What do C. S. Lewis, Elizabeth Elliott, Lewis Carroll, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, J.R.R. Tolkien, Oswald Chambers, Madeleine L'Engle, Walt Whitman, G. K. Chesterton and a host of others all have in common? They were all impacted by the Scottish poet, minister and early Christian fantasy author George MacDonald.
George MacDonald was born on December 10th 1824 in Aberdeenshire Scotland. Though his father was a farmer he was a prolific reader and his mother received a classical education and was also a prolific reader. Numerous relatives on both sides of MacDonald's family were scholars of various areas of literature. While MacDonald's own upbringing was essentially Calvinist - his extended family was far from constrained to that one point of view - in fact - MacDonald's family's faith views were as disparate as his family's reading tastes.
In 1850 MacDonald became the pastor of Trinity Congregational Church in Arundel - but his sermons were focused on God's love and his salary was cut in half. He left there and moved to Manchester to work as a minister - but his health forced him to resign and relocate to Algiers for a year to recuperate. Soon after a brief return to Scotland the family began to split their time between their anscestral northern home - and a new one in southern Italy - in hopes of easing not only George's health troubles - but his daughter's. Alas the move was too late for his daughter. It was after this season that MacDonald began writing poetry and children's stories and fairy tales - but eventually becoming an early fantasy writer. Some of his best known works are The Princess and the Goblin, Phantastes, The Golden Key and others. All of his children's stories were highly allegorical. His work drew the attention of Lady Byron who became his friend and offered financial support. Eventually Queen Victoria herself awarded him a government pension.
One of MacDonald's most popular children's stories was The Princess and the Goblin - and was even made into an animated film which you can watch on YouTube.
He also wrote a number of sermons eventually published in a single volume containing all 3 series called "Unspoken Sermons." (which is available as a free e-book on Amazon - click here) Whether due to his literate upbringing, or the variety of his family member's beliefs - or even influenced by his family's persecution in the Masacre of Glen Coe in 1692 in which as many as 38 of George MacDonald's direct ancestors and clansmen were murdered - MacDonald is consistently pragmatic in his convictions. He seems to have less time for dogma and more interest in staying the coarse in his own daily walk and demonstrating this unshakable nature of his faith to those he mentored, such as Lewis Carroll - who developed his Alice in Wonderland story by telling it to MacDonald's eleven children.
MacDonald's writing talents are simply too diverse to cover in one post - so this will serve as an introductory post and highlight his children's books - later posts will look at his poetry, sermons and other writings. His earlier years were lean times - in which he and his wife struggled to support their growing family. His own fragile health contributed to the financial tensions. The family's move from Scotland to Italy. His work eventually secured the interest of Lady Byron - who offered him and his family her financial support. Later his work even earned him the respect of Queen Victoria - enough so that she personally awarded him a government pension. MacDonald traveled several times to the U.S. where he befriended Longfellow and Whitman among others who influenced not only US 19th century culture - but faith culture. I've been picking up, reading, taking notes on MacDonald's writings, dropping those off and picking up more in an effort to prepare for this post - and have come to the conclusion that the enormity of both the volume and diversity of his work - as well as his influence commands multiple posts. Even this short-time of concentrated exposure to his work has made a life long fan out of me. If you'd like a short place to start reading MacDonald - I recommend this devotional book "The Best of George MacDonald".