George MacDonald

George MacDonald

Infobox Writer
name = George MacDonald

birthdate = birth date|1824|12|10|mf=y
birthplace = Huntly, Scotland
deathdate = death date and age|1905|9|18|1824|12|10|mf=y
deathplace = Ashtead (Surrey), England
occupation = Minister, Poet, Novelist
genre = Fantasy, Christian apologetics
movement =
notableworks = "Lilith", "Phantastes", "David Elginbrod"
influences = Novalis, Fouqué, Spenser, Heine, Goethe, Schiller, Wordsworth, Thoreau
influenced = C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, G. K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, Madeleine L'Engle

George MacDonald (10 December 1824 — 18 September 1905) was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister.

Though no longer well known, his works (particularly his fairy tales and fantasy novels) have inspired admiration in such notables as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle. For instance C. S. Lewis wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his "master". Picking up a copy of "Phantastes" one day at a train-station bookstall, he began to read: "A few hours later," said Lewis, "I knew that I had crossed a great frontier."
G. K. Chesterton cited "The Princess and the Goblin" as a book that had "made a difference to my whole existence."

Elizabeth Yates wrote of "Sir Gibbie", "It moved me the way books did when, as a child, the great gates of literature began to open and first encounters with noble thoughts and utterances were unspeakably thrilling." [ [ George MacDonald] ,]

Even Mark Twain, who initially disliked MacDonald, became friends with him, and there is some evidence that Twain was influenced by MacDonald. [ [ Mark Twain, George MacDonald's Friend Abroad ] ]


The man who was to inspire such feeling was born on December 10, 1824 at Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father, a farmer, was one of the MacDonalds of Glen Coe, and a direct descendant of one of the families that suffered in the massacre of 1692. The Doric dialect of the area frequently appears in the dialogue of some of his non-fantasy novels.

MacDonald grew up influenced by his Congregational Church, with an atmosphere of Calvinism. But MacDonald never felt comfortable with some aspects of Calvinist doctrine; indeed, legend has it that when the doctrine of predestination was first explained to him, he burst into tears (although assured that he was one of the elect). Later novels, such as "Robert Falconer" and "Lilith", show a distaste for the idea that God's electing love is limited to some and denied to others. Especially in his "Unspoken Sermons" he shows a highly developed theology.

He took his degree at the University of Aberdeen, and then went to London, studying at Highbury College for the Congregational ministry.

In 1850 he was appointed pastor of Trinity Congregational Church, Arundel, but his sermons (preaching God's universal love and the possibility that none would, ultimately, fail to unite with God) met with little favour and his salary was cut in half. Later he was engaged in ministerial work in Manchester. He left that because of poor health, and after a short sojourn in Algiers he settled in London and taught for some time at the University of London. MacDonald was also for a time editor of "Good Words for the Young", and lectured successfully in the United States during 1872-1873.

His best-known works are "Phantastes", "The Princess and the Goblin", "At the Back of the North Wind", and "Lilith", all fantasy novels, and fairy tales such as — "The Light Princess", "The Golden Key", and "The Wise Woman". "I write, not for children," he wrote, "but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five." MacDonald also published some volumes of sermons, the pulpit not having proved an unreservedly successful venue.

MacDonald also served as a mentor to Lewis Carroll (the pen-name of Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson); it was MacDonald's advice, and the enthusiastic reception of "Alice" by MacDonald's three young daughters, that convinced Carroll to submit "Alice" for publication. Carroll, one of the finest Victorian photographers, also created photographic portraits of the girls and their brother Greville.

MacDonald was also friends with John Ruskin and served as a go-between in Ruskin's long courtship with Rose la Touche.

MacDonald was acquainted with most of the literary luminaries of the day; a surviving group photograph shows him with Tennyson, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Trollope, Ruskin, Lewes, and Thackeray. While in America he was a friend of Longfellow and Walt Whitman.

In 1877 he was given a civil list pension. He died on 18 September 1905 in Ashstead (Surrey). He was cremated and buried in Bordighera.

As hinted above, MacDonald's use of fantasy as a literary medium for exploring the human condition greatly influenced a generation of such notable authors as C. S. Lewis (who featured him as a character in his "The Great Divorce"), J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle. MacDonald's non-fantasy novels, such as "Alec Forbes", had their influence as well; they were among the first realistic Scottish novels, and as such MacDonald has been credited with founding the "kailyard school" of Scottish writing.

His son Greville MacDonald became a noted medical specialist, and also wrote numerous novels for children. Greville ensured that new editions of his father's works were published. Another son, Ronald MacDonald, was also a novelist. Ronald's son, Philip MacDonald, (George MacDonald's grandson) became a very well-known Hollywood screenwriter. [ [ Internet Archive: Details: The sword of the King ] ]


MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal Substitutionary atonement as put forward by John Calvin which argues that Christ has taken the place of sinners and is punished by God in their place, believing that in turn it raised serious questions about the character and nature of God. Instead, he taught that Christ had come to save people from their sins, and not from a Divine penalty for their sins. The problem was not the need to appease a wrathful God but the disease of cosmic evil itself. George MacDonald frequently described the Atonement in terms similar to the Christus Victor theory. MacDonald posed the rhetorical question, "Did he not foil and slay evil by letting all the waves and billows of its horrid sea break upon him, go over him, and die without rebound—spend their rage, fall defeated, and cease? Verily, he made atonement!"

MacDonald was convinced that God does not punish except to amend, and that the sole end of His greatest anger is the amelioration of the guilty. As the doctor uses fire and steel in certain deep-seated diseases, so God may use hell-fire if necessary to heal the hardened sinner. MacDonald declared, "I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children." MacDonald posed the rhetorical question, "When we say that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless?" He replied, "No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. … The wrath will consume what they "call" themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear." However, true repentance, in the sense of freely chosen moral growth, is essential to this process, and, in MacDonald's optimistic view, inevitable for all beings. He recognized the theoretical possibility that, bathed in the eschatological divine light, some might perceive right and wrong for what they are but still refuse to be transfigured by operation of God's fires of love, but he did not think this likely.

In this theology of divine punishment, MacDonald stands in agreement with the Greek Church Fathers St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, although it is unknown whether MacDonald had a working familiarity with Patristics or Eastern Orthodox Christianity. At least an indirect influence is likely, because F. D. Maurice who influenced MacDonald knew the Greek Fathers, especially Clement, very well. MacDonald states his theological views most distinctly in the sermon [ Justice] found in the third volume of "Unspoken Sermons".

In his introduction to "", C. S. Lewis speaks highly of MacDonald's theology:

quote |This collection, as I have said, was designed not to revive MacDonald's literary reputation but to spread his religious teaching. Hence most of my extracts are taken from the three volumes of "Unspoken Sermons". My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help-sometimes indispensable help toward the very acceptance of the Christian faith.…I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined.…In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it.

Influence on pop culture

* Rock group The Waterboys titled their album "Room to Roam" after a passage in MacDonald's "Phantastes", also found in "Lilith". The title track of the album comprises a MacDonald poem from the text of "Phantastes" set to music by the band. The works "Lilith" and "Phantastes" are both named as books in a library, in the title track of another Waterboys album, "Universal Hall". The Waterboys have also quoted from C.S. Lewis in several songs including "Church Not Made With Hands" and "Further Up, Further In", confirming the enduring link in modern pop culture between Macdonald and Lewis.

* A verse from "The Light Princess" is cited in the "Beauty and the beast" song by Nightwish.

* The contemporary new-age musician, Jeff Johnson wrote a song titled "The Golden Key" based on George MacDonald's story of the same name. He has also written several other songs inspired by MacDonald and the Inklings.

* Christian celtic punk band Ballydowse have a song called "George MacDonald" on their album "Out of the Fertile Crescent". The song liberally quotes from "Phantastes."

Partial list of works

* "Within and Without" (1855)
* "Poems" (1857)
* "Phantastes" (1858)
* "Cross Purposes" (1862)
* "David Elginbrod" (1863) (republished as "The Tutor's First Love")
* "The Portent" (1864)
* "Adela Cathcart" (1864) (contains "The Light Princess", "The Shadows", "The Giant's Heart", "My Uncle Peter", "A Journey Rejourneyed" and other shorter stories)
* "A Hidden Life and Other Poems" (1864)
* "Alec Forbes of Howglen" (1865) (republished as "The Maiden's Bequest") retrieved on July 5, 2007]
* "Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood" (1867)
* "Unspoken Sermons" (1867)
* "Dealings with the Fairies" (1867) (contains "The Golden Key")
* "The Disciple and Other Poems" (1867)
* "" (1868)
* "Robert Falconer" (1868) (republished as "The Musician's Quest")
* "England's Antiphon" (1868, 1874)
* "The Seaboard Parish" (1868)
* "The Miracles of Our Lord" (1870)
* "At the Back of the North Wind" (1871)
* "Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood" (1871)
* "Works of Fancy and Imagination" (1871)
* "Wilfrid Cumbermede" (1871, 1872)
* "The Vicar's Daughter" (1871, 1872)
* "The Princess and the Goblin" (1872)
* "The History of Gutta-Percha Willie, the Working Genius" (1873)
* "Malcolm" (1875) (republished as a two-volume work containing "The Fisherman's Lady" and "The Marquis' Secret")
* "The Lost Princess" (1875) [alternative title: * ""]
* "Exotics" (1876)
* "St. George and St. Michael" (1876)
* "Thomas Wingfold, Curate" (1876) (republished as "The Curate's Awakening")
* "The Marquis of Lossie" (1877) (republished as"The Marquis’ Secret")
* "Paul Faber, Surgeon" (1879) (republished as"The Lady's Confession")
* "Sir Gibbie" (1879) (republished as "The Baronet's Song")
* "A Book of Strife, in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul" (1880)
* "Mary Marston" (1881) (republished as "A Daughter's Devotion")
* "Warlock O' Glenwarlock" (also entitled "The Laird's Inheritance" or "Castle Warlock") retrieved on July 5, 2007]
* "Weighed and Wanting" (1882) (republished as "A Gentlewoman's Choice")
* "The Gifts of the Child Christ and Other Tales" (1882)
* "" (1882)
* "The Day Boy and the Night Girl" (1882)
* "The Princess and Curdie " (1883, sequel to ' The Princess and the Goblin ')
* "Donal Grant" (1883) (republished as "The Shepherd's Castle") Companion story of Gibbie and his friend Donal [ retrieved on July 5, 2007]
* "" (1883)
* "Preface to Letters from Hell by LWJS (1884)
* "" (1885)
* "Unspoken Sermons, Second Series" (1885)
* "What's Mine's Mine" (1886) (republished as "The Highlander's Last Song") [ retrieved on July 5, 2007]
* "Poems" (1887)
* "Home Again, a Tale" (1887) (republished as "The Poet's Homecoming")
* "The Elect Lady" (1888) (republished as "The Landlady's Master")
* "Unspoken Sermons, Third Series" (1889)
* "A Rough Shaking" (1891)
* "There and Back" (1891 (republished as "The Baron's Apprenticeship")
* "The Flight of the Shadow" (1891)
* "A Cabinet of Gems" (1891)
* "" (1892)
* "Heather and Snow" (1893) (republished as "The Peasant Girl's Dream") [ retrieved July 5, 2007]
* "A Dish of Orts" (1893)
* "The Poetical Works" (1893) (including many previously unpublished poems)
* "Scotch Songs and Ballads" (1893)
* "Lilith" (1895)
* "Salted with Fire" (1896) (republished as "The Minister's Restoration") [ retrieved on July 5, 2007]
* "Far above Rubies" (1898)
* "Evenor" (1972 (collection of three stories))

ee also

* Mythopoeia


Further reading

*"North Wind. A Journal of George MacDonald Studies". The Journals of the George MacDonald Society
*Greville MacDonald, "George MacDonald and his Wife", London: *George Allen & Unwin, 1924 (republished 1998 by Johannesen ISBN 1-881084-63-9
*Rolland Hein, "George MacDonald: Victorian Mythmaker". Star Song Publishing, 1993. ISBN 1-56233-046-2
*William Raeper, "George MacDonald. Novelist and Victorian Visionary", Lion Publishing, 1987
*Thomas Gerold, "Die Gotteskindschaft des Menschen. Die theologische Anthropologie bei George MacDonald", Münster: Lit, 2006 ISBN 3-8258-9853-9 (A study of MacDonald's theology).
*"George MacDonald Selections From His Greatest Works", compiled by David L. Neuhouser, published by Victor Press 1990. ISBN 0-89693-788-7
*"Wingfold. A journal "Celebrating the works of George MacDonald". Published by Barbara Amell

External links

** [ "Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women" on the University of Virginia Library's web site]
** gutenberg author|id=George_MacDonald|name=George MacDonald
** [ Christian Classics Ethereal Library]
** [ Extracts from Scribner's Monthly, etc.] containing a few poems and translations of Novalis (Cornell University's [ "Making of America" Journal Collection] )
** [ Several Works] at [ Penn State University's Electronic Classics] (pdf format)
*YouTube|Nki8mQzI-Pw|C.S. Lewis Called Him Master—George MacDonald
* [ The George MacDonald Informational Web]
* [ George MacDonald] on The Victorian Web
* [ Mark Twain and George MacDonald: The Salty and the Sweet]
* [ George MacDonald Society]
* [ Life and Works of George MacDonald]
* [ Free audio recording of "The Golden Key"] at [" Librivox]
* [ The Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends - Taylor University ] at

NAME= MacDonald, George
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Scottish journalist, novelist
DATE OF BIRTH= December 10, 1824
PLACE OF BIRTH= Huntly, Scotland
DATE OF DEATH= September 18, 1905
PLACE OF DEATH= Ashstead (Surrey), England

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