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MacDonald, George

George MacDonald

Personal

Born December 10, 1824, in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland; died, September 18 (one source says September 17), 1905, in Ashstead, Surrey, England; cremated, ashes buried in Bordighera, Italy; son of George (a farmer) and Helen (MacKay) MacDonald; married Louisa Powell, 1851 (died January, 1902); children: thirteen (including two adopted), including Greville Matheson, Ronald, Mary Josephine, and Lilia Scott. Education: King's College, Aberdeen University, A.M., 1845; Highbury College, London, divinity degree, 1850.

Career

Author. Worked as a tutor in London, England, 1845-48; Trinity Congregational Church, Arundel, Scotland, pastor, 1950-53; worked as part-time preacher, lecturer, and journalist in London and Manchester, England; Bedford College, London, professor of English literature, beginning in 1859; lecturer in the United States, 1872-73. Editor, Good Words for the Young (magazine), 1869-72.

Awards, Honors

LL.D., Aberdeen University, 1869.

Writings

FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

Dealings with the Fairies (story collection; contains "The Light Princess," "The Giant's Heart," "The Shadows," "Cross Purposes," and "The Golden Key" [also see below]), illustrations by Arthur Hughes, Strahan (London, England), 1867, selections published as "The Light Princess," and Other Fairy Stories, illustrations by Arthur Hughes, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1890, published as "The Light Princess," and Other Fairy Tales (includes "The Carasoyn" and "Little Daylight" [also see below]), illustrations by Maud Humphrey, Putnam (New York, NY), 1893.

At the Back of the North Wind, illustrations by Arthur Hughes, Dutton (New York, NY), 1871; illustrations by Maria L. Kirk, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1909, illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith, McKay (Philadelphia PA), 1919, illustrations by F. D. Bedford, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1924, illustrations by Gertrude A. Kay, McKay (Philadelphia, PA), 1926, illustrations by Frances Brundage, Saalfield (Akron, OH), 1927, illustrations by E. H. Shepard, Dutton (New York, NY), 1956, illustrations by Charles Mozley, Nonesuch Press (London, England), 1963, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1964, illustrations by Harvey Dinnerstein, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1964, illustrations by Peter Wane, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1979, illustrations by Lauren A. Mills, Godine (Boston, MA), 1988.

Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1871, illustrations by Arthur Hughes, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1886, published as The Boyhood of Ranald Bannerman, edited by Dan Hamilton, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL), 1987.

The Princess and the Goblin, (also see below), Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1872, illustrations by Arthur Hughes, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1900, illustrations by Maria L. Kirk, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1907, illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith, McKay (Philadelphia, PA), 1920, illustrations by F. D. Bedford, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1926, illustrations by Frances Brundage, Saalfield (Akron, OH), 1927, illustrations by Elizabeth Mackinstry, Doubleday, Doran (New York, NY), 1928, illustrations by Nora S. Unwin, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1951, illustrations by Will Nickless, Collins (New York, NY), 1956, illustrations by Jane Paton, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1960, illustrations by Charles Folkard, Dutton (New York, NY), 1965, illustrations by Linda Hill Griffith, Cook (Portsmouth, NH), 1982, abridged by Jean Watson, illustrations by Peter Wane, Ark Publishing (London, England), 1979.

Gutta Percha Willie: The Working Genius, King, 1873, Dutton (New York, NY), 1875, published as The History of Gutta Percha Willie, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1887, published as The Genius of Willie MacMichael, edited by Dan Hamilton, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL), 1987.

The Wise Woman: A Parable (first published serially as A Double Story), Strahan (London, England), 1875, published as The Lost Princess; or, The Wise Woman, illustrations by A. G. Walker, Wells, Gardner, 1895, published as The Lost Princess: A Double Story, illustrations by D. J. Watkins-Pitchford, Dutton (New York, NY), 1965.

Sir Gibbie, Munro (New York, NY), 1879, abridged with foreword by Elizabeth Yates, Dutton (New York, NY), 1963, revised edition published as The Baronet's Song, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1983, published as Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1990, published as Sir Gibbie, edited by Kathryn Lindskoog, illustrations by Patrick Wayne, P & R Publications (Phillipsburg, NJ), 2001.

The Princess and Curdie (also see below), Munro (New York, NY), 1883, illustrations by James Allen, Lippincott (Philadelphia PA), 1883, illustrations by Maria L. Kirk, Lippincott, 1897, illustrations by Gertrude A. Kay, McKay (Philadelphia, PA), 1926, illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1927, illustrations by Frances Brundage, Saalfield (Akron, OH), 1927, illustrations by Nora S. Unwin, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1954, illustrations by Will Nickless, Collins (New York, NY), 1956, illustrations by Jane Paton, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1961, illustrations by Charles Folkard, Dutton (New York, NY), 1963, illustrations by Helen Stratton, Penguin (New York, NY), 1966, abridged by Jean Watson, illustrations by Peter Wane, Ark Publishing (London, England), 1979.

"Cross Purposes" and "The Shadows": Two Fairy Stories, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1890.

The Fairy Tales of George MacDonald, five volumes, edited by son, Greville MacDonald, Fifield (London, England), 1904.

The Golden Key, Crowell (New York, NY), 1906, illustrations by Maurice Sendak, afterword by W. H. Auden, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1967.

Stories for Little Folks, edited by Elizabeth Lewis, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1914.

The Light Princess, illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1926, illustrations by William Pene du Bois, Crowell (New York, NY), 1962, illustrations by Maurice Sendak, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969, adaptation by Robin McKinley, illustrations by Katie Thamer Treherne, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1988, third edition, illustrations by Arthur Hughes, Barefoot Books (Boston, MA), 1993.

The Fairy Fleet, illustrations by Stuyvesant Van Veen, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1936.

"The Light Princess" and Other Tales: Being the Complete Fairy Stories of George MacDonald, illustrations by Arthur Hughes, introduction by Roger Lancelyn Green, Gollancz (London, England), 1961, published as The Complete Fairy Stories of George Macdonald, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1961, published as The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald, Schocken (New York, NY), 1977.

"The Princess and the Goblin," and "The Princess and Curdie": Two Stories, abridged by Olive Jones, edited by Grace Hogarth, illustrations by William Stobbs, American Education Publications (New York, NY), 1970.

Evenor, edited by Lin Carter, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1972.

"The Golden Key," and Other Stories, Chariot Books (Elgin, IL), 1978, illustrations by Craig Yoe, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1980.

The History of Photogen and Nycteris: A Day and Night Maerchen (also known as The Son of the Day and the Daughter of the Night and Son of Day and Daughter of Night), illustrations by Lyn Teeple, Green Tiger Press (La Jolla, CA), 1980.

"The Gray Wolf," and Other Stories, illustrations by Craig Yoe, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1980.

"The Wise Woman" and Other Stories, illustrations by Craig Yoe, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1980.

"The Light Princess," and Other Stories, illustrations by Craig Yoe, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1980.

The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald, illustrations by Linda Hill Griffith, David Cook (Portsmouth, NH), 1981.

"Papa's Story" and Other Tales, edited with introduction by Mary Dorsett, illustrations by Don Borie, Bookmakers Guild (Longmont, CO), 1986.

Little Daylight, adapted by Anthea Bell, illustrations by Dorothee Duntze, North-South (New York, NY), 1987, adapted with illustrations by Erick Ingraham, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.

The Day Boy and the Night Girl, illustrations by Nonny Hogrogian, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.

Many of MacDonald's tales were originally published under other titles in periodicals, including Good Words for the Young.

FOR ADULTS

Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women, Smith, Elder (New York, NY), 1858, new edition, edited by Greville MacDonald, illustrations by Arthur Hughes, Fifield (London, England), 1905, new edition, introduction by Lin Carter, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1970.

David Elginbrod, three volumes, Hurst & Blackett (London, England), 1863, published in one volume, Loring (Boston, MA), 1872, published as The Tutor's First Love, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1984, reprinted under original title, Sunrise Books (Eureka, CA), 1999.

Adela Cathcart, three volumes, Hurst & Blackett (London, England), 1864, published in one volume, Loring (Boston, MA), 1875.

The Portent: A Story of the Inner Vision of the Highlanders Commonly Called the Second Sight, Smith, Elder (New York, NY), 1864, published as Lady of the Mansion, afterword by Glenn Sadler, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.

Alec Forbes of Howglen, three volumes, Hurst & Blackett (London, England), 1865, published in one volume, Harper (New York, NY), 1867, published as The Maiden's Bequest, revised by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1985, published as Alec Forbes and His Friend Annie, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1990.

Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood, Harper (New York, NY), 1867, published as A Quiet Neighborhood, abridged by Dan Hamilton, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL), 1985.

Guild Court, Harper (New York, NY), 1868, published as Guild Court: A London Story, Munro (New York, NY), 1881, published as The Prodigal Apprentice, edited by Dan Hamilton, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL), 1986.

Robert Falconer, three volumes, Hurst & Blackett (London, England), 1868, published in one volume, Loring (Boston, MA), 1876, published as The Musician's Quest, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1984.

The Seaboard Parish (sequel to Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood), three volumes, Tinsley (London, England), 1868, published in one volume, Routledge (New York, NY), 1872, reprinted, Sunrise Books (Eureka, CA), 2001.

The Vicar's Daughter (sequel to The Seaboard Parish), Roberts, 1872.

Wilfrid Cumbermede: An Autobiographical Story, Scribner (New York, NY), 1872.

Malcolm, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1875, published as The Fisherman's Lady, revised by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1982.

Thomas Wingfold, Curate, Routledge (New York, NY), 1876, published as The Curate's Awakening, revised by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1985.

St. George and St. Michael, three volumes, King, 1876, published in one volume, J. B. Ford (New York, NY) 1876.

The Marquis of Lossie (sequel to Malcolm), Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1877, published as The Marquis' Secret, revised by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1982.

Paul Faber, Surgeon (sequel to Thomas Wingfold, Curate), Munro (New York, NY), 1879, published as The Lady's Confession, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1986.

Mary Marston, Appleton, 1881, published as The Shopkeeper's Daughter, edited by Elizabeth Guignard Hamilton, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL), 1986, published as A Daughter's Devotion, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1988.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock: A Homely Romance (published serially in Wide Awake, 1881), Lothrop (New York, NY), 1881, published as Castle Warlock: A Homely Romance, Munro (New York, NY), 1882, published as The Laird's Inheritance, revised by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1987, published as Castle Warlock, Sunrise Books (Eureka, CA), 1998.

Weighed and Wanting, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1882, published as The Gentlewoman's Choice, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1987.

Donal Grant (sequel to Sir Gibbie), Lothrop (New York, NY), 1883, published as The Shepherd's Castle, revised by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1983.

"Stephen Archer," and Other Tales, Low, 1883.

What's Mine's Mine, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1886, published as The Highlander's Last Song, revised by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1986.

Home Again, Kegan Paul, 1887, Appleton (New York, NY), 1888.

A Rough Shaking: A Tale, illustrations by W. Parkinson, Burt, 1890, published as The Wanderings of Clare Skymer, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL), 1987.

There and Back (sequel to Paul Faber, Surgeon), Lothrop (New York, NY), 1891, published as The Baron's Apprenticeship, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1986.

The Flight of the Shadow, Appleton (New York, NY), 1891.

Heather and Snow, Harper (New York, NY), 1893, published as The Peasant Girl's Dream, edited by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1988.

Lilith: A Romance, Dodd (New York, NY), 1895, centenary edition, edited and enlarged by Greville MacDonald, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1924.

Salted with Fire: A Story of a Minister, Dodd (New York, NY), 1897, published as The Minister's Restoration, revised by Michael R. Phillips, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1988.

Far above Rubies, Dodd (New York, NY) 1898.

COLLECTIONS

Works of Fancy and Imagination, ten volumes, [London, England], 1871.

Cheerful Words, edited by E. E. Brown, introduction by J. T. Fields, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1880.

Selections from the Writings of George MacDonald; or, Helps for Weary Souls, edited by J. Dewey, Knox (New York, NY), 1885.

The Poetical Works of George MacDonald, two volumes, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1893.

"Beautiful Thoughts" from George MacDonald, edited by Elizabeth W. Dougall, J. Pott (New York, NY), 1894.

Daily Readings from George MacDonald, edited by James Dobson, Fifield (London, England), 1906.

A Book of Life from the Works of George MacDonald, Humphrey Milford, 1913.

Short Stories, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1928.

Gathered Grace: A Short Selection of George MacDonald's Poems, foreword by Lucia C. Coulson, illustrations by Nora S. Unwin, W. Heffer & Sons (Cambridge, England), 1938.

God's Troubadour: The Devotional Verse of George MacDonald, edited by Harry Escott, Epworth (London, England), 1940.

In My Father's House: Selections from the Prose Writings of G. MacDonald, edited by Harry Escott, Epworth (London, England), 1943.

George MacDonald: An Anthology, compiled with preface by C. S. Lewis, Bles (London, England), 1946, published as George MacDonald: 365 Readings, Collier Books (New York, NY), 1986.

The World of George MacDonald: Selections from His Works of Fiction, edited by Rolland Hein, Harold Shaw (Wheaton, IL), 1978.

Getting to Know Jesus, edited by Warner A. Hutchinson, introduction by Clyde S. Kilby, illustrations by Ron McCarty, Keats Publishing (New Cannan, CT), 1980.

George MacDonald: The Best from All His Works, edited by Charles Erlandson, Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1988.

OTHER

Within and Without: A Dramatic Poem, Longman (New York, NY), 1855, Scribner (New York, NY), 1872.

(Editor, with brother and G. B. Bubier) Hymns and Sacred Songs, for Sunday Schools and Social Worship, Fletcher & Tubbs, 1855.

Poems, Longman (London, England), 1857, Dutton (New York, NY), 1887.

"The Disciple," and Other Poems, Strahan (London, England), 1867.

Epea aptera: Unspoken Sermons, three series, Strahan (London, England), 1867-89, published in one volume, Routledge (New York, NY), 1871, excerpts published as Light to Live By, selected by Frances M. Nicholson, Foulis (Glasgow, Scotland), 1909, published as Creation in Christ, condensed by Rolland Hein, Harold Shaw (Wheaton, IL), 1976.

England's Antiphon (essays), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1868.

The Miracles of Our Lord (essays), Strahan (London, England), 1870, Routledge (New York, NY), 1871.

A Hidden Life, and Other Poems, Scribner (New York, NY), 1872.

Exotica: A Translation [in Verse] of the Spiritual Songs of Novalis, the Hymn-Book of Luther, and Other Poems from the German and Italian, Strahan (London, England), 1876.

A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul, privately printed, 1880, Hughes, 1882, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1898, new edition, Fifield (London, England), 1905, published as Diary of an Old Soul: 366 Writings for Devotional Reflection, Augsburg (Minneapolis, MN), 1965, reprinted, Augsburg (Minneapolis, MN), 1994.

Orts, Low, 1882, published as "The Imagination," and Other Essays, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1883, enlarged edition published as A Dish of Orts: Chiefly Papers on the Imagination, and on Shakespeare, Low, 1893.

"The Gifts of the Child Christ," and Other Tales (short stories), two volumes, Low, 1882, published in one volume, Munro (New York, NY), 1883, published as "The Gifts of the Child Christ": Fairytalesand Stories for the Childlike, edited by Glenn Edward Sadler, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1973, published as The Gifts of the Child Christ and Other Stories and Fairy Tales, 1996.

(Editor) A Threefold Cord: Poems by Three Friends, Hughes, 1883.

The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: A Study, with the Text of the Folio of 1623, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1885.

God's Words to His Children: Sermons Spoken and Unspoken, Funk & Wagnalls (New York, NY), 1887.

The Elect Lady, Appleton (New York, NY), 1888, reprinted, Sunrise Books (Eureka, CA), 1989.

(Editor) Philip Sidney, A Cabinet of Gems, Cut and Polished by Sir Philip Sidney: Now for the More Radiance Presented without Their Setting by George MacDonald, E. Stock, 1891.

The Hope of the Gospel, Appleton (New York, NY), 1892, published as Life Essential: The Hope of the Gospel, abridged by Rolland Hein, Harold Shaw (Wheaton, IL), 1974.

Rampolli: Growths from a Long-planted Root; Being Translations … Chiefly from the German, along with "A Year's Diary of an Old Soul," Longmans (London, England), 1897.

(Editor) William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Richard III, Blackie & Son (London, England), 1960.

The Last Castle, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL), 1986.

The largest collection of George MacDonald's letters and papers is held by Yale University in the Beinecke Library. There are also a few letters in the National Library of Scotland and at the Houghton Library at Harvard University, with others variously collected at the New York Public Library; the University of California, Los Angeles; and King's College, Aberdeen.

Adaptations

MacDonald's story "The Carasoyn" was adapted by G. J. Hamlen for the play Colin in Fairyland, with music by Albert Cazabon, Bone & Hulley (Glasgow, Scotland), 1911.

Sidelights

George MacDonald is remembered as one of the founding fathers of modern fantasy. Although he wrote many different kinds of books, including realistic novels, poetry, sermons, and literary criticism, his imaginative fairy tales of growth and redemption were his most influential. According to Roderick McGillis, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "MacDonald's fantasies for children, especially At the Back of the North Wind (1871) and The Princess and the Goblin (1872), have influenced such major writers of children's books as E. Nesbit, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Maurice Sendak, and Madeleine L'Engle." Writing moral stories that mingled the real and the fantastic, he created a literature that "hovers between the allegorical and the mythopoeic," as Lewis wrote in his preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology. "More than any writer of his time," wrote Glenn Edward Sadler in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, MacDonald "understood the symbolic richness of the traditional fairytale and worked to expand its dimensions. As a teller of fanciful tales, he is unequalled."

Born on December 10, 1824, in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, in northern Scotland, MacDonald brought much from his own background into his writings. He grew up in a rural, hilly area near a ruined castle and a large manor house, surroundings that helped inspire the castles and landscapes of his stories. In the absence of his mother, who died when he was a child, his loving grandmother was a strong influence on him; she was the model for wise women who later appeared in his stories. MacDonald's reading also contributed to his writings. Reviewers have noted that books by German and English romantic writers, which he read during his college years, had a profound impact on him. Among MacDonald's most important influences were Friedrich de la Motte Fouque, whose Undine was MacDonald's favorite fairy tale, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Friedrich von Hardenberg, known by the pseudonym Novalis.

Early Career in the Church

Christian faith also played a major role in MacDonald's life and writings. During the early 1850s he expressed his spirituality as a Congregational pastor, but he lost his position because of his unconventional views. A self-described independent, he gave sermons "bereft of doctrine and promising salvation to heathens and even animals," which alarmed his conservative parishioners, Marjory Lang explained in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Losing his official pulpit did not deter MacDonald from preaching, however. He gave lectures for those who would hear him, and he incorporated his messages into his various writings. As Maurice Sendak observed in Washington Post Book Week, MacDonald was "a novelist, poet, mythmaker, allegorist, critic, essayist, and, in everything, a preacher."

"MacDonald had a 'longing after visions and revelations,'" wrote McGillis in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "and this explains his interest in fantasy and romance, his conception of life, and his literary theory. Not favored with the mystic experience, MacDonald used his imagination to project himself into visions, and he believed firmly in the existence of two corresponding and interpenetrating worlds, one natural and one supernatural.… The first fruit of MacDonald's mystic imaginings is Phantastes, a symbolic adventure meant to suggest meaning rather than state it and by degrees to lead the reader to deep truths."

His First Novel

Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women, "firmly established his literary reputation," recounted Lang. It is an episodic tale of a young man's wanderings in a magical land and his spiritual rebirth. With its union of poetic symbolism, fairytale characters, and spiritual sensibility, the novel marked "the beginning of MacDonald's experimentation with the literary parable," Sadler wrote in Writers for Children, noting that Phantastes was "highly praised by most critics." To Rutledge, Phan-tastes "is a map, albeit a blurred and imperfect one, of the MacDonald fantasy; the later fantasies are decidedly more accomplished, with more authorial control of the narratives, but here the fantastic elements, by the compendious nature of their presentation, are readily available to the student of MacDonald's work."

Among MacDonald's shorter and more child-oriented works, "The Light Princess" is "the best known and most representative," according to Sadler. First published in the 1867 collection Dealings with the Fairies, the story concerns a child who is cursed as an infant with the loss of her gravity—meaning both weight and seriousness—and regains it only much later, when she risks her life to save that of her beloved. "In this story MacDonald mingles profundity with play in a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story that, for all of his returns to the motif, he never surpassed," wrote Amelia A. Rutledge in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Critics found several ways to interpret the plot. In the opinion of Richard H. Reis, writing in his book George MacDonald's Fiction, it is "a parable of puberty … designed to convince children that sooner or later childhood's frivolity must be abandoned for the sake of mature seriousness, which has its own rewards." In this case, the rewards include married life. Sadler suggested in Writers for Children that the princess's self-sacrifice represents spiritual rebirth, followed by gradual spiritual growth that is reflected in her learning to walk.

Speaking of the stories in Dealings with the Fairies, McGillis wrote: "MacDonald's sophisticated breaking of barriers is most lightly evident in the punfilled story of the light princess and most complexly evident in 'The Golden Key.' The former is a parody of the story of Sleeping Beauty, and it turns on a pun. Instead of cursing the princess with one hundred years of sleep, the wicked wise woman ensures that the princess will have no gravity, in both senses of the word: she will never be serious, nor will she have physical weight—she floats. MacDonald concentrates on the theme of sexual maturity, which comes only when the princess learns to feel sympathy for the young man willing to sacrifice himself for her. The story is both a searching criticism of 'Sleeping Beauty' and other fairy tales that recount the growth of young girls and a satiric look at modern life, which privileges science and rationality over poetry and imagination. 'The Golden Key,' in contrast, is a richly symbolic account of both the male and the female journey through life."

Pens At the Back of the North Wind

In 1871 MacDonald published At the Back of the North Wind, "the only fantasy in which he addressed contemporary urban life. In this story Diamond, a coachman's son, is befriended by North Wind, here personified as a beautiful woman, alternately kindly and fierce. In his journeys with North Wind, Diamond is made to consider the vagaries of nature, destructive and helpful by turns," wrote Rutledge. On one level, the story describes the progress of a young London boy's illness and his death. On another level, however, it tells of the boy's introduction to the fairy-like Mistress North Wind, their airborne journeys together, and his final trip to "the back of the North Wind," which coincides with his death. Regarded as MacDonald's only tale to fully mingle the real with the fantastic, it was also "one of MacDonald's most impressive works for children," according to Reis. In The Fantastic in Literature, Eric S. Rabkin stated that At the Back of the North Wind defends God's goodness and omnipotence in the presence of evil. "The North Wind (whose other name is never mentioned but we know it is Death) is revealed as a perfect servant of some higher good (again unnamed, again we know: God)," Rabkin related. MacDonald, the critic continued, "takes the bold step of calling death the best thing in the world." A devout and mystical Christian, MacDonald presented death not as the end of life but as the gateway to greater life. In 1924 MacDonald's son Greville, in his book George MacDonald and His Wife, stated that "of all my father's works, this remains the 'best-seller.'" MacDonald's view of God and religion was a significant theme recurring in many of his works.

"For MacDonald, Christianity was a religion of hope, a hope grounded in an intense awareness of the contingent nature of human existence (he was tubercular throughout his life)," wrote Rutledge. "In an autobiographical comment in one of his novels, Robert Falconer (1867), he has young Robert declare that he did not wish to be loved by a God that did not love everybody." MacDonald's more liberal view of God and religion clashed with the religious teaching he received while growing up. MacDonald "eventually went so far as to advocate the ultimate salvation of all creatures—including animals and Satan himself—a daring step made only in his last fantasy, Lilith (1895)," Rutledge wrote. For some, including C. S. Lewis, this view was not only radical, but heretical. Yet MacDonald retained a deep belief in the power of faith. "His characters, of which Curdie in The Princess and the Goblin is the best-known example, must often proceed in their quest without visible, or even rational, assurance about what is demanded of them, an obvious analogy to Christian doctrines about faith," Rutledge remarked.

Publishes Lilith

In the novel Lilith, published in 1895, MacDonald draws on the Bible story of Adam's first wife, a demonic creature known as Lilith. The story combines the real with the otherworldly as the lead character visits a fantastic world. Robert Lee Wolff, writing in his book The Golden Key: A Study of the Fiction of George MacDonald, summarized the premise of the novel: "Lilith is the story of Mr. Vane (we never learn his first name), an orphan, just out of Oxford, heir to a large house—which he has not seen since childhood—with a fine, many-roomed library, containing many books on the history of science and on metaphysics. One of its doors is covered with artificial book-backs, among which there sticks out half of a book, laid in across the top; Vane pries it open, he can see lines of manuscript; but since the other half is missing, he can make no sense out of it." Wolff continued, "He occasionally catches glimpses of the ghost of a former librarian, Mr. Raven, who had served his ancestors, and who now sometimes haunts the place. One day the vision leads him up a flight of stairs he has previously not known about into a garret, in the center of which he finds a small room with a large old mirror; he is looking at the sun's rays reflected in it when the reflection disappears; a landscape takes its place, and he steps through the mirror frame into another world."

"At age 71, MacDonald produced his last long fantasy, Lilith," recounted Paul Di Filippo in the St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers. "Like the earlier Phantastes, it is the story of a young man's journey through a dimension which is essentially the reified battlefield of impulses warring within him and within every human heart.…As Mr. Vane struggles to best the hideously wounded yet attractive Lilith, whom he both loves and hates, he is aided by an elvish tribe of Little Ones (whose method of speaking and thinking is convincingly other) and by the parents of the human race, a crotchety Adam and a rather underutilized Eve." "Although many critics have expressed a preference for the more purely dreamlike Phantastes," according to Gary K. Wolfe in Supernatural Fiction Writers, "Lilith is arguably MacDonald's most significant work for adults. As an engaging narrative it is far more sophisticated than the earlier book in technique and narrative suspense, and its theme is one of decidedly epic proportions: the redemption and salvation of Lilith, the demonic first wife of Adam in Jewish folklore." Wolfe continued: "The integration of the Lilith story with the narrator's own tale gives the work a resonance and perhaps a universality lacking in the author's first novel. And the use of more sophisticated narrative and rhetorical strategies to sustain the interest of readers reflects the experience MacDonald had gained as a novelist."

Although some of MacDonald's writing came to be considered children's literature, the author himself did not think of his fiction in those terms. As he wrote in his essay "The Fantastic Imagination," published in A Dish of Orts: Chiefly Papers on the Imagination and on Shakespeare, "I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five." Critics such as Sadler have acknowledged that some of MacDonald's so-called children's stories are in fact too long, complex, and intellectually advanced for a young audience. Whether his topic was the maturation of a child or the activities of adults, MacDonald strove to go beyond mere entertainment. He felt that "a genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean." His choice of the fairy tale form owed less to any intention to reach a child audience than to his interest in fantasy, symbolism, and the childlike aspect of people of all ages.

Of all MacDonald's dozens of books, critics concluded, his fantasies were his greatest contribution to literature. Rich in symbolism and moral and spiritual conviction, they gave "a new dimension to the world of faerie, one that his imitators would find it difficult to equal," Sadler wrote in Writers for Children. "A key element in MacDonald's fantasy is the existence of two realms, the natural and the fantastic/numinous, whose boundaries are subject to rupture and transgression; for some of his characters the fantastic realm is likened a dream," Rutledge explained.

MacDonald's writing was sometimes criticized for lack of literary polish, but he was not necessarily as interested in technique as in evoking an emotional or spiritual response. "Although an unexceptional writer in terms of literary style (his prose is often stilted and awkwardly constructed), MacDonald was adept at developing worlds that superbly meshed the auras of mystery and holiness," wrote Edward Gilbreath in Christianity Today. "Indeed, two of his adult novels, Phantastes and Lilith, stand out as being as authentically eerie as they are Christian."

As MacDonald commented in "The Fantastic Imagination," "The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is … to wake things up that are in him." By awakening man's awareness of the divine, his moral sense, and his imagination, MacDonald created a lasting legacy in his chosen form. As Lewis wrote, "What [MacDonald] does best is fantasy … and this … he does better than any man."

If you enjoy the works of George MacDonald

you might want to check out the following books:

Lord Dunsany, The Book of Wonder, 1912.

C. S. Lewis, "The Chronicles of Narnia," 1950-55.

William Morris, The Wood beyond the World, 1895.

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Allibone's Critical Dictionary of English Literature, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1965.

Browning, D. C., compiler, Everyman's Dictionary of Literary Biography, Dutton (New York, NY), 1960.

Bulloch, John M., A Centennial Bibliography of George MacDonald, University Press (Aberdeen, Scotland), 1925.

Carpenter, Humphrey, Secret Gardens: The Golden Age of Children's Literature, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1985.

Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, Volume 3, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1978.

Childhood in Poetry, 3rd supplement, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.

Companion to Scottish Literature, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.

Dictionary of English Authors, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1978.

Dictionary of English Literature, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1966.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 18: Victorian Novelists after 1885, 1983, Volume 163: British Children's Writers, 1800-1880, 1996, Volume 178: British Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers before World War I, 1997.

Evans, Ifor, English Poetry in the Later Nineteenth Century, revised edition, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1966.

The Fantastic in Literature, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1976.

Fremantle, Anne, editor, The Visionary Novels of George MacDonald, Noonday Press (New York, NY), 1954.

George MacDonald: A Bibliographical Catalog and Record, Marion E. Wade Collection, Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL), 1984.

Hart, Francis Russell, The Scottish Novel: From Smollett to Spark, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1978.

Hein, Rolland, The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1982.

Hein, Rolland, George MacDonald: Victorian Mythmaker, Star Song (Nashville, TN), 1993.

Huttar, Charles A., editor, Imagination and the Spirit: Essays in Literature and the Christian Faith Presented to Clyde S. Kilby, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1971.

Johnson, Joseph, George MacDonald: A Biographical and Critical Appreciation, Pitman, 1896.

Kirk, John Foster, Allibone's Critical Dictionary of English Literature: A Supplement, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1965.

Lee, Sir Sidney, The Dictionary of National Biography, 2nd supplement, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1912.

MacDonald, George, George MacDonald: An Anthology, preface by C. S. Lewis, Bles (London, England), 1946.

MacDonald, George, A Dish of Orts: Chiefly Papers on the Imagination, and on Shakespeare, Low, 1893.

MacDonald, Greville, George MacDonald and His Wife, introduction by G. K. Chesterton, Dial (New York, NY), 1924.

MacDonald, Ronald, From a Northern Window, James Nisbet (London, England), 1911.

MacNeice, Louis, Varieties of Parable, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England) 1965.

Manlove, C. N., Modern Fantasy: Five Studies, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1975.

Manlove, C. N., The Impulse of Fantasy Literature, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1983.

Michalson, Karen, Victorian Fantasy Literature: Literary Battles with Church and Empire, Edwin Mellen (Lewiston, NY), 1990.

Nodelman, Perry, editor, Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, Volume 1, Children's Literature Association (West Lafayette, IN), 1985.

Phillips, Michael R., George MacDonald: Scotland's Beloved Storyteller, Bethany House (Minneapolis, MN), 1987.

Prickett, Stephen, Romanticism and Religion: The Tradition of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the Victorian Church, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1976.

Prickett, Stephen, Victorian Fantasy, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1979.

Raeper, William, George MacDonald, Lion (Batavia, IL), 1987.

Raeper, William, The Gold Thread: Essays on George MacDonald, Edinburgh University Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1990.

Reis, Richard H., George MacDonald's Fiction: A Twentieth-Century View, Sunrise Books (Eureka, CA), 1989.

Reis, Richard H., George MacDonald, Twayne (New York, NY), 1972.

Robb, David, George MacDonald, Scottish Academic Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1987.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Saintsbury, Elizabeth, George MacDonald: A Short Life, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1987.

Seymour-Smith, Martin, editor, Novels and Novelists, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Shaberman, R. B., George MacDonald's Books for Children: A Bibliography of First Editions, Cityprint Business Centres (London, England), 1979.

Stapleton, Michael, The Cambridge Guide to English Literature, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1998.

Supernatural Fiction Writers, Scribner (New York, NY), 1985.

Sutherland, John, The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1989.

Tolkien, J. R. R., Tree and Leaf, Allen and Unwin (London, England), 1964.

Triggs, Kathy, The Stars and the Stillness: A Portrait of George MacDonald, Lutterworth Press (Cambridge, England), 1961.

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 9, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.

Ward, Martha E., with others, Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.

Wolff, Robert L., The Golden Key: A Study of the Fiction of George MacDonald, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1961.

Writers for Children, Scribner (New York, NY), 1988.

Zipes, Jack, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, Wildman (New York, NY), 1983.

PERIODICALS

Aberdeen University Library Bulletin, February, 1925, John Malcolm Bulloch, "A Bibliography of George MacDonald," pp. 679-747.

Aberdeen University Review, Volume 41, number 134, 1965, Muriel Hutton, "Sour Grapeshot: Fault-Finding in A Centennial Bibliography of George MacDonald," pp. 85-88.

America, December 18, 1982, Edward G. Zogby, review of The Harmony Within, pp. 398-399.

Athenaeum, July 7, 1855, p. 783.

Booklist, January 15, 1993, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Lost Princess, p. 908.

Book World, September 17, 1967.

Children's Literature, Number 2, 1973, Glenn Edward Sadler, "'The Little Girl That Had No Tongue': An Unpublished Short Story by George MacDonald," pp. 18-34; Number 16, 1988, Cynthia Marshall, "Allegory, Orthodoxy, Ambivalence: MacDonald's 'The Day Boy and the Night Girl,'" pp. 57-75.

Christian Herald, December, 1985, review of The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald, p. 59.

Christianity Today, November 17, 1978; January 9, 1995, Edward Gilbreath, "An Expression of Character: The Letters of George MacDonald," pp. 63-64.

English, summer, 1956; autumn, 1957.

Extrapolation, fall, 1987, John Pennington, "From Fact to Fantasy in Victorian Fiction: Dickens' Hard Times and MacDonald's Phantastes," pp. 200-207; fall, 1989, Susan E. Howard, "In Search of Spiritual Maturity—George MacDonald's Phantastes," pp. 280-292.

Horn Book Magazine, August, 1961; March-April, 1985, review of The Light Princess, p. 204; May-June 1985, Nancy Sheridan, review of The Golden Key, pp. 332-333.

Library Journal, June 15, 1982, review of The Harmony Within, p. 1225.

Maclean's, January 25, 1982.

Mythlore, winter, 1977, Roderick F. McGillis, "George MacDonald and the Lilith Legend in the XIXth Century."

National Catholic Reporter, March 6, 1981, Jack Dick, "The Fantasy Stories of George MacDonald," p. 12.

New Republic, December 6, 1954.

New Statesman, July 30, 1982, Nicolas Walter, review of Phantastes, p. 23.

New Yorker, December 11, 1954.

New York Review of Books, December 21, 1967, pp. 34-36.

New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1954.

Publishers Weekly, December 4, 1981, Jean F. Mercier, review of The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald, p. 51; May 14, 1982, review of The Harmony Within, p. 214; January 28, 1983, Sally A. Lodge, review of The Flight of the Shadow, pp. 82-83; February 25, 1983, review of The Son of the Day and the Daughter of the Night, pp. 89-90; January 18, 1985, review of The Golden Key, p. 75; September 27, 1985, pp. 50-51; October 30, 1987, Diane Roback, review of Little Daylight, p. 66; July 29, 1988, Kimberly Olson Fakih and Diane Roback, review of The Light Princess and Little Daylight, pp. 73, 229; August 27, 2001, review of Sir Gibbie, p. 82.

Saturday Review, December 11, 1954.

School Library Journal, April, 1981, Anita C. Wilson, review of The Golden Key and Other Stories, The Light Princess and Other Stories, The Wise Woman and Other Stories, and The Gray Wolf and Other Stories, p. 129; October, 1981, Jean Hammond, review of The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald, p. 157; October, 1987, Susan Hepler, review of The Princess and the Goblin, p. 116; August, 1988, Helen Gregory, review of The Light Princess, p. 83.

Scottish Literary Journal, May, 1985, Leslie Willis, "Born Again: The Metamorphosis of Irene in George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin," pp. 24-39.

Time, June 2, 1947.

Times Educational Supplement, June 14, 1991, Quentin Blake, review of The Princess and the Goblin, p. 26.

Washington Post Book Week, July 24, 1966, Maurice Sendak, "The Depths of Fantasy," pp. 14-15.

Yale University Library Gazette, Number 51, 1976, Muriel Hutton, "The George MacDonald Collection," pp. 74-85.*

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