George MacDonald

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Respected as one of the foremost novelists of his time, George MacDonald also wrote prolifically in a number of other genres: poetry, reviews, essays, plays, sermons, and translations. Today, however, he is honored principally as the father of modern fantasy, an acknowledged influence on such twentieth-century masters as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. A good portion of his fantasy literature was written for young readers.

MacDonald was born December 10, 1824, into a Scottish agricultural family in Aberdeenshire, one of eleven children, and one of several MacDonalds who suffered from tuberculosis. His mother died from the disease when he was eight. In 1840 he entered the University of Aberdeen, studying chemistry and physics, but financial difficulties delayed his studies, and he did not receive his degree until 1845. In between, his discovery of English romance and German mystical literature (said to have occurred while he catalogued the library of a mansion) led his interest away from study of the natural world to study of the supernatural world. Believing that the ministry was his true vocation, he earned a seminary degree and was appointed to a Congregational Church near London in 1851. He married that same year. The central event of his life occurred shortly thereafter: the congregation forced him out of the ministry because of his supposedly unorthodox theology. His chief heresy lay in a lenient attitude towards unbelievers and heathens, who, he thought, were not necessarily damned to eternal punishment in hell.

MacDonald still believed the ministry was his true calling, but he also had to earn a living for his growing family. Thus began his career as a writer. For him, writing satisfied two needs: attracting a paying audience, and expressing himself as a minister. On the brink of hardship before the publication of his first novel in 1863, MacDonald gradually established himself, and although he never became wealthy, he did share the friendship of many of the leading writers of his day. Among his close friends was Lewis Carroll, who rehearsed the then unpublished Alice in Wonderland story on MacDonald's children. Despite his dedication to writing, MacDonald never lost his will to minister; whenever his schedule allowed, he expressed religious ideas in written form—directly in sermons or indirectly through fables like "The Golden Key." He died September 18, 1905, in Ashtead, Surrey, England.

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