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Friday, February 17, 2006

George MacDonald, fantastic author, and more

I just discovered that Michael Phillips, who authored the latest Christian fiction book my wife has read, also edited a number of the works of George MacDonald (see also here) for re-publishing. MacDonald was a literary influence on C. S. Lewis, and wrote a number of novels. I've never read any except the fantastic ones, namely Lilith, Phantastes, The Light Princess, The Golden Key, At the Back of the North Wind, The Carasoyn, the Curdie books, and maybe one or two others. MacDonald's works are available for free downloading from Project Gutenberg, and/or from The Golden Key, a site dedicated to MacDonald. (The Carasoyn is not available from Project Gutenberg. It is available here and here.) If I had to recommend only one story of his, I guess it would be The Golden Key or The Carasoyn, but it would be a hard choice. I'd hate to leave out Lilith, or any of them.

Lilith was published in 1895. The title comes from ancient notion that Eve, Adam's wife, had a rival, Lilith. The protagonist (the book is written in the first person) travels back and forth through various openings in his house to where Adam, Eve, and Lilith still live, and back. Here's a passage from near the ending:
Fluttering butterflies, darting dragon-flies hovered or shot hither and thither about our heads, a cloud of colours and flashes, now descending upon us like a snow-storm of rainbow flakes, now rising into the humid air like a rolling vapour of embodied odours. It was a summer-day more like itself, that is, more ideal, than ever man that had not died found summer-day in any world. I walked on the new earth, under the new heaven, and found them the same as the old, save that now they opened their minds to me, and I saw into them. Now, the soul of everything I met came out to greet me and make friends with me, telling me we came from the same, and meant the same. I was going to him, they said, with whom they always were, and whom they always meant; they were, they said, lightnings that took shape as they flashed from him to his.

I won't give away the plot, except to say that most things come out right, really right, in the end.

The Light Princess can be a children's book. Here's the beginning of the second chapter:
The king tried to have patience, but he succeeded very badly. It was more than he deserved, therefore, when, at last, the queen gave him a daughter--as lovely a little princess as ever cried.

The day drew near when the infant must be christened. The king wrote all the invitations with his own hand. Of course somebody was forgotten.

Between these two come Phantastes, which is not designed for children, and the other books I have listed above, which should be appealing to at least some children, as well as to many adults.

Whatever its peculiarities, Phantastes was for Lewis a great balm to the soul, not only in his youth but throughout his lifetime. In his preface to the MacDonald anthology which he edited two decades later, Lewis wrote that he "crossed a great frontier" when he first read Phantastes, that the book had about it "a sort of cool, morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakeably, a certain quality of Death, good death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise (that is where the Death came in) my imagination." The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis's Journey to Faith, David C. Downing. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2002, p. 66. I expect to post on Phantastes later.

Just looking at a few sentences from these books reminds me why C. S. Lewis found them a gateway to Joy.

I also intend to post some excerpts from Diary of an Old Soul, which is a daily devotional book written by MacDonald, in the future. I am starting to read it.

Thanks for reading.

4 comments:

Julana said...

I enjoyed a couple of MacDonald's books that Phillips edited. I could not get through Lilith or Phantastes.
But I really like Lewis's space trilogy.

Martin LaBar said...

Some people are not compatible with fantasy, or vice versa. Lewis's space trilogy was more science fiction (no magic, just extrapolated science of his day). If you really want to read some MacDonald, try some of Diary of An Old Soul (I plan to post a little bit on Sunday, or, for fairy stories/fantasy, The Carasoyn, or The Light Princess. Both of them are fairly short, and give the flavor of MacDonald, including some fantasy. Both were designed for children, but can be enjoyed by adults.

Dee said...

Great entry. Thanks for the beautiful excerpts. Beautiful writing...

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Dee. (Dee writes faith fiction herself, by the way).