George MacDonald 1824-1905
Scottish novelist, short story writer, poet, homilist, essayist, critic, and translator.
For further information on MacDonald's life and works, see TCLC, Volume 9.
MacDonald was a key figure in shaping the fantastic and mythopoeic literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such novels and fantasy stories as Phantastes (1858), Lilith (1895), The Princess and the Goblin (1872), At the Back of the North Wind (1871), and The Golden Key (1867) are considered classics of fantasy literature. These works have influenced C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, T. S. Eliot, J. R. R. Tolkien, and other writers who sought divine truth, adventure, and escape from mortal limitations. During his long, prolific career, MacDonald also wrote in several other genres, achieving particular success with his novels of British country life. These, like his work in all genres but fantasy, are nearly forgotten today.
MacDonald was raised and educated in rural Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and attended the University of Aberdeen. There he discovered and delighted in the literature of E. T. A. Hoffman, Novalis, and other German Romantics. MacDonald worked for two years in England as a Congregationalist minister, resigning his pulpit in 1853 because of protests against his universalism and pantheistic view of nature—he believed that the spirit of God is manifest in all beings and things and preached that, after death, all souls will be united in fellowship with God. After his resignation, MacDonald resolved to spread his beliefs through writing. He spent several impoverished years dependent upon the patronage of Lady Byron—the widow of the poet Lord Byron—before he enjoyed commercial success. This came in 1863 with MacDonald's first realistic novel, David Elginbrod, written in Scottish dialect. Thereafter, MacDonald's books found a ready audience, although he was still occasionally denounced in the press for his unorthodox Christianity. MacDonald was the friend of nearly all of Great Britain's noted nineteenth-century literary figures, including Lewis Carroll, Lord Tennyson, and John Ruskin, whose troubled affair with young Rose La Touche MacDonald was fictionalized in Wilfrid Cumbermede (1872). Throughout his career, MacDonald was a beloved and much-sought-after public speaker, attracting enthusiastic crowds to his readings throughout Britain and the United States. Because of poor health—he suffered from asthma and bronchitis—MacDonald spent his last years in near silence, waiting for death, which came in 1905.
“Death is the theme that most inspired George MacDonald,” wrote Tolkien. C. S. Lewis defined this recurring theme as “good death,” or release from mundane reality and physical or spiritual limitations into a dimension of beauty, fulfillment, and unending wonder. Death and evil are seen as tools used by God to chasten and discipline humanity into renewing the search for the divine. The theme of the spiritual quest runs through much of MacDonald's fiction, reflecting the author's deep admiration for John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. MacDonald's treatment of the search takes its best-known form in his fantasy literature. Here, his protagonists are led through unexpected doorways into a supernatural realm inhabited by talking animals, mythical sylvan creatures, biblical characters, and spiritual beings. MacDonald's works share affinities with those of other nineteenth-century fantasists, including Carroll, Hoffmann, and Novalis, who is acknowledged as MacDonald's strongest influence. One of Novalis's aphorisms is often cited as MacDonald's credo: “Our life is no dream, but it should and perhaps will become one.” During his career, MacDonald published several volumes of poetry, each marked by a Wordsworthian religious spirit. MacDonald worked in this genre throughout his professional life, often sprinkling verse into his prose works. At the Back of the North Wind contains his best-known lyric: the often-anthologized “baby poem,” which begins “Where did you come from, baby dear?” This poem, which echoes Wordsworth's “Immortality Ode,” is emblematic of the pervasive theme of At the Back of the North Wind—that in the everyday world reality is seen “through a mirror, dimly,” but that worldly problems find their justification in another dimension. In this and all of MacDonald's other fantasy works, commonplace objects and beings are at once recognizable as such, while also conveying intimations of timelessness and a corresponding existence in the supernatural realm. MacDonald's stories and fairy tales for children, including The Princess and the Goblin, “The Golden Key,” and “The Light Princess,” are informed by unobtrusive symbolism and delicate fancy. Phantastes and Lilith, which stand respectively at the beginning and end of MacDonald's career, are deeper explorations of the quest theme, and they emphasize the biblical paradox that states, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” This theme is also present, to varying degrees, in MacDonald's realistic character novels set in Scotland and England, of which Alec Forbes of Howglen (1865) is usually considered the best. The dialectical Scottish novels, including David Elginbrod, Alec Forbes of Howglen, and Robert Falconer (1868) exhibit a strong skill in characterization and portray the quiet dignity of honest rural labor. The moralistic English novels, such as Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood (1867) and Wilfrid Cumbermede often draw upon elements of the author's personal experience.
In his seminal essay that serves as a preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology (1946), C. S. Lewis acknowledged the weaknesses of MacDonald's fiction. These include the Victorian tendency toward meandering wordiness, endowing his child characters with baby talk, and the inability to draw villains as interesting and believable as his heroes. Other critics believe MacDonald's writing is spoiled by a bent towards moralizing, while his admirers see his sheer imagination and his ability to create and sustain a sense of awe to be a redeeming strength. Regardless, MacDonald's role as an influence, rather than an artist in his own right, is emphasized by many contemporary critics. His themes of transdimensional travel and joyous spiritual rebirth are found throughout Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Ransom Trilogy, and evidence suggests that Phantastes and the story “Cross Purposes” may have inspired Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Madeleine L'Engle wrote, “Surely George MacDonald is the grandfather of us all—all of us who struggle to come to terms with truth through imagination.”
Within and Without (poetry) 1855
Poems (poetry) 1857
Phantastes (novel) 1858
David Elginbrod 3 vols. (novel) 1863
Adela Cathcart 3 vols. (novel) 1864
A Hidden Life and Other Poems (poetry) 1864
The Portent: A Story of the Inner Vision of the Highlanders, Commonly Called the Second Sight (short story) 1864
Alec Forbes of Howglen 3 vols. (novel) 1865
Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood 3 vols. (novel) 1867
Dealings with the Fairies (short stories) 1867
Unspoken Sermons (sermons) 1867
Robert Falconer 3 vols. (novel) 1868
The Seaboard Parish 3 vols. (novel) 1868
At the Back of the North Wind (short story) 1871
The Princess and the Goblin (novel) 1872
Wilfrid Cumbermede 3 vols. (novel) 1872
England's Antiphon (criticism) 1874
Malcolm 3 vols. (novel) 1875
The Wise Woman (novel) 1875; also published as The Lost Princess, 1895
Thomas Wingfold, Curate 3 vols. (novel) 1876
The Gifts of the Christ Child and Other Tales (short stories) 1882
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SOURCE: “Lilith,” in The Golden Key: A Study of the Fiction of George MacDonald, Yale University Press, 1961, pp. 326-71.
[In the following essay, Wolff discusses the events in MacDonald's life that led up to his writing of Lilith.]
“This River has been a Terror to many, yea the thoughts of it also have often frighted me.”
—The Pilgrim's Progress
For the MacDonalds, the eighties and nineties were decades of trial. They named their house in Bordighera “Casa Coraggio”: MacDonald had long before discovered that “Corage, God Mend Al,” was an anagram of “George MacDonald,” and inscribed it on his book-plate, with Blake's picture of the aged “man through death's door going,” who enters the tomb in weariness, and emerges at the top young and vigorous, like Mossy after the bath of the Old Man of the Sea, leaving “old Death behind.”1 The huge household at Bordighera grew by the adoption of two little girls and their mother, who had tuberculosis. The summer migration to England for the playing of Pilgrim's Progress took place each year until 1887. The children, growing up, participated to an astonishing degree in all the family enterprises, the sisters sacrificing their own interests to the care and education of the adopted waifs, the brothers gradually leaving...
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SOURCE: “The Imaginative Fiction,” in George MacDonald, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1972, pp. 75-105.
[In the following essay, Reis examines the symbolism and prose style that distinguish MacDonald's fantasy fiction from his conventional writings.]
I OF ANY LENGTH, FOR ANY AGE
Compared with his conventional novels, MacDonald's “imaginative fictions” are few, but that deplorable circumstance has its compensating advantages. It means, for instance, that I shall be able to treat these few stories with the fuller attention which they deserve because of their superior merit as literature by presenting a more or less detailed summary of each important work in the corpus of MacDonald's imaginative fiction.
To postulate, moreover, a hypothetical composite or “typical” specimen of MacDonald's fantasies is impossible. Each story has its own peculiarity, its uniqueness, and mere collective treatment would certainly do violence to that singularity. Furthermore, the imaginative corpus naturally separates itself into two general subcategories, since some stories are directed toward children and others toward adults. I have not, on the other hand, grouped them together as “imaginative” merely out of dialectical tidiness, for the same methods and even the same symbols are common to both. The two subcategories differ in tone and subtlety but not essentially in...
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SOURCE: “‘I Wis We War A' Deid!’: Lilith,” in The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald, Christian University Press, 1982, pp. 85-111.
[In the following essay, Hein examines MacDonald's theological beliefs as they are expressed in Lilith.]
“There is no joy belonging to human nature, as God made it, that shall not be enhanced a hundredfold to the man who gives up himself—though, in so doing, he may seem to be yielding the very essence of life.”
—From the sermon “Self Denial,” Unspoken Sermons II
Almost thirty-five years after writing Phantastes, MacDonald in 1890 began Lilith, a fantasy for adults that he intended to be the final imaginative embodiment of his deepest beliefs. Greville records that “he was possessed by a feeling—he would hardly let me call it a conviction, I think—that it was a mandate direct from God.” When Louisa MacDonald read the manuscript and found the imagery obscure, her distress gave her husband “real heartache, so that he began to question his ability to utter his last urgent message” (GMDW, p. 548). MacDonald next consulted Greville. With his verdict that Lilith was the “Revelation of St. George [MacDonald],” MacDonald overcame his doubts, and the book appeared in final form in 1895.1
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SOURCE: “Showing the Unshowable,” in The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald, Christian University Press, 1982, pp. 148-55.
[In the following essay, Hein summarizes MacDonald's literary and religious beliefs as they appear in his fiction and nonfiction.]
“Law is the soil in which alone beauty will grow; beauty is the only stuff in which Truth can be clothed; and you may, if you will, call Imagination the tailor that cuts her garments to fit her. …”
—Preface to the 1893 American edition of The Light Princess and Other Fairy Tales
Today, many who think about the relation of Christianity to art discern an incompatibility between them. They see art, by its very nature, as having to be free and unconstrained by dogma, and Christianity as arbitrary and confining. Such people would be quick to see MacDonald as a man torn between two worlds. Having failed as a minister in the established church, he turned to his second love, imaginative writing, and attempted to reconcile it to his purpose, using it as a substitute for the pulpit. His true artistic talent, struggling for breath under a great blanket of dogma, is all but stifled.
But it must be observed that any man's art bears deepest relation to his view of the meaning of life, whether he intends it that way or not. No artist's work...
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SOURCE: “Circularity in Fantasy: George MacDonald,” in The Impulse of Fantasy Literature, Kent State University Press, 1983, pp. 70-92.
[In the following essay, Manlove examines MacDonald's use of the typical pattern of fantasy literature wherein the hero returns to his home after an adventure.]
Unlike the traditional fairy tale, in which the hero often betters himself in the world and may move place, most modern fantasy involves the notion of a return to a starting point so that one ends where one began. This motif of circularity is an image of the preservation of things as they are, and thus one expression of fantasy's delight in ‘being’. It may take the form simply of coming home at the end of one's adventures. Thus Gluck in Ruskin's The King of the Golden River returns to the wasted valley from which he and his cruel brothers were forced to leave, to find it blooming once more as at the beginning of the story; George MacDonald's Anodos in Phantastes and Vane in Lilith find themselves back in their castles after their journeys; William Morris's Ralph in The Well at the World's End returns to Upmeads, and Birdalone in The Water of the Wondrous Isles to Utterhay; E. Nesbit's children come back to London after their visits to the remote past in The Story of the Amulet; C. S. Lewis's Ransom returns to Earth from Mars and Venus; Tolkien's Bilbo and Frodo...
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SOURCE: “George MacDonald's Princess Books: High Seriousness,” in Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, Vol. I, ChLA Publishers, 1985, pp. 146-62.
[In the following essay, McGillis discusses the many ways MacDonald's Princess books can be interpreted.]
If influence testified to greatness, then The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie would be assured an honored place in the history of children's literature. These works (and George MacDonald's other tales for children) began a tradition of romantic fantasy for young readers that includes such writers as Mrs. Molesworth, Mrs. Ewing, E. Nesbit, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Madeleine L'Engle, and traces of MacDonald's vision may be seen in writers as disparate as Phillipa Pearce, Alan Garner, and Ursula LeGuin.
But influence does not necessarily reflect what Matthew Arnold called “the really excellent” in literature. Influence may indicate, in Arnold's terms again, “the historic estimate and the personal estimate, both of which are fallacious.” Both historical objectivity and personal affinity may lead us to overestimate a writer whom we feel has been neglected; the infallible sign of the really excellent, Arnold implies, is deep but disinterested enjoyment. The power of a literary work to affect us this way derives from “high poetic truth and...
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SOURCE: “The Demon Lover: Lilith and the Hero in Modern Fantasy,” in Extrapolation, Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring 1987, pp. 52-61.
[In the following essay, Schaafsma includes MacDonald's fiction in a discussion of the role of the archetypical Lilith character in fantasy literature.]
In The Great Mother, Erich Neumann asserts that “the peril of present-day mankind springs in large part from the one-sidedly patriarchal development of the male intellectual consciousness, which is no longer kept in balance by the matriarchal world of the psyche.” He warns, “Western mankind must arrive at a synthesis that includes the feminine world—which is also one-sided in its isolation. Only then will the individual human being be able to develop the pyschic wholeness that is urgently needed if Western man is to face the dangers that threaten him from within and without” (xlii).
Modern fantasy of the last two centuries has traditionally been a subversive, even dangerous literature, challenging the patriarchal values of the culture in which it arises while drawing much of its power from ancient mythologies and folklore that retain the images and motifs of the matriarchate. It is a literature which speaks not in the language of abstract conceptuality, but as Ursula Le Guin noted, “in the language of the unconscious—symbol and archetype” (62). More specifically, it is a literature...
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SOURCE: “Sacred and Secular Visions of Imagination and Reality in Nineteenth-Century British Fantasy for Children,” in Webs and Wardrobes: Humanist and Religious World Views in Children's Literature, University Press of America, 1987, pp. 66-78.
[In the following essay, Milner and Milner include MacDonald's works in a discussion of religious and poetic symbolism in nineteenth-century fantasy literature.]
Writing classic British children's fantasies in the 1860's and 1870's, George MacDonald and Lewis Carroll essentially established the traditions of modern fantasy. Though they were personal friends and admired one another's work, these two writers held profoundly different views of reality. MacDonald, strongly influenced by Romantic conceptions of childhood and imagination, saw the universe as an orderly and miraculous creation, the work of a loving God whose will would finally prevail. Carroll, despite his conscious expressions of faith, seemed in the Alice fantasies acutely aware of disorder and chaos, of an uncertain and ever-shifting reality. These contrasting visions of reality provide the bases for two distinct traditions of fantasy which have found rich expression in the work of many other nineteenth- and twentieth-century fantasy writers. MacDonald established what has often been called “sacred” fantasy, a term which suggests that the imaginative quests and heroic efforts of human...
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SOURCE: “Allegory, Orthodoxy, Ambivalence: MacDonald's ‘The Day Boy and the Night Girl’,” in Children's Literature, Vol. 16, 1988, pp. 57-75.
[In the following essay, Marshall examines MacDonald's use of generic fantasy elements in “The Day Boy and the Night Girl.”]
“Since polarization dominates the child's mind,” writes Bruno Bettelheim, “it also dominates fairy tales” (9). The characterization in George MacDonald's fairy tale “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” evinces such polarization: Photogen knows and loves only light, Nycteris can survive and flourish only in darkness. But the story, the last fairy tale MacDonald ever wrote,1 subverts numerous expectations a reader might bring to the genre. Not only does the split between Photogen and Nycteris lack any obvious ethical significance, but the final point of the tale is the necessary joining of the realms of darkness and light. Ordinarily in fairy tale, a plot in which the good, beautiful, and clever triumph affirms a basic antinomy, but in this case the tale confronts, questions, and ultimately destroys its own distinctions. Despite an initially apparent polarization, “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” reveals intense moral ambivalence. Uncovering this ambivalence, through consideration of the tale as allegory, helps explain the poor critical reception of the tale. More generally, it illustrates how allegory, still...
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SOURCE: “In Search of Spiritual Maturity: George MacDonald's Phantastes,” in Extrapolation, Vol. 30, No. 3, Fall, 1989, pp. 280-92.
[In the following essay, Howard analyzes the role of stories in Phantastes.]
Of all of the many seemingly unrelated episodes in George MacDonald's adult fairy tale, Phantastes, one of the most puzzling is the narration by Anodos of two tales that he reads during his sojourn in the fairy palace. At first reflection, the two tales appear merely yet another instance of the many curious adventures that Anodos experiences in Fairy Land. Whatever text he might choose to read, Anodos relates, he finds himself actively participating in it until the story becomes his. If the story is a history, he becomes the chief actor; if it is a fiction, he becomes the character most like himself. Seen solely in terms of their action upon Anodos and their effect upon the reader, the tales can claim a legitimate place in the novel. Phantastes is, after all, a fantasy, and it may be enjoyed by a reader simply for the pleasure that he takes in its wondrous events.
But the inclusion of the episode in the text remains problematic for someone who seeks a deeper purpose for the novel than its entertainment value. Clayton Jay Pierson, for instance, complains that the seeming digression posed by the tales constitutes a serious threat to the novel's integrity...
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SOURCE: “Searching for Great-Great-Grandmother: Powerful Women in George MacDonald's Fantasies,” in Lion and the Unicorn, Vol. 15, No. 2, December, 1991, pp. 27-34.
[In the following essay, John suggests that MacDonald's fantasies are valuable for feminist study because of the positive light in which they portray older women.]
And when she was married and had a child of her own, Sylva plucked the silver strands from her own hair and wove them into the silver ribbon, which she kept in a wooden box. When Sylva's child was old enough to understand, the box with the ribbon was put into her safekeeping, and she has kept them for her own daughter to this very day.
When Jane Yolen published “The Moon Ribbon” in 1976, she was contributing to a world-wide search for great-great-grandmothers. Suddenly, it was not enough to know the history of men; a concerted search was begun for the history of women. Yolen's story hints at a historical sistership which circumvents masculine dominance by delegating both good and evil power to female characters. It suggests a secretive female bonding which is beyond the understanding of men, and hence, beyond man's power to corrupt. Mothers are tied to daughters through strands of hair and shared experiences, experiences which men can never share. The story is fantasy, but it appeals to the...
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SOURCE: “A Kind of Sacrament: Books and Libraries in the Fiction of George MacDonald,” in Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. 27, 1992, pp. 72-79.
[In the following essay, Boice argues that libraries are the most significant settings in MacDonald's fiction.]
“Collecting jewels in a rather irregular fashion,”1 is how G. K. Chesterton describes reading the fiction of George MacDonald, whose wordiness is indisputable, but whose literary gems continue to excite interest. Chief among the jewels is a remarkable, often startling use and recurrence of settings, character types, and, especially, symbols. Castles, attic bedrooms, tutors, reflected light, and stairways appear often in MacDonald's novels, and have provoked much speculation and discussion. Also appearing with notable frequency are books and libraries, certainly not the most common of literary settings or symbols. For MacDonald, libraries show up time after time as vitally important settings for his dialogue and action. C. S. Lewis, a critical admirer of MacDonald, notes, “The image of a great house seen principally from the library and always through the eyes of a stranger or a dependent (even Mr. Vane in Lilith never seems at home in the library which is called his) haunts his books to the end.”2
Unfortunately, his celebrated use of libraries has served mainly as fuel for scholarly debate on...
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SOURCE: “George MacDonald's Fairy Tales,” in Christian Fantasy from 1200 to the Present, University of Notre Dame Press, 1992, pp. 164-82.
[In the following essay, Manlove discusses Christian elements in MacDonald's fairy tales.]
What we shall see with MacDonald and Kingsley is something quite new in the development of Christian fantasy. We shall find both trying by literary means to show, to make us feel, that God is present in nature and this world. In earlier literature God's existence could be assumed, but now it is necessary to prove it. And, in order to do this convincingly, one must start from the apparently empirical facts of existence, not from any biblical or quasi-biblical narrative involving a priori assumptions. Thus each presents us with an image of the baffling character of experience, through which God or the miraculous must be apprehended. This holds good even though the reality that MacDonald presents is that of the inner world of the mind, and Kingsley's that of the physical world. The tangle of mental imagery and potential error in MacDonald's fantastic worlds is no different in terms of mundane reality from the confusing nature of the physical world in Kingsley's. Between them the two could be said to cover the whole area of mundane experience, inner and outer, in order to trace God's immanence. It is remarkable that the only Christian-fantasy writers of note in the...
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SOURCE: “Reading ‘The Golden Key’: Narrative Strategies of Parable,” in For the Childlike: George MacDonald's Fantasies for Children, The Children's Literature Association and The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1992, pp. 99-109.
[In the following essay, Marshall discusses the ways in which MacDonald's pilgrimage plot contributes to the loose form of “The Golden Key.”]
“The Golden Key” is regularly recognized as George MacDonald's masterpiece in the fairy tale mode. The work may not be, however, without its problems for modern readers, who may question the integrity of the tale's structure. “The Golden Key” seems, for example, repeatedly to be on the verge of concluding. It opens with the boy Mossy's desire to find the golden key at the end of the rainbow; he shortly discovers the key, and “the quest seems accomplished, the story over” (Wolff 135). Mossy must, however, discover the key's purpose, so his quest is renewed. Meanwhile the girl Tangle has also entered the enchanted forest of the tale; when Mossy and Tangle are drawn together, a romantic resolution seems imminent, but once again there is a fresh beginning. And so throughout the pilgrimage to “the country whence the shadows fall” (226): each time the characters, separately or together, reach a goal—the “lofty precipice” (225) from which they first glimpse the shadow lake, the high country beyond the shadows, the Old Man...
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SOURCE: “The Fairy Tales of George MacDonald and the Evolution of a Genre,” in For the Childlike: George MacDonald's Fantasies for Children, The Children's Literature Association and The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1992, pp. 31-49.
[In the following essay, Mendelson provides a close reading of three fairy tales that are exemplary of MacDonald's use of the genre.]
My intention here is to provide an overview of George MacDonald's fairy canon. I will approach this task by first examining the relation between these fairy tales and MacDonald's other literary output, most notably his critical essays and his adult fantasies. Following this general orientation, I will look more closely at narrative elements in three individual tales—“The Light Princess,” “The Golden Key,” and The Princess and the Goblin—that are indicative of MacDonald's fairy tale technique. In the process of this survey, I hope to explore the topology of MacDonald's fairy-land and to identify the essential landmarks of the place in a way that will prepare for the more detailed analyses that follow. At the same time, however, I also hope to provide a clear indication of why I believe these tales occupy a distinctive place in the “modernization” of the fairy tale. Consequently, those narrative vignettes I have chosen to highlight are ones in which MacDonald incorporates, transforms, and invigorates the traditional motifs...
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SOURCE: “The Multiple Realms of George MacDonald's Phantastes,” in Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. 29, 1996, pp. 174-90.
[In the following essay, Gunther disagrees with the notion of dualism in MacDonald's writing, positing instead that his works explore multiple realms of spiritual and psychological reality.]
Critics have often referred to George MacDonald's dualism. Recently a book has been published centered around this concept and opening with an essay entitled “The Two Worlds of George MacDonald.”1 These two worlds are variously seen as those of “reality” and “fantasy”, of “intellect” and “imagination”, of the traditional and the personal, of the pagan and the Christian and so on. I would suggest that a more useful approach to the understanding of Phantastes, is to see it as the embodiment of multiple worlds, as a text whose subsuming vision may be seen to embrace, not two realms, but the possibility of an infinity thereof.
Phantastes is structured around a system of interconnecting and co-existing worlds, of multiple realms on different spiritual levels interpenetrating at significant moments in which time and space are transcended. Such a system utilizes an approach to time which is essentially very modern and more typical of twentieth,2 than of mid-nineteenth century, fantasy. The basic premise of...
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SOURCE: “Erasing Borders: MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind,” in Ventures into Childland: Victorians, Fairy Tales, and Femininity, University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 228-68.
[In the following essay, Knoepflmacher explores the ways in which At the Back of the North Wind diverges from expected themes and forms of its genre.]
As still was her look, and as still was her ee As the stillness that lay on the emerant lea, Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea. For Kilmeny had been she ken'd not where, And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare. .....But O, the words that fell from her mouth Were words of wonder and words of truth!
—James Hogg, Kilmeny: A Fairy Legend
To me, George MacDonald's most extraordinary, and precious, gift is his ability, in all his stories, to create an atmosphere of goodness about which there is nothing phony or moralistic. Nothing is rarer in literature.
—W. H. Auden, afterword to The Golden Key
In several ways, At the Back of the North Wind [hereafter abbreviated as BNW] reverses the sequence I have so far been tracing [in Ventures into Childland]. Written after The King of the Golden River, The Rose and the Ring, “The Light Princess,” and Alice in...
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Triggs, Kathy. The Stars and the Stillness: A Portrait of George MacDonald. Cambridge, England: Lutterworth Press, 1986, 182 p.
Illustrated biography that includes a select bibliography of primary and secondary works.
Auden, W. H. “George MacDonald.” In Forewords and Afterwords, pp. 268-73. New York: Random House, 1943.
Asserts that MacDonald succeeded as a fantasy writer because he was endowed with a “mythopoeic imagination.”
Benson, A. C. “George MacDonald.” In Rambles and Reflections, pp. 145-54. London: John Murray, 1926.
Brief overview and appreciation of MacDonald's writings.
L'Engle, Madeleine. “George MacDonald: Nourishment for a Private World.” In Reality and the Vision, edited by Philip Yancey, pp. 110-21. Dallas and London: Word Publishing, 1990.
Personal reminiscence of L'Engle's experiences reading the works of MacDonald.
Manlove, C. N. “George MacDonald (1824-1905).” In Modern Fantasy: Five Studies, pp. 55-98. Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Examines mystic and unconscious aspects of MacDonald's fairy tales.
Michalson, Karen. “George MacDonald and Phantastes.” In...
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