Are you a C.S. Lewis fan? I suspect many of you are. You likely have well-worn copies of The Chronicles of Narnia around your home. I’m partial to Lewis’s essays myself. There’s something about “The Weight of Glory” that I could read it again and again. No doubt, C.S. Lewis was a truly great influence. But here’s a question for you: Who influenced this influencer?
C.S. Lewis himself once said, “As my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.” The master that Lewis is referring to his George MacDonald. George MacDonald was born on December 10, 1824, in Huntly, Scotland, about forty miles northwest of Aberdeen. There was a castle in Huntly that dated back to the twelfth century. It had a golf club and at that time a population of about two thousand or so. George MacDonald’s immediate and extended family was full of bibliophiles. Those are people who love books and literary scholars. Shakespeare, Celtic poetry, the classics— this was the stuff of MacDonald’s childhood.
At the age of twenty, he had a Master of Arts from the University of Aberdeen. His degree was not in literature but in chemistry and physics, of all things. It looked like he might have been on a career path for medicine, but then he set out for theological training. Five years later, in 1850, he was appointed a minister of a Congregational church, and he also took to writing. He wrote The Princess and the Goblin, which is probably his most famous book, and it was published in 1872. As the title suggests, this is a children’s fantasy novel. He also wrote fairytales such as “The Light Princess” and “The Golden Key.” He wrote two books on apologetics and published a number of sermons.
Not only was he a writer, but he was an influence to writers. We’ve mentioned C.S. Lewis, but there was also Lewis Carroll. MacDonald was a mentor to Lewis Carroll. In fact, it was MacDonald who influenced Carroll to send his manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to a publisher.
George MacDonald was married and he had eleven children. All of his life he suffered from asthma, bronchitis, and even tuberculosis. The MacDonald’s traveled often to climates that would be conducive to pure air for him. In fact, they spent twenty years as a family living in the French Riviera. While they were there, MacDonald applied himself to writing and set up a bit of a writer’s studio which became a fairly famous place. Authors from Europe and from Great Britain would come and spend time there and get inspiration for their work and influence each other.
They eventually moved back to England, and on September 18, 1905, George MacDonald died. Let’s have Lewis again give the final word. Lewis said of MacDonald, “I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined.” This is Lewis writing of the writings of George MacDonald.