The Influence of George MacDonald

Many people have unfortunately never heard of George MacDonald.  I myself never read his work or bothered to learn about him until the co-author of this blog and writer of Dusty Thanes suggested that I read Lilith and Phantasies in college.  Unfortunately, I did not finish and my dear friend has recently reminded me of the need to read these seminal works.  MacDonald was a huge influence on both J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.  This was so much the case in regard to C. S. Lewis that he once wrote: “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.”  Though, there did exist differences of opinion between them.  For example, MacDonald held that people are God’s instruments rather than co-workers–a position which rather limits human freedom–and believed that all men would be saved without exception–that hell is not eternal punishment.

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There is something charming in George MacDonald’s complete trust in God as an All-merciful Father.  Of course, all believers say that God is all-merciful, but few can convey the absolute warmth of divine love like George MacDonald.  This atmosphere of child-like trust and simplicity lends an air of fantasy to even the novels he sets in modern times. 

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At the same time, he does not underestimate the horrendous and insidious nature of sin.  I just completed the novel Weighted and Wanting, which concerns a prodigal son and how his father has difficulty forgiving him.  In the most terrible scene of the novel, the father takes a whip to Cornelius, the prodigal,  and then to Cornelius’s wife who places her body between her husband and the whip.  However, God can bring good even out of a tragedy, and this event leads the father and the son to forgive one another.  MacDonald believed that even sin, by its very ugliness, can cause the soul to turn back to God.

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I encourage everyone to read Lilith and Phantasies at least.  (Advice which I hope to follow myself soon.)  Then, Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie sound like the books which are next to the former in greatness.  Reading such works will certain help one understand the Inklings.  In That Hideous Strength, I caught one allusion to MacDonald in a character’s claim that we cannot be God’s co-workers but only His instruments and a direct reference to The Princess and Curdie so far.  Who knows?  You may come out of reading one of his books the way G. K. Chesterton did after he read Curdie.  He said MacDonald’s novel “made a difference to my whole existence.”

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4 thoughts on “The Influence of George MacDonald

  1. Nami says:

    I need to read more of McDonald! I would suggest another book too: At the Back of the North Wind. I don’t know if it’s one of his greatest works or not since I haven’t read enough of him to compare. But I read it a long time ago and just started re-reading it this summer–it definitely conveys the child-like trust you talk about, and some really good lessons about love. Not to mention that the illustrations done by Jessie Wilcox for one edition of the book are just beautiful!

    • I’ll keep that work in mind. MacDonald’s corpus is pretty large, so it’s safe to say that there are many good works to read. I also read a wonderful play by MacDonald set in the Middle Ages called Within and Without about a monk who becomes disenchanted with his life in the monastery. Therefore, he leaves it to marry his former lover. It was very well done.

  2. […] his Phantasies and Lilith on your reading list.  Here’s some stuff I’ve written about his influence and I have mentioned him here, here, and […]

  3. […] Cely’s Beyond the Steel Wall strikes one as in the tradition of George MacDonald’s Lilith or C. S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress.  Cely seamlessly weaves historical and […]

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