Proper Introductions: George MacDonald


G.K. Chesterton called him “one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century.”

Madeleine L’Engle said he was the “grandfather of us all—all of us who struggle to come to terms with truth through imagination.”

“George MacDonald gives me renewed strength during times of trouble,” she wrote elsewhere, “times when I have seen people tempted to deny God.”

Oswald Chambers wrote in the early 20th century that “it is a striking indication of the trend and shallowness of the modern reading public that George MacDonald’s books have been so neglected.”

Perhaps most famously of all, C.S. Lewis looked upon George Macdonald as a spiritual father. “I dare not say that he is never in error;” Lewis wrote, “but I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer to the Spirit of Christ himself … I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed, I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”

For myself, I have never encountered a writer who has convinced me more plainly—or more poignantly—just what the love of God looks like. From his fairy tales, to his novels, to his sermons and essays, MacDonald never veers from his central truth: that God loves the people He has made, and will do whatever it takes to be reunited with them. The Gospel flashes on every page, yet his stories are never preachy. They are hard at times, requiring painful obedience on the part of his characters, but it’s an obedience born out of love, not legalism. At face value, George MacDonald’s stories are rip-roaring yarns, most of which are set in Scotland, with a dash of Highland wildness for good measure and more than a generous helping of brogue. But it doesn’t take more than a casual acquaintance with MacDonald to realize that there’s much more going on here than meets the eye. Like the fire of roses in The Princess and the Goblin, there is an irresistible fragrance and warmth at the heart of his tales, drawing us into the essential comfort of the good news they bear.

From the wells of a limitless imagination, Macdonald draws us unforgettable pictures of an active salvation; his words are a bracing draft of Kingdom wine to cheer the heart, and a stiff breeze of Kingdom freshness to clear the mind and open the eyes. And I’ve found that the longer I sit with his stories, the more they mean—and the more I see. I read Phantastes (the book that Lewis credited with the “baptism of [his] imagination”) upwards of ten years ago, but the images contained therein are of such a continually recurring vitality, it seems like I read it only yesterday.

It would be unfortunate, however, to read only his stories and miss his sermons and essays. While MacDonald’s fiction is thick with imagery and quotable lines, there’s a straightforwardness about his non-fiction that collars the heart with its insistence on the greatness of grace, and the unnecessary hardship of resisting it.

When C.S. Lewis compiled his famous Anthology of MacDonald’s work, he pulled heavily from the author’s three-volume collection of Unspoken Sermons: “My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another,” Lewis wrote, “and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help—sometimes indispensable help toward the very acceptance of the Christian faith.”

But, oh, how I love his stories! Being of an imaginative turn of mind, that is where he meets me best, among his gallant Highlanders and goblin-defying princesses and haunted castles and agelessly immortal great-great grandmothers. And while I appreciate the fact that recently edited versions of MacDonald’s fiction have brought dear Grandpa George out of total obscurity in this day and age, I really think it’s a shame to miss his tales in their original language. To be sure, the brogue can be a bit of a challenge at first, like reading Shakespeare for the first time, but once you get its cadences in your head, it fills your mind with music. And in a brisk world of complicated ‘conveniences’ and short attention spans, I’m convinced that a little mental workout is as good for the soul as it is for the head.

George MacDonald is a treasure for the seeking heart. And it is for this reason that I am absolutely thrilled to be able to offer today some exquisite, heirloom-quality editions of MacDonald’s works. These books are produced by a small family press, using printing plates made from antiquarian originals, some of which are first editions. The books are printed on a Heidelberg press, using archival paper and soya-based ink—and, what’s more, these books are bound by hand.

Being a bookbinder myself, I simply cannot get over the quality and craftsmanship of these volumes. They are simply beautiful. Not only that, they are durable, having been coated with the same waterproofing material that was used in 19th century bookbinding technique. These books are as close as you can get to what a brand-new edition of an original George MacDonald book would have looked like.

(And I will go ahead and say that I’m fortunate enough to own personal copies of all of these books…there’s no way I could part with them otherwise!)

There are selections of sermons and literary criticism, in addition to several of his novels, among them my personal favorite (of the non-fantasy fiction variety), What’s Mine’s Mine. There’s also a copy of the beloved Sir Gibbie (“It moved me the way books did when, as a child, the great gates of literature began to open and first encounters with noble thoughts and utterances were unspeakably thrilling,” wrote MacDonald’s editor Elizabeth Yates) and it’s deliciously inscrutable sequel, Donal Grant… among others!

To see all of the George Macdonald in inventory, you can click here.

And as an added little bonus, I’m listing a pretty reading copy of MacDonald’s beloved fairy tale, At the Back of the North Wind. It’s a much-loved volume, in a rather Skin Horse kind of way, but the binding is sound, and the illustrations are enchanting.

If you’re interested in reading a bit more about George MacDonald, you can read my review of Lilith here.

Ron Block wrote a wonderful review of Donal Grant for The Rabbit Room.

And here’s a long passage I love from Phantastes that gives a glimpse of the greatness of this great man’s heart, and the tenderness of his imagination.

Lanier Ivester is a “Southern Lady” in the best and most classical sense and a gifted writer in the most articulate and literal sense. She hand-binds books and lives on a farm with peacocks, bees, sheep, and the governor of Ohio’s leg. She loves old books and sells them from her website,, and she’s currently putting the final touches on her first novel, as well as studying literature at Oxford.


  1. Kate

    The one story I have heard of his (“At the Back of the North Wind”) has inspired me greatly in my own writing. Any recommendations of what to read next?

  2. Lanier Ivester

    Kate, if you liked At the Back of the North Wind, you might enjoy The Princess and the Goblin next, or The Princess and Curdie. Phantastes might also be a good choice. 🙂

  3. David Mitchel


    An excellent “proper introduction,” Lanier.

    Mr. Block also wrote a stunning two-part instrumental suite (“The Secret of the Woods”/”I See Thee Nevermore”) inspired by Anodos’s encounter with the Beech in Phantastes. That suite is the subject of a Rabbit Room post, I believe, with the recording (from Ron’s DoorWay) embedded. It’s four minutes of hauntingly beautiful music.

  4. David Jack

    I’m relatively new to the Rabbit Room, so I’ve only just discovered this article. Thanks, firstly, for emphasising the importance of MacDonald and the magic of his stories! His sermons too are indispensable, but many of us, like yourself, love to have truth mediated through the imagination, and GM has such a rich and vast storehouse of them! A couple of minor clarifications: it isn’t actually the case that MOST of GM’s (realistic) stories are set in Scotland, but the best ones-in my estimation-and certainly the best known ones, are. To break it down, there are 12 full length novels set in Scotland, of which your favourite, What’s Mine’s Mine, is the only one NOT to contain broad Scots. The other 11 have varying, though usually quite substantial, amounts of the North East Aberdeenshire dialect called Doric, and I would wholeheartedly agree with you that it is not only well worth reading them in the original tongue, but in fact vital to do so if you want to retain the flavour of the books and the personality of the Scottish characters. As C S Lewis said, remarking in passing that he himself COULD understand the Scots due to his literary and geographical background: “What between him and Scott and an Ulster upbringing I now find no difficulty with the Scotch dialect parts, indeed I like them. They enable him to make characters say strongly and racily things he w[oul]d spoil in English.” I realise I am late to the party here, but just a few months after this article was published, I began a series of GM translations, but of a sort which afford the reader the chance to enjoy the best of both worlds: they are complete and unabridged, and when it comes to the dialogue portions, I use a two column system, with the original Doric Scots on the left, and English on the right. Thus none of either GM’s narrative or his dialogue is lost, but the reader can take things at their own pace, reading in English or in Doric, or flitting between one column and the other until they become confident with the language spoken by Donal Grant, Cosmo Warlock, Malcolm MacPhail and others. Three have been published so far, and you can check them out here:


    If anyone is still reading this, I should have added in my previous comment, for whoever might find it helpful, that the 12 full length Scottish novels (which, trust me, are better than the English ones, though all of MacDonald is well worth reading) are: David Elginbrod; Alec Forbes of Howglen; Robert Falconer; Malcolm; The Marquis of Lossie; Sir Gibbie; Castle Warlock; Donal Grant; What’s Mine’s Mine; The Elect Lady; Heather and Snow; & Salted With Fire. As for the English novels, there are two trilogies, beginning with Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood and Thomas Wingfold, Curate respectively, and several stand alone novels, including Wilfrid Cumbermede -which, along with the Scottish novels Sir Gibbie and What’s Mine’s Mine, was one of C S Lewis’s favourites.

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