There lived here then, away at the North, a beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress.

The sentence is cited from The Wizard of Oz, page 37.

What do the words in bold mean? Thank you!

5 Answers 5


The word there has no meaning. It is the same word we see in sentences like:

  • There is a fly in my soup.

In the sentence from the Wizard of Oz, the writer has used it so that the noun phrase "a beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress" appears at the end of the sentence instead of the beginning. This makes the sentence more interesting. This is called a presentational construction. The sentence means:

  • A beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress, lived here then.

The word then means at that time. The word here means in this place.

  • 3
    If here means in this place, why did he say away at the North ? Nov 9, 2016 at 11:05
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    @JasmineKuo I think 'here' is 'Oz' rather than 'that part of Oz away to the north'. Nov 9, 2016 at 11:18
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    @Araucaria Thank you. Your explanation is clear and precise! Nov 9, 2016 at 11:20
  • 1
    I appreciate it. Nov 9, 2016 at 11:21
  • 4
    @DavidRicherby I suggested that 'here' refers to 'Oz', the whole of Oz. So "here, away to the north" becomes "Oz, away to the north" or roughly "Oz, not in the bit of Oz you're thinking of but some other part of Oz which is to the north" Nov 9, 2016 at 12:41

To add to @Araucaria's answer, it's important to note that this is a rather old-fashioned sentence construction and would not be used in spoken English, even when L Frank Baum wrote his books. Using old-fashioned grammar makes it sound like an older fairytale though.

These days, the construction "there is a fly in my soup" is the normal way to describe something's presence, but any verb beyond "is/are/were/will be" is not normally used. So we would say "there was a fly, swimming in my soup" (where "swimming in my soup" is a further description of the fly's presence), but not "there swam a fly in my soup".

When dealing with archaic grammar to help someone who doesn't have English as a first language, I think it's important to be clear about what a native English speaker today can read and understand, and what a native English speaker would actually say themselves.

  • 4
    I think it would be more accurate to call this literary rather than archaic. You'll see literally millions of examples with verbs like appear, arise, transpire, develop, form, appear, occur in modern books, newspapers and reports, and, of course, there are also other verbs that can take BE as a complement where it is often used., for example seem, prove and so forth. So, yes, it's definitely a written English thing, but I wouldn't agree that it's archaic, as such. Nov 9, 2016 at 15:23
  • @Araucaria Hmm. It's only found in literature that's well over a hundred years old, or to more recent literature emulating that style. I'd be tempted to call Victorian or pre-Victorian writing styles "archaic", but I guess it's a judgement call. Perhaps we can compromise on "outdated" or "old-fashioned"?
    – Graham
    Nov 9, 2016 at 17:27
  • How do you come to the conclusion that it is only found in literature that's a hundred years old? There seems to be an avalanche of evidence that this assertion is incorrect. For example, the fact that I just did exactly that and you probably didn't notice or find it in any way archaic. You are right that it's literary as opposed to normal spoken English though ... :-) Nov 9, 2016 at 22:28
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    I agree with @Araucaria It is often used in literarure. Not just literary works a hundred years ago but many modern works as well. I also thank you for clearing that out to help us, non-native speak, learning more precisely. So, There swam a fly in my soup can only be used in writing, did I mistake your meaning? This sure is the sentence I might say if you didn't point that out.😂 Nov 10, 2016 at 1:50
  • It sounds pretty rightful... I must have seen it somewhere. Nov 10, 2016 at 1:56

The word "there" sometimes appears just to introduce a concept, rather than specifying a particular location, as in:

  • Limerick rhymes: "There once was a girl from Nantucket..."
  • Expressions of ultimate approval: "There will never be another ... like him."
  • Presence or absence: "There are no more carrots."
  • Suggestion: "There's no better time to...(e.g. buy a house)"
  • General (non-specific) location: "There you are!" "There they go!" (In both of these examples, the actual location is unimportant; the first means "At last I've found you,", and the second means "You can see them now", and their location is even continuously changing and their actual destination irrelevant and usually completely unknown).

Most authors would avoid including both "here" and "there" in the same phrase, due to the obvious potential for ambiguity and confusion.

  • Thank you for the suggestion and explanation. I'm reading both novels and newspapers. Nov 10, 2016 at 2:08
  • Nice post. Why the comments about Lewis Carroll though? Nov 10, 2016 at 8:07
  • I like the comments about L.C. 😂 That can help me learn more about English and avoid unnecessarily time-consuming books that is not suitable for me. Nov 10, 2016 at 8:21
  • That are not suitable for me. Nov 10, 2016 at 8:26
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    @Araucaria I get your point now. 😆 Nov 10, 2016 at 10:30

There lived here then, away at the North, a beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress.

This is an old-fashioned way of writing, trying (successfully) to portray the feeling of old fairy tales.

So what does it mean?

"then" is there to convey that the fact reported here follows from something stated previously. There will have been an introductory phrase. We could replace it loosely by "so". "So there lived here..."

"there lived" is much the same construction as "there was". We could replace it by "somebody lived" -

That gives us the exact meaning of the phrase: "So a beautiful princess lived here, away at the North, and she was also a powerful sorceress."

But that's boring. The Brothers Grimm version has more style (even if it's hard to read).


The word 'then' in the emboldened phrase refers to some information that the reader or character in the story is already aware of; so saying 'then' refers to that information to continues the story.

That is my understanding of it. I must also say, sentence constructions such as this are fairly archaic.


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