(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In "The Golden Key," MacDonald has created an imaginative world through which two adolescents—Mossy, the hero, and Tangle, the heroine—must undertake a special quest. They journey through Fairyland in search of the lock worked by a mysterious golden key they have found. The physical laws governing Fairyland differ from those that control the ordinary world. For instance, several years of ordinary time are required to complete events that take only a short time in Fairyland. In Fairyland the rainbow has a stationary endpoint that doesn't shift with the vantage point of the observer, as earth laws of optics require. "Things that look real in this country," says the narrator, "look very thin indeed in Fairyland, while some of the things that here cannot stand for a moment, will not move there." Trees can move, as Tangle discovers when one grabs her, and the owl-faced flying fish which serves as a guide for the wanderers is a unique creature by any standard. Humans can understand the language of animals, as when Tangle overhears a quarrel "in which the mole told the squirrel that the tail was the best part of him, and the squirrel called the mole spade fists." "The writer may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws," wrote Mac- Donald in his essay "The Fantastic Imagination."

In MacDonald's view, however, fantasy literature should have a strong connection to the real world; it should tell people something useful about...

(The entire section is 357 words.)