George MacDonald was one of the most respected authors of his generation in 19th century Scotland. He wrote over fifty books, nearly half of them novels for adults, along with some theological studies, several volumes of essays & criticism, a few volumes of poetry, and three best selling children's novels accompanied by a couple more volumes of fairytales. He wrote in nearly every literary genre. Although today much of his poetry and adult fiction would be considered rather prosaic, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, it was fantasy that he really excelled in. His only two fantasy novels written for adults--Phantastes and Lilith--are often spoken of as two of the best novels ever written in the English language. His three fantasy novels for children, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and the Curdie, and At the Back of the North Wind are so strange and otherworldly that adults often enjoy them as much, or more, than children. The latter tale is still his best-selling book ever. Strangely though, it was his non-fantasy adult fiction that sold best throughout his lifetime.
MacDonald, born December 10, 1824, drew an enjoyment from reading books even as a young boy that encompassed all the typical poetic elements of elusiveness that so engage the mystical minded. By his late teens, as a student at King's College in Aberdeen, young George was already reading Shelley, Coleridge, James Hogg, and Tom Moore while also finding time to write poetry of his own. He had a powerful intellect, winning 3rd prize in Chemistry and 4th in Natural Philosophy, subjects he would lecture on years later at a Ladies' College to earn some much needed money. Soon after, the decision was made to enter Highbury College where he would try his hand at theology. He would last only two years or so as a fulltime clergymen however, in a country church with a congregation numbering less than sixty five. While most of the church took kindly to the young preacher, there eventually came some opposition by about twenty members to his preaching on a small number of issues, namely, his anti-Calvinistic stance (or rather, anti-predestination), along with what some viewed as a somewhat Universalistic outlook. He had no belief in eternal punishment and torments from a loving father and thought that, if there was indeed a place such as hell, either no one would go there in the end, they wouldn't stay there long if they did, or that hell might be more of a metaphor symbolizing hardships in this life, a "refining fire", that was only meant to last as long as was needed to bring about repentance in the sufferer. During this time however, he had his first book published. Within and Without, a book length poem, appeared in 1855. George MacDonald was thirty one. And while it may seem that all his years of schooling had failed to bring him a substantial income, it was at least becoming clear what the future had in mind for him. In 1857 he had a second book of poetry published, but in 1858 his groundbreaking fairytale for adults--Phantastes--met with great success and finally put him on the map as a fiction writer. The map would have to adjust.
MacDonald's health was quite poor throughout much of his life. Consumption (TB) was at alarmingly high levels in those days and he struggled with it constantly, as did many of his family members...He would outlive his wife, four of his eleven children, even some of his grandchildren. The deaths of his wife, and his daughter, Lily, particularly traumatized him. Yet he would always talk of how very little adversity he had faced in his life, as though he were specially blessed among men. His final years would have a bleakness in them however...Greville tells us that he appeared to be waiting for his wife to come through the door one final time to take him to his true home, and that whenever anyone came to the house he would look up with anxious eyes to see who it was, and once having seen that it was not his beloved Louisa, would let out a sigh and go back to his vigil. One cannot help but be reminded of the closing words of Lilith through the voice of Mr. Vane as he looks forward to his time of departure when he will see his Lona once again. "I wait; asleep or awake, I wait... Novalis says, 'Our life is no dream, but it should and will perhaps become one.'" George MacDonald went to his rest at nearly eighty one years of age, September 18, 1905.
These excerpts taken from an extensive biography, which may be found at http://georgemacdonald.info/
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