George MacDonald, 1824-1905

Portrait

Biographical note

Poet and novelist, son of a farmer, was born at Huntly, Aberdeenshire, and educated at the University of Aberdeen, and at the Independent College, Highbury. He became minister of a congregation at Arundel, but after a few years retired, on account partly of theological considerations, partly of a threatened, breakdown of health. He then took to literature, and published his first book, Within and Without [1856], a dramatic poem, Poems followed in 1857, and Phantastes, a Faerie Romance, in 1858. He then turned to fiction, and produced numerous novels, of which David Elginbrod [1862], Alec Forbes [1865], Robert Falconer [1868], The Marquis of Lossie [1877], and Sir Gibbie [1879], are perhaps the best. He also wrote stories for children of great charm and originality, including The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, and Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood. As a novelist he had considerable narrative and dramatic power, humour, tenderness, a genial view of life and character, tinged with mysticism, and within his limits was a true poet. On retiring from the ministry he attached himself to the Church of England, but frequently preached as a layman, never accepting any remuneration for his sermons.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

Though no longer well known, the works of George MacDonald (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. 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."

Works

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