As Lewis and Tolkien both fought in the trenches in World War I, so George MacDonald looked death in the face on more than one occasion. Due to problems with his lungs, he nearly died in his thirties, yet the doctor who attended him on that occasion declared that “never had he known any patient who, fully aware that he might be dying, looked death in the face with such perfect equanimity.“
Later in life, during his time in Italy, MacDonald and his family were caught up in a terrifying earthquake…which seemed to hold no terror for them. His wife and daughters “did marvels to allay the abject fear possessing visitors and natives alike” and the author himself expressed more awe at God’s power than any trace of alarm at the danger he was in.
This is why his son could say that MacDonald had “no intimacy with Fear“. He goes on to explain “It was his personal embodiment of the sixth beatitude that made him…fearless of spiritual and physical danger…To keep the mind serene in expectancy of death, to risk contagion of a horrible disease for Love’s sake [which MacDonald did when he visited a friend afflicted with smallpox], to wait upon God for bread, is to leave all for the Truth: to consider first a piece of ground, or a five-yoke of oxen, or a wife as apologies for fear, was never his way.“
MacDonald recalls the earthquake of 1887 in A Rough Shaking, which he wrote a few years later, and the Porsons, who rescue a child from the rubble, embody the same fearlessness as the MacDonalds in the face of possible death. There are other elements of faith interwoven into the tale, and the story itself is a delight, though filled with struggle until the end. MacDonald’s three children’s fantasy novels are much better known than his three realistic ones, but hopefully this new edition of A Rough Shaking can go a little way towards a knowledge of the latter.