“I have never concealed the fact that I regarded MacDonald as my master,” C.S. Lewis has said. This alone was reason enough for me, years ago, to investigate the novels of George MacDonald (1824–1905) — a Scottish writer who left a secure career as a minister to scratch out a living as a novelist. Although he spent his life in poverty, he is also acknowledged as an influence on such fine writers as Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkein and Madeleine L’Engle.
His best works are fantasies — particularly two for children The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie, and two for adults Phantastes and Lilith.
Between Christmas and New Year’s this year I reread one of my favourites: The Princess and the Goblin (1872). In this tale, MacDonald shows us what it means to believe. A soldier is mocked by his unbelieving peers for the strange creatures he tells them he’s seen; one by one each of the soldiers gradually comes to his side, because of their own experience. A brave miner boy disbelieves the inexplicable story of an invisible thread, until he himself feels it; a nanny is unable to believe even her own eyes — and the little princess begins to doubt her own experience as some kind of dream, when evidence seems to contradict it.
At one point the princess’s wise grandmother tells her, “People must believe what they can, and those who believe more must not be hard upon those who believe less.”
I highly recommend MacDonald’s fantasies. If you have small children, read The Princess and the Goblin aloud to them; if you don’t, don’t wait until you have young kids in your life to make this discovery.
British poet W.H. Auden wrote, “To me, George MacDonald’s most extraordinary, and precious gift is his ability, in all his stories, to create an atmosphere of goodness...” This is something rare and beautiful, which kingdom writers today would be wise to cultivate.
D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca