In What Order Should I Read George MacDonald’s Books? (Part II: Fantasy &c.)

In Part I we covered George MacDonald’s novels, which account for more of his published work than any other category. Now we prescribe a reading order for his other major titles…

FANTASY (CHILDREN):

Only one of MacDonald’s fairy tales has a sequel: The Princess and the Goblin is followed by The Princess and Curdie—and The Room to Roam offers both books in a matching set, which is completed by the only other full length children’s fantasy, At the Back of the North Wind. Of the three books, North Wind was published first, but it may be read either before or after the “Curdie books”, (as C. S. Lewis was in the habit of calling them). All three feature exclusive introductions by Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham.

The shorter fairy tales are all stand-alone stories, which have been included in various collections over the years, and need not be read in any particular order. Our own approach has been to publish them in four slim volumes, with covers to match the three-book set mentioned above. The Light Princess and The Wise Woman are already published, with the The Golden Key still to come in 2024, and after that The Day Boy and the Night Girl. These are arguably the greatest of the short fairy tales, but the lesser known works will be spread throughout these books as “bonuses.”

MacDonald’s full length fairy tales in publication order:

  • At the Back of the North Wind (1871)
  • The Princess and the Goblin (1872)
  • The Princess and Curdie (1883)

MacDonald’s shorter fairy tales in publication order:

  • Cross Purposes (1862)
  • The Golden Key (1867)*
  • The Light Princess (1867)*
  • The Shadows (1867)*
  • The Giant’s Heart (1867)*
  • The Carasoyn (1871)
  • The Wise Woman (1875)
  • The Day Boy and the Night Girl (1882)

*Included as part of the collection Dealings With the Fairies

FANTASY (ADULTS):

MacDonald wrote two fantasy works for adults, Phantastes and Lilith. They are not connected by characters or plot, and were written many years apart. Phantastes (1858) was MacDonald’s first published work of fiction in any genre, and Lilith (1895) his final fantasy (though he would go on to pen one more short novel and a novella.) The Room to Roam offers these peerless classics as a two-book set, with introductions/prefaces by MacDonald’s son Greville. Both books, like the fairy tales, have easy print, and Phantastes, which famously “baptised” the imagination of the teenage C. S. Lewis, has all thirty-three of the beautiful vintage illustrations by Arthur Hughes—who was to MacDonald what Pauline Baynes was to Lewis.

MacDonald’s fantasies for adults in publication order:

  • Phantastes (1858)
  • Lilith (1895)
Phantastes claw
Illustration for Phantastes (Artist: Arthur Hughes)

NON FICTION:

While it is not essential to follow any reading order for MacDonald’s non fiction, his Unspoken Sermons were originally published in three separate books, or “series.” The advantage of this format, which we have followed with our own editions, is not only portability, or even authenticity, but an easier print size than the one volume editions. It also allows those unfamiliar with the Sermons to give them a“test drive”with Unspoken Sermons First Series before making a further venture into the 2nd and 3rd books.

In addition to the Sermons, The Room to Roam also offers The Diary of an Old Soul, MacDonald’s most famous book of poetry, and (like the Sermons) a great favourite of C. S. Lewis (his inspiration for the “living house” parable in Mere Christianity can be found on p.79 of our edition). The Miracles of Our Lord and The Hope of the Gospel are also available, with A Dish of Orts still to come, but for these no reading order is advised.

MacDonald’s (major) non fiction in publication order:

  • Unspoken Sermons First Series (1867)
  • The Miracles of Our Lord (1870)
  • The Diary of an Old Soul (1880)
  • Unspoken Sermons Second Series (1885)
  • Unspoken Sermons Third Series (1889)
  • The Hope of the Gospel (1892)
  • A Dish of Orts (1893)

REALISTIC CHILDREN’S NOVELS:

MacDonald’s three full length children’s fantasies are amongst his best-known works, but he also wrote three realistic children’s novels, which The Room to Roam is releasing in their own matching set. They are all stand-alone tales, but perhaps the most popular was also the first to be published, 1871’s Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood. Beautifully illustrated by Arthur Hughes, it depicts a Scottish rural boyhood as charmingly as the “Anne” series conveys a girlhood in Canada. A Rough Shaking (1891) is a more challenging read, and might be considered Young Adult level if published today, but for older children or grown ups, it is a fascinating tale of survival against the odds, and friendship with animals. Our edition of Gutta-Percha Willie, the story of a boy-genius, is due out in 2024.

MacDonald’s children’s novels in publication order:

  • Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood (1871)
  • Gutta-Percha Willie (1873)
  • A Rough Shaking (1891)
Screenshot 2024 01 26 At 19.19.45
Illustration for Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood (Artist: Arthur Hughes)

 

Note: this two-part blog series is not intended to be an exhaustive list of MacDonald’s writings. Rather, it breaks down the major works from the major categories for those less familiar with his considerable body of work. The remaining novellas, books of poetry, and other assorted titles have no recommended reading order, and can be discovered at each reader’s leisure.

David Jack
David Jack

David Jack is a Scotsman who is translating all of MacDonald's Scottish novels into English, with the original Scots dialogue side-by-side. His goal is to make these novels accessible to readers who are not familiar with the Scots language.

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