)

Source: My own bookshelves


  1. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear this is one of my favourite poems :P This edition sounds absolutely gorgeous - I must keep an eye out for it!

  2. Wow that edition looks GORGEOUS!!! I have this on my shelves to read...I'm dying to read it!

  3. Sounds fabulous. This one's going on my Christmas list!

  4. Nymeth - You are right - it doesn't surprise me a single bit that you love this one! I hope you can find this edition - it's lovely.

    Chris - Oh, I'll be looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this!

    Mariel - I think you'll definitely enjoy this one.

  5. I both like and am totally creeped out by this poem. :p They quote it in the second-scariest episode of Doctor Who ever, which gives it an extra layer of scariness in my head.

    Fun fact: Dante Gabriel Rossetti was obsessed with wombats. He kept pet wombats and let them sit on the table while he was eating.

  6. Jenny - I had no idea about the wombat thing, but I have to say I was totally puzzled that she would include wombat as an animal in her descriptions of the goblins. I wondered if she'd ever actually seen one, but now I know! I love wombats (although I'm not sure I'd want one on the table while I ate). Have you read Diary of a Wombat? Now there's a new one that's just as cute: Diary of a Baby Wombat.


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