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Sep 18 Rev George Macdonald and Goblins


Today we remember the death in 1905 of the Scottish clergyman George MacDonald who wrote novels to support himself. He is best remembered for his allegorical fairy stories, which have continued to delight both children and adults. His influence and legacy is wide ranging – a mentor of Lewis Carroll and prominent authors including J. M. Barrie, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman and J. R. R. Tolkien have cited him as a major influence on them. C. S. Lewis ( ood of May 29) wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his "master" who convinced him that true Christianity is not uninteresting. "Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day at a train-station bookstall, I began to read. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier." G. K. Chesterton ( July13) cited The Princess and the Goblin as a book that had "made a difference to my whole existence


Born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His family was one of the MacDonalds of Glen Coe who suffered the infamous massacre of 1692 (See pod of Feb 13) . He grew up in a family steeped in literature, one his maternal uncles was the editor of the Gaelic Highland Dictionary and collector of fairy tales and Celtic poetry. His paternal grandfather contributed to the starting of European Romanticism and his step-uncle was a Shakespeare scholar, his mother had received a classical education which included multiple languages. He had a lifelong struggle with his lungs after suffering a bout of tuberculosis and well into his adult life, he was constantly travelling in search of purer air for his lungs. Tuberculosis was historically called consumption due to the weight loss that ensued, and the bacteria spread from one person to the next through the air when people who had active TB in their lungs coughed, spat, or sneezed. Public health campaigns during the 1800s focused on overcrowding, public spitting and regular sanitation (including hand washing) helped to either interrupt or slow spread has led to the elimination of tuberculosis as a major public health issue in most developed economies. In Macdonald time, however tuberculosis killed two brothers and two half-sisters and would ravage his children, four of whom died before him. Betraying the Calvinism of his youth MacDonald believed suffering was finally redemptive: "All pains, indeed, and all sorrows, are but the ministers of truth and righteousness."


His background was Calvinistic although his paternal grandfather was a Catholic-born, fiddle-playing, Presbyterian elder; and his mother was a sister to the Gaelic-speaking radical who became moderator of the disrupting Free Church, while his step-mother, to whom he was also very close, was the daughter of a Scottish Episcopalian priest. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1845 with a master's degree in chemistry and physics but underwent theological training at Highbury College in Aberdeen for the Congregational ministry. He became a minister, but was forced to resign his pulpit in 1853 because he liked to dabble in "German theology," meaning the new higher critical approach to biblical studies emerging from that country (Jun 10) . He then became a free-lance preacher and lecturer and after the success of his poetic tragedy, Within and Without, he made literature his profession.


Lewis Carroll became a good friend and gave him the first manuscript of Alice in Wonderland to read to his children. In his late fourties his fame had spread across the Atlantic and he visited the United States in 1872 for a lecture tour. After his stay in New York City, one large Fifth Avenue church offered him the almost unheard of salary of $20,000 a year to become its pastor. MacDonald thought the idea preposterous. He would eventually became an Anglican, but he never had much patience with high theology or liturgy—he said it often stood in the way of people encountering Christ personally.

Phantastes which had such a formative influence on CS Lewis concerns a young man who is pulled into a dreamlike world and there hunts for his ideal of female beauty, embodied by the "Marble Lady". He lives through many adventures and temptations while in the other world, until he is finally ready to give up his ideals. C.S. Lewis wrote, read it when he was sixteen, "That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes .The Princess and the Goblin which impacted Chesterton so dramatically is still popular as a children's story. It has been turned into multiple films and J. R. R. Tolkien's depictions of goblins within his legendarium was heavily influenced by this book