In my Christmas Eve sermon, I referenced the great Scottish Victorian author and Congregationalist minister, George MacDonald. I thought I would use this space to recommend his work to you if you haven’t already discovered it. Having grown up in a religiously eclectic household with some ties to the Scottish Episcopal Church, MacDonald was ordained a Congregationalist minister. The people of his first church found his sermons to be too focused on God’s universal love for all, a message that seemed to be at odds with the austere Calvinism of Scottish Protestantism in the 19th century. His salary was reduced by half. He continued to preach what he believed regardless. Later, after a bout of poor health, and some travel, he began writing in earnest, and was soon making a living for his large family through his writing.
He wrote dozens of novels, short stories, books of poetry, and non-fictions titles, including several collections of sermons. He is most known for his fairy stories, and stories that today would be categorized as science fiction or fantasy, books such as The Princess and the Goblin, Phantastes, and Lilith, and fairy tales such as “The Light Princess”, and “The Golden Key.” He also wrote a number of realistic novels, many of which deal with issues of faith. The quote that I used in my sermon (printed below) was from one of these called, Adela Cathcart. Concerning his audience, MacDonald wrote, “I write, not for children, but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.”
MacDonald was a very strong influence on a whole gaggle of mid-20th century writers that I admire including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden, Madeline L’Engle and G.K. Chesterton. During his life he was also friends with Mark Twain and counted Charles Dodgson (real name of Lewis Carrol, author of Alice in Wonderland) as one of his proteges.
An excellent and recent book about George MacDonald and his work, from which I have drawn much of this information, including the quote below, is: George MacDonald and the Age of Miracles by Timothy Larsen (IVP Academic, 2018).
“It is as if God spoke to each of us according to our need: my son, my daughter, you are growing old and cunning; you must grow a child again, with my Son, this blessed birth-time. You are growing old and selfish; you must become a child. You are growing old and careful; you must become a child. You are growing old and distrustful; you must become a child. You are growing old and petty; and weak, and foolish; you must become a child—my child, like the baby there, that strong sunrise of faith and hope and love, lying in his mother’s arms in the stable.”