George MacDonald (December 10, 1824- September 18, 1905) was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister.
Though no longer a household name, his works (particularly his fairy tales and fantasy novels) have inspired deep admiration in such notables as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle. C. S. Lewis wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his "master". Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day in a train station, he began to read; "a few hours later," said Lewis, "I knew I had crossed a great frontier." G. K. Chesterton cited The Princess and the Goblin as a book that had "made a difference to my whole existence". Elizabeth Yates wrote of Sir Gibbie that "[i]t moved me the way books did when as a child ... Now and then a book is read as a friend, and after it life is not the same ... Sir Gibbie did this to me." Even Mark Twain, who initially despised MacDonald, became friends with him upon their meeting for the first time, and there is some evidence that Twain was influenced by MacDonald.
The man who was to inspire such feeling was born on December 10, 1824 at Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father, a farmer, was one of the MacDonalds of Glen Coe, and a direct descendant of one of the families that suffered in the massacre of 1692. The Doric Dialect of the area, was to frequently appear in the dialogue of some of his non-fantasy novels.
MacDonald grew up influenced by his Congregational Church, with an atmosphere of Calvinism. But he was never entirely happy with Calvinism; legend has it that when the doctrine of predestination was first explained to him, he burst into tears (although assured that he was one of the elect). Later novels, such as Robert Falconer, and Lilith show a distaste for the Calvinist idea that God's electing love is limited to some and denied to others. At length, he ventured so far as to suggest that perhaps hell will be empty. For, if God would not permit a single soul to resist salvation, only they would have hell who think it paradise in preference to surrender to God, who will nevertheless not cease or tire in seeking to save them until they inevitably surrender to love.
He took his degree at the University of Aberdeen, and then migrated to London, studying at Highbury College for the Congregational ministry.
In 1850 he was appointed pastor of Trinity Congregational Church, Arundel, but his sermons (preaching God's universal love and the possibility that none would, ultimately, be damned) met with little favour and his salary was cut in half. Later he was engaged in ministerial work in Manchester. He left that because of poor health, and after a short sojourn in Algiers he settled in London and had taught for some time at the University of London. MacDonald was also for a time editor of Good Words for the Young, and lectured successfully in the United States during 1872-1873.
His best-known works are Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, and Lilith, all fantasy novels, and his fairy tales- "The Light Princess", "The Golden Key", and "The Wise Woman", to name a few. "I write, not for children," he wrote, "but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five." MacDonald also published some volumes of sermons (the pulpit not having proved an unreservedly successful venue).
MacDonald also served as a mentor to Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson); it was MacDonald's advice, and the enthusiastic reception of Alice by MacDonald's three young daughters that convinced Carroll to submit Alice for publication. Carroll, one of the finest Victorian photographers, also created photographic portraits of the girls and son Greville.
MacDonald was also friends with John Ruskin and served as a go-between in Ruskin's long love affiar with Rose la Touche.
MacDonald was acquainted with most of the literary luminaries of the day; a surviving group photograph shows him with Tennyson, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Trollope, Ruskin, Lewes, and Thackeray. While in America he was a friend of Longfellow and Walt Whitman.
In 1877 he was given a civil list pension. He died on September 18, 1905.
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