Scottish author George MacDonald (1824-1905) was born at Huntly, Aberdeenshire. His father was a farmer by trade, and a direct descendant of the MacDonalds who suffered in the massacre of Glencoe. His influence shaped young George’s enduring belief in the perfection of God’s Fatherhood, as we read in the dedication to his narrative poem, A Hidden Life:
“Thou hast been faithful to my highest need;
And I, thy debtor, ever, evermore,
Shall never feel the grateful burden sore.
Yet most I thank thee, not for any deed,
But for the sense thy living self did breed
Of fatherhood still at the great world’s core.”
MacDonald went on to study at the University of Aberdeen, graduating in 1845 with a degree in chemistry and physics. In 1848, he studied theology at Highbury College in London, in hopes of becoming a congregationalist minister; and shortly afterwards, in 1850, was appointed to the vacant post at Trinity Congregational Church, Arundel. His theological views proving to be at odds with those of the church elders, they cut his salary in half, but if this move was meant to lead to a resignation, it did not achieve its end. As C S Lewis later wrote, “they had misjudged their man,” and MacDonald simply said he must contrive to live on less. Eventually, however, the young pastor did leave, but he continued to preach to eager listeners independently for many years.
His public literary career began with the poem Within and Without (1855.) A first prose work, Phantastes, followed in 1858, but only after he tried his hand at novel-writing did the young writer begin to receive widespread acclaim. The first of his full length Scottish works, David Elginbrod, was hailed by the press as “the work of a man of genius” and likened to the novels of Walter Scott, with readers being equally enthusiastic, and showing, in the years that followed, an appetite for much more of his realistic fiction, set both in his homeland, and in England, where (along with Italy) he spent most of his adult life.
Today, George MacDonald is best known for his fairy-tales such as The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, and The Golden Key, as well as for his full length fantasies for adults: Lilith, and his early work Phantastes, which famously baptised the imagination of the teenage C S Lewis. Our hope at The Room to Roam is that readers will continue to delight in these “faerie romances,” but that at the same time, more and more people will be drawn to the unabridged realistic works, as we strive to make them accessible to all. For it is there, perhaps more than anywhere, that MacDonald’s faith, and the heart of his message to the world, is truly to be found.