The writings, spiritual vision, and legacy of George MacDonald & Michael Phillips

The writings, spiritual vision, and legacy of George MacDonald & Michael Phillips


The Legacy:
Who is George MacDonald?

Michael Phillips
Who is Michael Phillips?

George MacDonald's Writings:
A Historical 19th Century Bibliography of His Published Works

George MacDonald’s Writings: “The New Classics”

Michael Phillips’ Writings: A 20th and 21st Century Bibliography of His Published Works

Leben: The MacDonald/Phillips Magazine
Availability and Ordering Information
“Dear Michael Phillips…”: Responses From Readers
“Dear George MacDonald…”: Responses From Readers
From the Heart of George MacDonald: A Selection of Quotations

George MacDonald’s Scotland

George MacDonald’s Faith in Historical Perspective
  George MacDonald - A Brief Biography

George MacDonald (1824-1905), Scottish Victorian novelist, began his adult life as a clergyman and always considered himself a poet first of all.        George MacDonald (1824-1905), Scottish Victorian novelist, began his adult life as a clergyman and always considered himself a poet first of all. His unorthodox views resulted in a very short career in the pulpit, after which he turned to writing in earnest. He initially attracted notice for poetry and his adult fantasy, Phantastes, but once he turned to the writing of realistic novels in the early 1860s, his name became widely known throughout Great Britain and the U.S. Over the next thirty years he wrote some fifty books, including, in addition to the novels, more poetry, short stories, fantasy, sermons, essays, and a full-length study of Hamlet. His influential body of work placed him alongside the great Victorian men of letters and his following was vast.
        MacDonald died in 1905 and his reputation gradually declined in the 20th century. Most of his books eventually went out of print as his name drifted from memory. A brief flurry of interest in his work was generated in 1924 at the centenary of his birth, resulting in several new editions of certain titles and the first major biography of his life, George MacDonald and His Wife, by his son Greville MacDonald
        Obscure though his name gradually became, however, MacDonald was read and revered by an impressive gallery of well-known figures, both in his own time and in the years since. A few of these include G.K. Chesterton (who called him "one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century"), W.H. Auden (who said that MacDonald was "one of the most remarkable writers of the 19th century"), Oswald Chambers (".how I love that man!"), and most notably C.S. Lewis. In spite of such a following, however, MacDonald's reputation gradually declined throughout the 20th century.

It is well enough known that if you dig deep in any old garden, such as this one, ancient—perhaps forgotten—flowers will appear. The fashion has changed, they have been neglected or uprooted, but all the time their life is hid below.

—George MacDonald, Paul Faber, Surgeon

        Lewis acknowledged his spiritual debt to MacDonald as so great that he published an entire anthology of quotations by MacDonald in hopes of turning the public toward his spiritual mentor in large numbers. In the Introduction to that volume Lewis wrote: "I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.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."
        Lewis's efforts, however, were but modestly successful, and for the most part only in literary circles. Notwithstanding Lewis's laudatory words, MacDonald's name continued to fall out of the public consciousness. Even C.S. Lewis was not able to spark widespread interest in the man he called his master. By the 1960s nearly all his work, except for a few stories and fairy tales, was out of print, though his inclusion, along with Lewis and his "inkling" friends, in the newly established Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois promised that he would never be forgotten.
        A resurgence of interest in this forgotten Victorian, primarily in the United States, began to mount in the 1970s and 1980s, given initial impetus by the work of Wheaton professor Dr. Rolland Hein, and then exploding into public view from the efforts of MacDonald redactor and biographer Michael Phillips. Phillips' work resulted in new generations of readers discovering anew the treasures in MacDonald's work, and led to a renewed publication of MacDonald's books on an unprecedented scale not seen since his own lifetime.

A Brief Biography of George MacDonald
by Richard Reis

An excerpt from George MacDonald's Fiction

“George MacDonald…one of the three or four greatest men of the nineteenth century.”
—G.K. Chesterton, 1905

        Although Greville MacDonald's exhaustive biography of his father has relieved me of any obligation to chronicle MacDonald's life at length, it does seem appropriate to review the facts of his career briefly. The son's biography is, naturally, the source of most of these facts; and it is sufficiently authoritative not to require correction. George MacDonald and His Wife is invaluable as a source of information, as a repository of letters unpublished elsewhere, and, to a lesser extent, for its earnest but rather inexpert critical commentary. I must stress, however, that the biography displays the faults of many such works by the sons of notable fathers. Greville MacDonald insists that his father was the best writer and the wisest man who has ever lived and that he has been maligned and misunderstood by the ignoramuses who fail to concede the point. It is very likely, indeed, that there may have been some glossing over of useful facts in the son's anxiety to portray the father in the best possible light. This filial piety seems to have inspired Robert Lee Wolff's speculative efforts to throw some light upon the darker places in MacDonald's psyche.
Details of MacDonald's early life are of greatest significance for a critical understanding of his works.

“MacDonald’s writing has opened a whole new vision of practical Christianity.”

        Details of MacDonald's early life are of greatest significance for a critical understanding of his works. Many of his novels, especially, are in part autobiographical; and, as is often the case with autobiographical authors, the novels focus on his upbringing and on his earliest encounters with the world of practical affairs. Therefore, we need to know that MacDonald was born in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, in 1824, and that he grew up there and in the nearby Pirriesmill, where his father established a somewhat larger farm not long after George was born. His boyhood was set in a traditional rural atmosphere, compounded of Calvinist hellfire, oatcakes, horsemanship, agricultural virtues, and exploration of neighborhood ruins and wildernesses. Reminiscences of such adventures, portrayed with vigor and immediacy, occur again and again in MacDonald's most convincing realistic novels, constituting a large part of his charm as they do of Dickens's. It should not be supposed, though, that MacDonald's own family was conventionally Calvinistic: his father was a nonsectarian Christian of the sort which values the Bible more than what anybody says about it. Nevertheless, the prevailing sternness of Presbyterian Scotland was always there, an oppressive, ubiquitous force.

“In reading the novels of George MacDonald, it has both amazed and inspired me to see the close parallels between the society of his day and ours. His insights into the problems of the Church, the clergy, morality, and what it means to live a truly Christian life in a decadent society apply to…the United States as well as they did to England in the 1800s.”

        Greville MacDonald maintains that George's father was infinitely noble and that his relations with his son were exemplary. C.S. Lewis adds that this rare rapport between father and son must account for MacDonald's ideal of the transcendent Fatherhood of God. George, if we are to believe Greville, never asked his father for anything without getting what he asked; for he never asked for anything undeserved or unobtainable. Lewis correlates this enviable if improbable circumstance with one of George's remarks on prayer: "He who seeks the Father more than anything He can give, is likely to have what he asks, for he is not likely to ask amiss."
        At sixteen MacDonald entered a public school in Aberdeen, winning a bursary (scholarship) to the University of Aberdeen a year later, in 1840. At the university he embarked upon a scientific curriculum, but in 1842 he ran out of money and had to leave school to accumulate some savings. It is quite possible that the temporary rustication was due, in part at least, to some degree of overindulgence in alcohol and at the city's brothels, although again Greville MacDonald naturally does not discuss the question. But in Alec Forbes of Howglen (1865), a largely autobiographical novel, MacDonald clearly implies that his hero fell into a deplorable course of hinted-at-vice while at the university.

“I guess I thought I really had a grasp on what Christianity is all about. George MacDonald has totally changed my preconceived ideas, and altered my thinking forever.”

        Whatever the reason for MacDonald's leaving his studies in 1842, that summer one of the most important events of his life certainly occurred. According to Greville MacDonald, his father "spent some summer months in a certain castle or mansion in the far North, the locality of which I have failed to trace, in cataloguing a neglected library.. The library, wherever it was, and whatever its scope, added much to the materials upon which his imagination worked in future years." While it is often unwise to interpret passages of ostensible fiction as autobiographical, Greville MacDonald does not hesitate to cite from The Portent (1864), one of his father's romances, a description of his experience in this northern library; the passage, which follows, is almost certainly autobiographical: "I found a perfect set of our poets, perfect according to the notion of the editor and the issue of the publisher, although it omitted both Chaucer and George Herbert. . But I found in the library what I liked far better, many romances of a very marvellous sort, and plentiful interruption they gave to the formation of the catalogue. I likewise came upon a whole nest of German classics .; happening to be a tolerable reader of German, I found these volumes a mine of wealth inexhaustible."

“I have learned so much about humility and love, servanthood and devotion, through MacDonald’s books.”

        The English poets, the literature of romance, the works of the German Romantics - these are the most profound and permanent influences upon MacDonald's own works. Together they set in motion his change from an ordinary young Scotch scientist to a religious mystic and votary of the imagination. As Lewis suggests, the profound effect of this experience can be traced throughout MacDonald's works: "The image of a great house seen principally from the library and always through the eyes of a stranger or a dependent (even Mr. Vane in Lilith never seems at home in the library which is called his) haunts his books to the end. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that the 'great house in the North' was the scene of some important crisis or development in his life."

“These books have caused me to think deeper thoughts in relation to God, who He is and what He does in the lives of people.”

      The same experience, whatever its nature, figures in the lives of almost every protagonist in MacDonald's most autobiographical novels; but no explicit account of what happened that summer exists. Professor Wolff is sure that MacDonald must have fallen in love with the daughter of the house but that she eventually dropped him because she thought his social status inferior. Such circumstances do appear now and then in the novels; but Wolff, although he makes a plausible case, builds upon conjecture. Wolff adds that this experience caused MacDonald to develop a permanent.hatred for rich noblemen, basing this conclusion upon the fact that aristocratic villains are found in most of MacDonald's stories. Wolff conveniently chooses to ignore the equally indisputable fact that upper-class villains are a staple of Victorian fiction, often no doubt designed to appeal to a lower-class reader's jealousy - a commercial consideration which MacDonald, who needed the widest possible market, surely would not ignore. In any case, MacDonald always depicts libraries as places of high excitement, sources of thrilling secrets, the settings for dramatic encounters between heroes and villains or for love scenes.When MacDonald returned to the university in 1843, he entered a period of inward ferment and outward gloom, marked by religious doubts; and he also began writing Romantic poetry after the manner of Byron. His studies prospered and he received his master's degree in chemistry and in natural philosophy (physics) in 1845. Several years of indecision followed, during which MacDonald earned a meager living as a private tutor in Fulham, a district of southwest London. Several of his heroes, who also spend some years as tutors, usually undergo at the time spiritual crises. Precisely what inward struggles MacDonald went through we do not know, but he decided sometime in 1847 or 1848 to become a minister. Probably a good deal of his personal religion had been worked out by this date.

“CSL said something of GM’s novels breathing holiness…Throughout The Fisherman’s Lady there were refreshing glimpses of GM’s outlook, but those last few chapters as Stewart counsels Lord Lossie breathed a holiness that was palpable!”
—DP, 1983

        Also during this period he met Louisa Powell, to whom he became engaged in 1848; but they could not afford to marry. In the fall of 1848 MacDonald entered Highbury College, London, a struggling Congregationalist divinity school, to study for the ministry. Just after he graduated in 1850, new problems arose before he could take over his first parish in Arundel, Sussex. In December he was stricken with the first of his serious tubercular attacks; thereafter, his lungs troubled him. MacDonald's father died of a tubercular bone infection; his two beloved brothers succumbed while young; and the disease killed in childhood four of MacDonald's eleven children. In later years, he grimly referred to tuberculosis as "the family attendant."

“Genius shines from nearly every page.”

        While he was convalescing, difficulty arose between him and Louisa Powell. From Greville MacDonald's perhaps deliberately obscure account, Louisa resented the fact that the mystic considered earthly love as inferior and as perhaps contradictory to his love of God. Whatever the exact nature of the crisis, it led to his starting work on his first major literary attempt, a long dramatic poem entitled Within and Without (not published until 1855). The work, which presents an account of a love misunderstanding presumably similar to his own, displays most of the faults of his poetry - a smooth facility of versification combined with a lack of vigor of expression found in his best fiction. Reading MacDonald's poetry is often a pleasantly musical experience in which the reader has trouble remembering or caring about what has been said.

“We find MacDonald to be such an inspiration, such a master artist at character development—such a delight to read.”
—L & TB

        By the time MacDonald assumed the ministry of the church at Arundel in the spring of 1851, his trouble with Louisa was resolved, and the marriage took place. At about the same time care the first of his published works, a translation of Twelve Spiritual Songs of Novalis, which was privately printed in Edinburgh. It is important to note that at this time MacDonald was only an occasional writer; he considered his true calling the ministry. Soon enough, however, he was forced to make literature his career, somewhat against his will.

“I have never found myself as enthralled with an author as I am with George MacDonald.”

        In May, 1853, came the deciding crisis of George MacDonald's life. He was forced to resign his pulpit under pressure from his congregation, the elders of which resented his unorthodoxy. Presumably, they were shocked at his preaching that the heathen would be saved. Though suddenly unemployable in his profession, MacDonald felt that his vocation was genuinely a summons from God and, like Jonah's, inescapable. But he now had no money, and he had a wife and an infant daughter to support. This blow and his economic need, and his determined reaction to each, decided MacDonald's fate. He resolved to earn a living as a writer if he could and to incorporate into his works the urgent religious message which he felt called upon to disseminate, pulpit or no pulpit. For most of the rest of his life he had to live by writing, supplementing his slender income with whatever odd jobs and subsidies he could find. In addition to his literary work, he lectured, wrote hack reviews, edited a children's magazine while it lasted, and later was the impresario of dramatic performances acted by himself and his family.

“I am most grateful to the deacons of the chapel in Arundel. Had their misguided actions not forced MacDonald to resign, he may not have turned to writing, and my life, among many, would have been denied a priceless enrichment.”

        MacDonald's literary career began painfully and slowly. Not until 1855 could he find a publisher for Within and Without, and the growing family's poverty meanwhile was extreme. But the poem's appearance promptly started him on the way to the reputation and popularity which he consolidated during the succeeding decade. Charles Kingsley wrote to him; Lady Byron, the poet's widow, became his friend and patron. She was a moral and religious uplifter and philanthropist; her gifts and bequests to the MacDonald family actually kept them from starvation until the father's writing began to produce an income of sorts.
        Phantastes, his first prose book and the first of the symbolic works, appeared in 1858. It was generally ignored or abused, although several fairy stories of about the same time were better received. The first of MacDonald's conventional novels, David Elginbrod, was published in 1863 and immediately became celebrated for the epitaph of the hero's ancestor:

The richness and color of these stories woven throughout with their precious gems of spiritual insight have been a real source of encouragement, joy, and instruction…”
—RB, 1985

            Here lie I, Martin Elginbrodde:
            Hae mercy o' my soul, Lord God;
            As I wad do, were I Lord God,
            And ye were Martin Elginbrodde.

The rest of MacDonald's life is not so important to his fiction as his early years, for his religious and artistic consciousness never changed appreciably through the remaining decades of his life. Already in Phantastes and David Elginbrod he was a mystic of a sort, had worked out the tenets of his personal religion, and had displayed a mastery of symbolic technique scarcely equaled in his era. In realistic fiction he never needed to improve upon David Elginbrod, nor did he especially try. It was popular, it paid, it got its message across; its author was satisfied - no doubt too easily.

“The way George MacDonald portrays God’s love and the Christian life throughout his novels has made me aware of God’s love in an entirely different way.”

        During the 1860s, David Elginbrod was followed by a rush of realistic novels in the same mode, usually but not always written partly in lowland Scots dialect. MacDonald's reputation, friendships, and family multiplied steadily. By 1872 he was sufficiently famous to capitalize upon his renown with a lecture tour in the United States. In thus following the example of Dickens, he netted over a thousand pounds. Meanwhile, MacDonald was befriended by John Ruskin and was intimately involved in Ruskin's strange love affair with Rose La Touche. For a time Rose lived with the MacDonald family, which was charged by her parents with the girl's protection. According to Greville MacDonald, his father even went so far as to interrogate the more famous man, including a frank question as to Ruskin's potency.

“MacDonald has such an ability of speaking to the heart of human nature and from the heart of God, so that the very words speak life to the heart and soul of the reader.”

        In 1873 MacDonald was granted a civil list pension of one hundred pounds a year by Queen Victoria, and he acquired a residence in Bordighera in the Italian Riviera, where he wintered thereafter for the sake of his lungs. His novels, which continued to come out almost annually through the 1880's, were increasingly popular. From time to time, whenever he got far enough ahead of his bills to afford a sure failure, he indulged his less popular taste for fantasy, and he went on writing fairy tales for children which are still classics.

“I have never before read fiction that has so challenged me to look at my own Christian walk.”

        MacDonald became a close friend of "Lewis Carroll," who had his doubts about the value of Alice in Wonderland and tested it on the MacDonald children, accepting their favorable verdict before trying to publish it. Upon Tennyson's death in 1892, MacDonald was apparently considered for the laureateship on the basis of the considerable body of poetry which he had by then produced; but the idea never received very serious support, and the vacant post went to Alfred Austin - hardly a better poet than MacDonald.
        The frequency of MacDonald's publications understandably began to decline by 1890, when he was sixty-six years old. His last work, the story "Far Above Rubies," appeared in 1898. In 1897 MacDonald's chronic eczema became severe and damaged his health generally; in 1900 he apparently suffered a stroke and lost the power of speech. After a long illness George MacDonald died in 1905, leaving behind him a record of grim struggles, of the nobility with which he bore them, and of the reverence in which he was held by everyone who knew him.

Why new edited editions of George MacDonald's books?
by Michael Phillips

Reprinted from the Introduction to the 1982 edition of The Fisherman's Lady

“When another generation or two shall have passed…a fuller appreciation than he has yet had is awaiting him.”
—Louise Willcox, 1906

        An interesting frontspiece appears in a 1935 edition of the book The Victorians and Their Reading by Amy Cruse dealing with nineteenth-century authors: a composite photograph of a group of eminent Victorian writers - J.A. Froude, Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, and George MacDonald. The modern student of the period might easily do a doubletake at first glance, asking, "Who is George MacDonald, and what is he doing there?"

“I find MacDonald’s characters some of the most well developed in anything I have read.”

        But as MacDonald's biographer Richard Reis has pointed out, "Such a question would not have occurred to most of MacDonald's contemporaries. Instead they might have expressed surprise to learn that he would be largely forgotten by the middle of the twentieth century. For throughout the final third of the nineteenth century, George MacDonald's works were bestsellers and his status as a [writer and Christian] sage was secure. His novels sold, both in Great Britain and in the United States, by the hundreds of thousands of copies; his lectures were popular and widely attended; his poetry earned him at least passing consideration for the laureateship; and his reputation as a Christian teacher was vast. This . popularity alone makes MacDonald a figure of some significance in literary history." [George MacDonald's Fiction  by Richard Reis]

“I am so privileged to have this excellent literature in my personal library to share with family and friends.”

        And though in certain ways he had to cater to the public, MacDonald was not the ordinary "popular" writer who is successful in the marketplace but is not taken seriously by qualified critics. "In his own time MacDonald was esteemed by an impressive roster of English and American literary and religious leaders. He was among the closest friends of John Ruskin [Lewis, Lady Byron] and Charles Dodgson; and he moved as a peer in the company of Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, F.D. Maurice, R.W. Gilder, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. All of them respected, praised, and encouraged him, yet his reputation has nearly vanished while theirs survive.
        "[It is not] that MacDonald has been entirely ignored in the twentieth century. Indeed, although he is little known among the general reading public, MacDonald has received considerable scholarly and critical attention during the past twenty years. G.K. Chesterton was among the earliest twentieth-century critics who found MacDonald's 'message' of importance in a post-Victorian [world]. Chesterton once referred to MacDonald as 'one of the three or four greatest men of the nineteenth century.'"

“My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another…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.”
—C.S. Lewis, 1946

Perhaps the most important of MacDonald's modern admirers was C.S. Lewis, who repeatedly acknowledged MacDonald as one of the most important inspirers of his own fantasies and Christian theological writings.        Perhaps the most important of MacDonald's modern admirers was C.S. Lewis, who repeatedly acknowledged MacDonald as one of the most important inspirers of his own fantasies and Christian theological writings. In his own autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes how reading MacDonald's Phantastes began a process of conversion from skepticism to Christianity. In The Great Divorce, Lewis makes MacDonald his guide and mentor. Another Lewis volume, George MacDonald: An Anthology, is a formal acknowledgment of the debt Lewis felt toward MacDonald and consists of selections from his works. In its preface Lewis says of MacDonald, "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." And throughout Lewis's various published letters are sprinkled brief informal glimpses of the importance MacDonald's writings played in Lewis's personal reading program and spiritual growth. "I have read a new MacDonald since I last wrote, which I think the very best of the novels.," he wrote to Arthur Greeves in 1931. In response to a letter in 1939, he asked, "Do you know George MacDonald's fantasies for grown-ups.?" In 1951, in reply to a question posed him, he began by saying, "As MacDonald says.." And to his friend Sister Penelope in that same year he spoke of "My love for G. MacDonald.." Indeed, though it was in 1915 when he first discovered MacDonald ("I have had a great literary experience this week . the book is Geo. MacDonald's Phantastes.." he wrote excitedly to Arthur Greeves in October of that year), he was still reading him with relish and enthusiasm more than forty-five years later.

“When he comes to be more carefully studied…as I think he will be…it will be found, I fancy, that he stands for a rather important turning-point in the history of Christendom…”
—G.K. Chesterton, 1924

        "Though it has now been nearly twenty years since his death, the writings of C.S. Lewis are presently more widely read than ever. Indeed, Lewis is without a doubt the most diversified, widely read Christian writer of this century, perhaps of all time, with the exception of the New Testament authors. Yet though MacDonald's deep influence in the roots, literary tradition and spiritual background of C.S. Lewis is primary and unquestionable, were he alive today Lewis might well remark, as he did in 1946, that those who have received his books do not take sufficient notice of the MacDonald affiliation. It is therefore impossible for the modern follower of the writings and ideas of C.S. Lewis to obtain anything but a fragmentary picture of his thought without at the same time delving into the works of George MacDonald.

“The more I have read, the more I feel George MacDonald slipping into my heart…he was gifted with such insight as most Christians never fully realize.”

        It is not only with Lewis that he is associated. MacDonald's name appears with uncanny frequency in published discussions from the writings of the various other "Oxford Mythmakers" such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Own Barfield, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, and others. There is evidence, for instance, that he was a favorite also with Tolkien and also was influential in his writing. He is increasingly coming to occupy a key position in the growing body of literature surrounding these and other imaginative Christian writers. His works, in all their editions, are included in the Marion E. Wade collection at the Wheaton College Library which is dedicated to the interest and preservation of such writings.

“His gift of creating an atmosphere blending holiness with an aura of mystery initiated the renaissance of the writing of fantasy with a Christian flavor…”
—Rolland Hein, 1993

       George MacDonald's life (1824-1905) spanned the greater part of the nineteenth century. He was a devout Scotsman from a race of bards, pipers, intense loyalties, clan feuds, and steeped in history. His Celtic roots yielded writings full of romance, vision, nature, heather moors, peat fires, high mountains, storm-tossed seas and rugged coastlines. He was drawn to the ministry and studied toward that end. But after a brief stay in the pulpit, his warm, human, imaginative and progressive ideas were increasingly found to be unorthodox according to the rigid and backward standards of the religious establishment of his day, and he was forced to leave it. He thus turned to writing; and in the following forty-two years of his active writing career, the enormity of his output was staggering. He produced some fifty-two separate volumes of immense variety which may be roughly categorized as: three prose fantasies, eight fairy tales and allegories for children, five collections of sermons, three books of literary and critical essays, three collections of short stories, several collections of poetry (which, along with the short stories, in succeeding years came out in many different editions by scores of publishers), and some twenty-five to thirty novels (depending on the definition and method of classification). And among the most amazing aspects of his prodigious career is the fact that many of these (indeed, most of the novels) were over 400 pages in length and some ranged over 700. In addition to writing, MacDonald also lectured widely. He made a tour of the United States in 1873 during which his lectures were highly acclaimed and eagerly attended.

“The last two George MacDonald treasures I have read have brought me immeasurable delight. I have been astounded, humbled, inspired, and excited by his depth of insight. I love my God more for having read these books.

        Though MacDonald may be judged a "success" as a writer and public figure by just about any standards, poverty was nevertheless never far from him. And he suffered as well from poor health, first with tuberculosis, then asthma and eczema. Unlike best-selling authors today who receive large royalties for their work, such was not true for George MacDonald. Though his works were serialized in scores of magazines and though his books were sold in Britain and the United States in phenomenal quantities, he received very little for his efforts. Royalties were small and many of his works were illegally pirated and sold without his ever receiving a cent from the proceeds.
        Because his life was one of constant financial peril and physical adversity, MacDonald's writing was for him a practical way to earn a living. He had a large family to care for and had to provide for them however he could - by writing, lecturing, tutoring, occasional preaching, and odd jobs that presented themselves. Though it can no doubt truthfully be said that MacDonald's first loves lay in the areas of preaching, poetry, and fantasy, he recognized that on the whole the audience representing the potential "market" was made up mainly of middle-class Victorian men and women who fed on dramatic fiction. Out of necessity, therefore, he became a novelist, convinced that he could convey his deep spiritual convictions to a larger audience of readers through fiction. He turned to the novel in the early 1860s, and it became his primary form of published work. And because of the immense popularity of his novels, it was for them he was primarily known.

“MacDonald is such an incredible writer…his characters are vital and alive, asking questions that we still ask today about our faith and walk with God.”

        There is a peculiar quality in a MacDonald novel that has great power to move its reader. For MacDonald was no ordinary man. He had a powerful vision of the meaning of life; his spirit was in close union with the Spirit of God; and he had unusual insight into the application of spiritual principles in daily life situations. And it is this wisdom and spiritual perspective which set his stories apart from those of his contemporaries, most of whom wrote simply for the market. For though MacDonald had to sell books to an audience desiring action, plot, suspense, intrigue, drama and romance, he nevertheless was even more concerned with the novel as a means to an end. There was a message of God's love burning inside him which he had to express.

“To re-read MacDonald always seems like coming home.”

        It is this very desire to spread the reality of God at work in men's lives which undoubtedly contributes to the fact that MacDonald is not known today as is his contemporary Dickens, though during their lifetime such would not have been the case. Today's "average" reader is vastly different in world outlook than his or her counterpart a century ago and is not nearly so concerned with spiritual matters. This is a new era of literary taste; happy endings are no longer in vogue as they were then. Yet these shifts in the public appetite must not keep us from George MacDonald's work. His writings deserve careful consideration in our own day as well. For not only is his influence on his own contemporaries unquestioned, so is his impact on many well-known authors of recent times.

“The Lord has used MacDonald’s books in my life to put His desires in my heart.”

        It is interesting to note, however, that until very recently there has not been a single one of MacDonald's conventional novels in print. And even with today's renewed interest in his works, only a few are now available in expensive limited edition reprints ranging from $50 and up. Yet the novel was his primary form of written expression. To understand MacDonald at all, one needs to experience his novels.

“I am challenged intellectually and spiritually by MacDonald’s novels.”

        When the reader does, however, two problems are immediately encountered in MacDonald's writing style. First of all, MacDonald frequently used lowland Scots dialect for the dialogue between his characters, which few now understand at a glance. And, secondly, MacDonald's tendency toward preaching and rambling often erupts without warning, and he lapses into off-the-subject discourses which slow up the story line considerably.
        or the loyal MacDonald follower, such idiosyncrasies lend a certain charm and flavor. But when the average person is reading a novel, he wants to move through the drama without having to stop and wade through a sermonette or to unravel and decode a passage in Scotch dialect. When these difficulties are overcome, a MacDonald novel is truly elevated to the first rank. For there is much excellence in his stories - shrewd characterization, lively drama, suspense, authentic dialogue, intricate plots, captivating realism.

“The Lord has used MacDonald’s books in my life to put His desires in my heart.”

        Besides the stories themselves, MacDonald's novels are enhanced by spiritual truths woven in and throughout the characters whose lives open before us. MacDonald was so thoroughly a Christian that God's wisdom simply came forth from his pen almost in spite of the story line. It is as though he were continually weaving two parallel stories - that of a "plot," and that of the partially submerged spiritual journeys being traveled in a parallel plane by those characters involved in the story. And MacDonald moved freely from one level to another. To the knowledgeable reader who recognizes the dual purpose of his writing and who is aware of MacDonald's spiritual vantage point, the travels back and forth from level to level make the plot all the more meaningful and the spiritual truths that much more alive. C.S. Lewis commented on the principles one can uncover in a MacDonald novel by saying they "would be intolerable if a man were reading for the story [alone] but . are in fact welcome because the author . is a supreme preacher. Some of his best things are hidden in his dullest books."

“Dr. MacDonald’s work has brought light to a whole new generation which I’m sure would have delighted him…I have…rarely found the utter simplicity and honest Gospel that is portrayed in such a powerful way in these writings.”

        The novels of George MacDonald are therefore intriguing to the modern Christian reader. Nearly every one contains in the narrative a strong vision of a loving God gradually revealing himself in the lives of men and women through nature and daily circumstances. As the various facets of the plot unfold, MacDonald carries on a commentary of spiritual observation (level two) through the characters, their growth and interaction, and the action of the drama itself (level one). The characters responding to their circumstances provide a rich source of insight into why people think and behave as they do. The plot is the skeleton around which the characters and truths come to life.
        Rolland Hein writes: "In developing his vision of life creatively through the imagined real worlds of the various novels, MacDonald moves to authenticate his theological convictions, thereby avoiding a danger confronting the pure theologian. It is easy for students of theology to become people given too much to abstractions, content to handle life at a comfortable distance and to minimize the concrete quality of human experience. But in the novel, broad pronouncements concerning the human situation and human conduct will not suffice. MacDonald, not unlike his great contemporary Dostoevsky, knew that the novel provides a means of testing the validity of theological principles, a means the like of which the seeker after Truth can hardly afford to ignore. For a serious novel presents life as it is lived by men in their daily courses."

“It was like a breath of fresh air to read a good book along the Narnian line that had such strong, honest, Good-seeking characters.”

        And it is just at this point that MacDonald's novels excel. His characters are alive; you feel with them; you accompany them as they are opened to the principles of God and His love. Before long you are one of the characters yourself on Level Two as you sit back to reflect on some nugget of wisdom you have just unearthed from a conversation between two characters. But then suddenly you will find yourself jolted back to Level One, roused in anger at the villain, breathing with heart-pounding gasps as the heroine rushes to escape through the newly discovered secret passageway of the old castle!

“I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself.”
—C.S. Lewis, 1946

        To get at the true George MacDonald, you must get into his world. And his world is revealed through his fiction. Nearly every novel contains much autobiography sprinkled through it. Not only is he a superb storyteller and weaver of fantasies, but at the same time he is the central character - and if not himself surely someone he has known.

“Among MacDonald’s gifts is the ability to make goodness attractive and Christian living seem the only sensible course for one’s life. His vision is infectious.”
—Rolland Hein, 1994

        Throughout all his stories, one can see that he ever loved the Scotland from which he had come. As Lewis said, "All that is best in his novels carries us back to that 'kaleyard' world of granite and heather, of bleaching greens beside burns that look as if they flowed not with water but with stout, to the thudding of wooden machinery, the oatcakes, the fresh milk, the pride, the poverty, and the passionate love of hard-won learning." When feeling with MacDonald the wind blowing from a high northern mountain or from a storm-tossed northern sea, you are sometimes overcome with the sense that the wind is from someplace higher still. There is a special world captured by MacDonald in his novels, a world perhaps not fully present in any particular one but toward which each makes its own contribution. And it is a world worth seeking out.
        The difficulty, however, as mentioned before, is that MacDonald's novels are often out-of-print and, when available, are long and many times unintelligible to the fast-paced reader. My proposal with this reprinted edition of one of my favorites is to once again open this world of George MacDonald to modern-day readers. What I have done is to cut the original by about half by removing digressions from the story and by condensing some of the "wordy" portions. In addition I have "translated" the Scots' dialect, an example of which follows, into English:

“I do not know when I have enjoyed such good reading and received a fresh inspirational look at practical Christianity.”

      "Ye hae had mair to du wi' me nor ye ken, an' aiblins ye'll hae mair  nor yet ye can weel help. Sae caw canny, my man."
      "Ye may hae the layin' o' me oot," said Malcolm, "but it sanna be wi my wull; an gien I hae ony life left I' me, Is' gie ye a fleg."
      "Ye may get a war yersel': I hae frichtit the deid afore noo. Sae gang yer wa's to Mistress Coorthoup, wi' a flech i' yer lug."

(Some dialect of certain characters has been retained for authentic "flavor.")

“MacDonald…speaks to a later time than his own.”
—Richard Reis, 1972

        The original was published as Malcolm in 1875. Something of the immense popularity of the book can be appreciated from the fact that after its serialization in magazines, it was published in more than a dozen different editions in the few years following its release.

“I am a graduate student working on my Ph.D. in Psychology, and have of late been astounded at the depth of insight into human nature that George MacDonald had.”

        The story is set in northern Scotland on the coast of the shire of Banff, an area with which George MacDonald's ancestors had long been associated and of which MacDonald was very familiar; he was raised in Huntly, some twenty miles to the south of this particular stretch of coastline. For this and other reasons (which will become clear as the story progresses), the story can be seen as a window into the background, heritage and character of George MacDonald's Scottish past. But whatever autobiography, allegory or symbolism we discover in the reading, we do well at the same time to read for pure enjoyment's sake. After reading one of MacDonald's stories, his wife once asked him for "the story's meaning." He replied, possibly to us as well as to her, "You may make of it what you like. If you see anything in it, take it and I am glad you have it; but I wrote it for the tale."

Why Read George MacDonald?
by Mike Dalton
A Personal Testimony

“I am reading George MacDonald’s There and Back…I love that writer.”
—Oswald Chambers, 1906

        My introduction to George MacDonald came when Michael Phillips, the one who helped spark a revival in reading MacDonald's works, gave me The Musician's Quest.
        What a gift! 
        Prior to that time, I don't know that I had ever read any so-called Christian fiction.  My reading was largely confined to reading the Bible and other devotional or doctrinal writings.  I probably thought that there was little value in reading fiction, and I knew nothing about George MacDonald, but I was determined to give this book a try.

“MacDonald’s true to life characters give me a better perspective on living out Christ’s commands in obedience to our Heavenly Father.”

        It would be an understatement to say that at some point I became captivated by it.  It felt a little like John Wesley's famous Aldersgate experience.  My heart was strangely warmed as MacDonald helped me to see in a way that perhaps I rarely had, God's loving nature.  It was all the more beautiful in the way that he did it; contrasting the strict Calvinism of his day with what almost seemed to good to be true - a God who was gracious and compassionate, more loving than I knew.  I felt like I had been given a glimpse into the heart of God.

“When I was younger I read his fairy tales for the fun of it, but now I read his stories for the eye-opening truth in them.”

        MacDonald's unique insights into God's nature is an important reason to read him, but there is another.  Many years ago, when what is now known as Contemporary Christian Music was just beginning, John Fischer recorded a song called "Naphtali".  It had a beautiful chorus: Naphtali is a doe set free, he gives beautiful words.  I think the same could be said about George MacDonald; He gives beautiful words.  I find beauty in his writings, and to me that's important, because beauty has its source in God, and anything that is beautiful enough to draw our attention back to Him is worth our time.  His descriptions of nature, people and events are vivid and insightful.  I find myself inspired when I read them.  We need that today in a world that is becoming more sordid by the day.  I need to read things that I not only enjoy but that lift my spirit above the mundane.  MacDonald can do that for me.

“More than a hundred years after his initial popularity, a whole new generation of readers are now discovering in George MacDonald what readers of the last century did by the millions.”
—Michael Phillips 1985

        It's true that reading MacDonald may be more demanding, but he can also be more rewarding.  You could liken reading him to mining for precious ore.  You may have to dig through a lot of words, but the insights into human nature, the world we live, and our relationship to the God we desire to know are deep and out of the ordinary.  No doubt this is why he was read by so many people in his day and ever after.  His writings have influenced such well know Christians as C.S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers just to name a couple.
        If we could measure a man by how often others quote or refer to him, then MacDonald stands as a giant among us.  Even today you find contemporary writers quoting him, and when they do, I always find it insightful.  I've started to copy and collect for Michael and Judy Phillips the MacDonald quotations that I come across.  It's been fun.  You might want to do the same.  Let it be our way of encouraging them in their work of bringing MacDonald to new readers and our way of saying thanks for bringing him to our attention.
        What about MacDonald's critics, and there are those who question or take issue with some of his thought.  I think it's a mistake to reject all that someone might have to offer solely on the basis of disagreeing with him or her in some area.  If we were to carefully scrutinize the writing of both classic and contemporary writers, we might find areas of disagreement with many of them, and yet, probably in most cases, we would not write them off and think that we have nothing to learn from them.  This is not to minimize serious differences and even doctrinal error.  It's just a reminder that we don't need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

“If anyone ever asks me who my favorite author is, I would say, ‘George MacDonald and Michael Phillips, his friend!’”

        One reason MacDonald was considered controversial in his day was because he was not afraid to probe, explore and ask tough questions.  Though we may not agree with all of his thought, it's obvious to me from reading his writings that this was a man who knew God, and if we are open to it, we can learn from him.  If along the way we find something that we question or are not sure about it, we can be big enough to disregard those things, and consider them as an area of thought that we don't agree with or understand.  In general, as Christians I think we suffer from not be willing to learn from those that we differ with.  We can benefit from exploring the teachings and insights from fellow believers while holding, as the Scriptures teach, firmly to sound words.
        I find that truth, beauty and inspiration are important to me in my Christian life, and I find a wealth of it in the writings of George MacDonald.  I would add that he is also a great storyteller.  With the popularity of Christian fiction being at an all-time high, I would think that those who give MacDonald a try will not be disappointed.  Thanks to The Musician's Quest and other MacDonald stories that I have read, I'll never have to wonder again if God can use fiction to teach and inspire me.

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