The great Victorian Christian author George MacDonald is the wellspring of the modern fantasy genre. In this book Colin Manlove offers explorations of MacDonald’s eight shorter fairy tales and his longer stories At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, The Wise Woman, and The Princess and Curdie.
MacDonald saw the imagination as the source of fairy tales and of divine truth together. For he believed that God lives in the depths of the human mind and ‘sends up from thence wonderful gifts into the light of the understanding’. This makes MacDonald that very rare thing: a writer of mystical fiction whose work can give us experience of the divine.
Throughout his children’s fantasy stories MacDonald is describing the human and divine imagination. In the shorter tales he shows how the imagination has different regions and depths, each able to shift into the other. With the longer stories we see the imagination in relation to other aspects of the self and to its position in the world. Here the imagination is portrayed as often embattled in relation to empiricism, egotism, and greed.
About the Author
Colin Manlove taught at the University of Edinburgh until his retirement in 1993. His books include Modern Fantasy (1975), The Impulse of Fantasy Literature (1983), and Christian Fantasy: From 1200 to the Present (1992). In 2016 he published Scotland’s Forgotten Treasure: The Visionary Romances of George MacDonald.
2. MacDonald’s Shorter Fairy Tales: The Various Imagination
3. At the Back of the North Wind (1870): The Imagination in the World
4. The Princess and the Goblin (1872): The Imagination in the Self
5. The Wise Woman (1875): The Imagination against the Self
6. The Princess and Curdie (1882): The Imagination against the World
Appendix C: Summary of criticism of The Wise Woman
Endorsements and Reviews
With his broad knowledge of children’s literature, the stories are contrasted with those by other Victorian writers, highlighting MacDonald’s keen understanding of psychology and human nature. Readers will find unique insights to better appreciate the genius of all MacDonald’s works that, in various ways, explore the divine imagination within each of us, especially the childlike.
Robert Trexler, Writer, Editor, and Publisher
Arguing that MacDonald’s children’s fairy tales meld fantasy with realism, Manlove suggests that this union invites ‘us to see our world as continually penetrated by divine forces.’ This ‘divine imagination’ reflects MacDonald’s belief that ‘God lived in the roots of the imagination’. Manlove’s thorough reading of the children’s fantasies illuminates how MacDonald was able to create a unified, harmonious worldview ‘that mirrors the nature of the divine universe’.
John Pennington, Professor of English, St Norbert College
Colin Manlove’s George MacDonald’s Children’s Fantasies and the Divine Imagination is the most thorough and creative exploration of MacDonald’s conception of the imagination that we have. … This work is comprehensive, and quite simply the best critical study of MacDonald’s most enduring fiction. Manlove brings formidable erudition to his exploration, and he delivers brilliant readings of MacDonald’s work. This is an indispensable study of MacDonald.
Roderick McGillis, Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary