George MacDonald was a prolific writer in the Victorian era whose literary fame rests on a handful of fantasy texts written over the span of his career. His adult fantasies—Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (1858), his first prose work, and Lilith (1895), almost his last—are difficult to obtain. His children’s fantasies have remained popular and are still in print, however. These include At the Back of the North Wind (1870).
MacDonald’s fantasy has had a deep influence on modern fantasy, especially that embracing an idealistic philosophy. Like that of his older contemporary, Charles Kingsley, and his great admirer, C. S. Lewis, MacDonald’s idealism was Platonic in nature with a Christian undergirding. Two features of The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie have been particularly influential, in addition to a number of specific episodes. First, MacDonald blends a range of tones, for example, the mystical descriptions of the grandmother, the idiomatic “cottage talk” of Curdie and his parents, and the farce of the goblins and their tender feet. He manages to avoid both the self-conscious, paternalistic, tongue-in-cheek humor of much Victorian children’s fantasy and the further reaches of its romantic sentimentality.
Second, and allied to this, is MacDonald’s ability to depict all classes of society in the way that is the strength of the traditional fairy story. Kings rub shoulders with peasants, and the supernatural interacts with the natural. Both these features can be seen in the fantasy of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Specific episodes...
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