Magical Mr. MacDonald

On Thursday, my favorite blog will have a post from me! It is a Retro Review of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I had a ton of fun re-reading The Princess and the Goblin, and I also re-read the sequel (The Princess and Curdie), read MacDonald’s short story “The Light Princess” for the first time, and googled George MacDonald to learn more about him. Thus, this is my spillover post, featuring what I learned about this author who was so important to me as a child.

A picture of George MacDonald, who lived 1824-1905.
George MacDonald

Here are my favorite facts about MacDonald that I picked up from introductions to the books, his Wikipedia page, and a couple of author biographies.

1. Three of my other favorite authors were inspired by MacDOnald’s work! According to my reading, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L’Engle all found George MacDonald’s reimagining of older fairy tale tropes instrumental for their own wonderful creations.

2. One of the most influential children’s books of all time was written by a reverend who was friends with and mentored by George MacDonald. MacDonald encouraged him to keep writing, as did his 11 children (can you tell he liked children? Wow!), and that family friend published Alice in Wonderland with the penname of Lewis Carroll. (!)

3. MacDonald was originally a minister, but his views were too humanist for his church; he did not buy the idea that you either were in or were out of heaven (the Calvinist predestination doctrine), and that you couldn’t really do much about it – just work to keep your seat if you’d been elected. Reading his books, where he constantly writes about people’s capacity to grow and improve, you can see how he would chafe under the doctrine of predestination. I think it’s fascinating that he was booted from preaching and instead turned to writing fairy stories and helping to spark a whole fantasy genre.

4. He was totally in a Nerdy Book Club of his own! Or, a Nerdy&Awesome Writer’s Club, really. I guess writers all knew each other, so while he and Mark Twain took a while to become friends (frenemies, perhaps?), MacDonald knew all the literary folk of his day, brushing elbows with Tennyson, Dickens, and more.

If you choose to read more MacDonald, there is a sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, but it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the first book (read my post Thursday to see what I thought about The Princess & the Goblin…)

The Princess and Curdie
The Princess and Curdie is heavy on the moralizing, and MacDonald spoils his story’s ending completely and depressingly in the last paragraph. On the plus side, you find out what happens to Curdie and the Irenes post-Goblin, and it features marvelous, monstrous animals who would have been worthy of illustration by the late, great Maurice Sendak.

The Light Princess
Or, check out a very light read: MacDonald’s short story “The Light Princess.” It is the silly tale of a princess cursed to possess no gravity (of either kind! Haha, it’s a pun because she’s not serious and the earth’s gravity doesn’t work on her!). Of course, you can always read Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, too, who follow beautifully in MacDonald’s footsteps. (L’Engle’s amazing books go off in a different direction with their science fiction take, while Lewis & Tolkien’s stories inhabit the same sorts of fantastical worlds as MacDonald’s.)

I can’t speak to the merits of At the Back of the North Wind, which I loved as a child, but I’ll let you know when I get around to re-reading it. Visit the Nerdy Book Club, today and everyday – but on 5/17/12 it will have a post from me! 🙂


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