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George MacDonald's best fiction and best non-fiction

Plato to MacDonald to Chesterton, Tolkien and the Boys in the Pub.

Postby David Jack » 27 Jul 2007, 21:26

anyone own a copy of this rather marvellous little volume?

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it includes the following stories which i've already worked my way through: 'the light princess', 'the giant's heart', 'the shadows', 'cross purposes', 'the golden key' and 'the carasoyn' as well as 'the wise woman,' (my favourite so far and the one i'm currently reading) 'the history of photogen and nycteris' and a couple of excerpts from 'at the back of the north wind'. i deliberately skipped those ones because i want to read ATBOTNW as a whole, although technically i don't think any of the fairy tales began life as independent compositions: a good few of them had their first incarnations in 'adela cathcart' and i remember 'the grey wolf' (which isn't in this collection) forming a part of 'robert falconer'.

oh, and there's an also an introductory essay by macdonald called 'the fantastic imagination'.
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Postby moordarjeeling » 28 Jul 2007, 04:46

David Jack wrote:oh, and there's an also an introductory essay by macdonald called 'the fantastic imagination'.


Could you quote some of that?
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Postby David Jack » 29 Jul 2007, 17:05

i haven't actually read it myself yet, but i googled it and managed to get the whole thing for you. enjoy!


THE FANTASTIC IMAGINATION.
THAT we have in English no word corresponding to the German Mährchen, drives us to use the word Fairytale, regardless of the fact that the tale may have nothing to do with any sort of fairy. The old use of the word Fairy, by Spenser at least, might, however, well be adduced, were justification or excuse necessary where need must.

Were I asked, what is a fairytale? I should reply, Read Undine: that is a fairytale; then read this and that as well, and you will see what is a fairytale. Were I further begged to describe the fairytale, or define what it is, I would make answer, that I should as soon think of describing the abstract human face, or stating what must go to constitute a human being. A fairytale is just a fairytale, as a face is just a face; and of all fairytales I know, I think Undine the most beautiful.

Many a man, however, who would not attempt to define a man, might venture to say something as to what a man ought to be: even so much I will not in this place venture with regard to the fairytale, for my long past work in that kind might but poorly instance or illustrate my now more matured judgment. I will but say some things helpful to the reading, in right-minded fashion, of such fairytales as I would wish to write, or care to read.

Some thinkers would feel sorely hampered if at liberty to use no forms but such as existed in nature, or to invent nothing save in accordance with the laws of the world of the senses; but it must not therefore be imagined that they desire escape from the region of law. Nothing lawless can show the least reason why it should exist, or could at best have more than an appearance of life.

The natural world has its laws, and no man must interfere with them in the way of presentment any more than in the way of use; but they themselves may suggest laws of other kinds, and man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws; for there is that in him which delights in calling up new forms--which is the nearest, perhaps, he can come to creation. When such forms are new embodiments of old truths, we call them products of the Imagination; when they are mere inventions, however lovely, I should call them the work of the Fancy: in either case, Law has been diligently at work.

His world once invented, the highest law that comes next into play is, that there shall be harmony between the laws by which the new world has begun to exist; and in the process of his creation, the inventor must hold by those laws. The moment he forgets one of them, he makes the story, by its own postulates, incredible. To be able to live a moment in an imagined world, we must see the laws of its existence obeyed. Those broken, we fall out of it. The imagination in us, whose exercise is essential to the most temporary submission to the imagination of another, immediately, with the disappearance of Law, ceases to act. Suppose the gracious creatures of some childlike region of Fairyland talking either cockney or Gascon! Would not the tale, however lovelily begun, sink at once to the level of the Burlesque--of all forms of literature the least worthy? A man's inventions may be stupid or clever, but if he do not hold by the laws of them, or if he make one law jar with another, he contradicts himself as an inventor, he is no artist. He does not rightly consort his instruments, or he tunes them in different keys. The mind of man is the product of live Law; it thinks by law, it dwells in the midst of law, it gathers from law its growth; with law, therefore, can it alone work to any result. Inharmonious, unconsorting ideas will come to a man, but if he try to use one of such, his work will grow dull, and he will drop it from mere lack of interest. Law is the soil in which alone beauty will grow; beauty is the only stuff in which Truth can be clothed; and you may, if you will, call Imagination the tailor that cuts her garments to fit her, and Fancy his journeyman that puts the pieces of them together, or perhaps at most embroiders their button-holes. Obeying law, the maker works like his creator; not obeying law, he is such a fool as heaps a pile of stones and calls it a church.

In the moral world it is different: there a man may clothe in new forms, and for this employ his imagination freely, but he must invent nothing. He may not, for any purpose, turn its laws upside down. He must not meddle with the relations of live souls. The laws of the spirit of man must hold, alike in this world and in any world he may invent. It were no offence to suppose a world in which everything repelled instead of attracted the things around it; it would be wicked to write a tale representing a man it called good as always doing bad things, or a man it called bad as always doing good things: the notion itself is absolutely lawless. In physical things a man may invent; in moral things he must obey--and take their laws with him into his invented world as well.

"You write as if a fairytale were a thing of importance: must it have a meaning?"

It cannot help having some meaning; if it have proportion and harmony it has vitality, and vitality is truth. The beauty may be plainer in it than the truth, but without the truth the beauty could not be, and the fairytale would give no delight. Everyone, however, who feels the story, will read its meaning after his own nature and development: one man will read one meaning in it, another will read another.

"If so, how am I to assure myself that I am not reading my own meaning into it, but yours out of it?"

Why should you be so assured? It may be better that you should read your meaning into it. That may be a higher operation of your intellect than the mere reading of mine out of it: your meaning may be superior to mine.

"Suppose my child ask me what the fairytale means, what am I to say?"

If you do not know what it means, what is easier than to say so? If you do see a meaning in it, there it is for you to give him. A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

But indeed your children are not likely to trouble you about the meaning. They find what they are capable of finding, and more would be too much. For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.

A fairytale is not an allegory. There may be allegory in it, but it is not an allegory. He must be an artist indeed who can, in any mode, produce a strict allegory that is not a weariness to the spirit. An allegory must be Mastery or Moorditch.

A fairytale, like a butterfly or a bee, helps itself on all sides, sips at every wholesome flower, and spoils not one. The true fairytale is, to my mind, very like the sonata. We all know that a sonata means something; and where there is the faculty of talking with suitable vagueness, and choosing metaphor sufficiently loose, mind may approach mind, in the interpretation of a sonata, with the result of a more or less contenting consciousness of sympathy. But if two or three men sat down to write each what the sonata meant to him, what approximation to definite idea would be the result? Little enough--and that little more than needful. We should find it had roused related, if not identical, feelings, but probably not one common thought. Has the sonata therefore failed? Had it undertaken to convey, or ought it to be expected to impart anything defined, anything notionally recognizable?

"But words are not music; words at least are meant and fitted to carry a precise meaning!"

It is very seldom indeed that they carry the exact meaning of any user of them! And if they can be so used as to convey definite meaning, it does not follow that they ought never to carry anything else. Words are like things that may be variously employed to various ends. They can convey a scientific fact, or throw a shadow of her child's dream on the heart of a mother. They are things to put together like the pieces of a dissected map, or to arrange like the notes on a stave. Is the music in them to go for nothing? It can hardly help the definiteness of a meaning: is it therefore to be disregarded? They have length, and breadth, and outline: have they nothing to do with depth? Have they only to describe, never to impress? Has nothing any claim to their use but the definite? The cause of a child's tears may be altogether undefinable: has the mother therefore no antidote for his vague misery? That may be strong in colour which has no evident outline. A fairytale, a sonata, a gathering storm, a limitless night, seizes you and sweeps you away: do you begin at once to wrestle with it and ask whence its power over you, whither it is carrying you? The law of each is in the mind of its composer; that law makes one man feel this way, another man feel that way. To one the sonata is a world of odour and beauty, to another of soothing only and sweetness. To one, the cloudy rendezvous is a wild dance, with a terror at its heart; to another, a majestic march of heavenly hosts, with Truth in their centre pointing their course, but as yet restraining her voice. The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.

I will go farther.--The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is--not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself. The best Nature does for us is to work in us such moods in which thoughts of high import arise. Does any aspect of Nature wake but one thought? Does she ever suggest only one definite thing? Does she make any two men in the same place at the same moment think the same thing? Is she therefore a failure, because she is not definite? Is it nothing that she rouses the something deeper than the understanding--the power that underlies thoughts? Does she not set feeling, and so thinking at work? Would it be better that she did this after one fashion and not after many fashions? Nature is mood-engendering, thought-provoking: such ought the sonata, such ought the fairytale to be.

"But a man may then imagine in your work what he pleases, what you never meant!"

Not what he pleases, but what he can. If he be not a true man, he will draw evil out of the best; we need not mind how he treats any work of art! If he be a true man, he will imagine true things: what matter whether I meant them or not? They are there none the less that I cannot claim putting them there! One difference between God's work and man's is, that, while God's work cannot mean more than he meant, man's must mean more than he meant. For in everything that God has made, there is layer upon layer of ascending significance; also he expresses the same thought in higher and higher kinds of that thought: it is God's things, his embodied thoughts, which alone a man has to use, modified and adapted to his own purposes, for the expression of his thoughts; therefore he cannot help his words and figures falling into such combinations in the mind of another as he had himself not foreseen, so many are the thoughts allied to every other thought, so many are the relations involved in every figure, so many the facts hinted in every symbol. A man may well himself discover truth in what he wrote; for he was dealing all the time with things that came from thoughts beyond his own.

"But surely you would explain your idea to one who asked you?"

I say again, if I cannot draw a horse, I will not write THIS IS A HORSE under what I foolishly meant for one. Any key to a work of imagination would be nearly, if not quite, as absurd. The tale is there, not to hide, but to show: if it show nothing at your window, do not open your door to it; leave it out in the cold. To ask me to explain, is to say, "Roses! Boil them, or we won't have them!" My tales may not be roses, but I will not boil them.

So long as I think my dog can bark, I will not sit up to bark for him.

If a writer's aim be logical conviction, he must spare no logical pains, not merely to be understood, but to escape being misunderstood; where his object is to move by suggestion, to cause to imagine, then let him assail the soul of his reader as the wind assails an æolian harp. If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it. Let fairytale of mine go for a firefly that now flashes, now is dark, but may flash again. Caught in a hand which does not love its kind, it will turn to an insignificant, ugly thing, that can neither flash nor fly.

The best way with music, I imagine, is not to bring the forces of our intellect to bear upon it, but to be still and let it work on that part of us for whose it exists. We spoil countless precious things by intellectual greed. He who will be a man, and will not be a child, must--he cannot help himself--become a little man, that is, a dwarf. He will, how. ever, need no consolation, for he is sure to think himself a very large creature indeed.

If any strain of my "broken music" make a child's eyes flash, or his mother's grow for a moment dim, my labour will not have been in vain.

THE END.
"This is and has been the Father’s work from the beginning-to bring us into the home of His heart.” George MacDonald.
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Postby A#minor » 29 Jul 2007, 19:12

George MacDonald wrote:Suppose the gracious creatures of some childlike region of Fairyland talking either cockney or Gascon! Would not the tale, however lovelily begun, sink at once to the level of the Burlesque--of all forms of literature the least worthy? A man's inventions may be stupid or clever, but if he do not hold by the laws of them, or if he make one law jar with another, he contradicts himself as an inventor, he is no artist.

I somewhat disagree with this. I agree with the general principle of what he's saying, but I think it depends on the style of the writer.
After all, Lewis has all sorts of broken "rules" and inconsistencies in CON (which Tolkien was forever complaining about), but they are the most beloved books of all time!
But perhaps McD isn't speaking so much of mixing centaurs and London cabbies, but of keeping literary world Laws like "All wolves are evil" or "Some Dwarves are bad and some are good." For those sort of big laws, Lewis establishes and keeps them faithfully.

George MacDonald wrote:For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.
This one's going in my quote book!
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Postby nomad » 10 Aug 2007, 20:52

David Jack wrote: i remember 'the grey wolf' (which isn't in this collection) forming a part of 'robert falconer'.


Really? I love 'the grey wolf'. I can never say why, it just has a strange allure to it.
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Postby Larry W. » 10 Aug 2007, 22:47

I remember reading in one of the prefaces to the modern editions of MacDonald's romances that the stories were shortened and most of the Scottish dialect was translated into modern English. MacDonald's preaching was mostly edited out to make the stories more readable and appealing for today's audience. Anyone here ever read his romances in the original texts? Are those books boring reading in that unaltered state? I have never seen them in any library or bookstore in my area. They always have the modern editions much changed from the originals, which people today might have regarded as tedious. Didn't Lewis say that MacDonald was a poor novelist but a supreme preacher? And he regarded MacDonald as his master!

I think the children's books such as At the Back of the North Wind and the adult fantasies like Phantastes are mostly the same as when they were published. They are almost pure stories without so much preaching, which may account for their popularity in our time.

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Postby David Jack » 12 Aug 2007, 11:49

nomad wrote:
David Jack wrote: i remember 'the grey wolf' (which isn't in this collection) forming a part of 'robert falconer'.


Really? I love 'the grey wolf'. I can never say why, it just has a strange allure to it.


yep, it's definitely in 'robert falconer' and i agree that it's a great story. macdonald evidently belonged to the dickens school of writing 'stories within stories'.
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Postby David Jack » 12 Aug 2007, 12:02

Larry W. wrote: Anyone here ever read his romances in the original texts? Are those books boring reading in that unaltered state?


Yes, I've read the full unedited version of Robert Falconer and hope to read more soon. And no, it wasn't in the least boring-anything but. If you want to get a hold of one of macdonald's original 'scottish novels' i'd recommend michael phillips' website (which i posted a link to on the previous page) where you can see a list of all the books as well as order them as they were when first published.

I think the children's books such as At the Back of the North Wind and the adult fantasies like Phantastes are mostly the same as when they were published. They are almost pure stories without so much preaching, which may account for their popularity in our time.


the fantasies and fairy tales have all survived intact, word for word. there's no scots in them for one thing, and also less preaching as you pointed out (well, less of the full-on, explicitly christian preaching which one finds in the scottish novels anyway.)
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Postby Larry W. » 12 Aug 2007, 15:43

I thought maybe Lewis was right-- McDonald was a poor novelist but better at writing myths and fairy tales. After reading the abridged romances in our church library I didn't think they were too bad, but I liked his fantasy and children's fairy tales much better. I'm not much of a romance reader (my taste is more for sci-fi/fantasy), but it would interesting to read one of those stories in the original form. However, lately I prefer to borrow books from libraries instead of buying them, saving me money, which is very important in these hard economic times.

Maybe the publishers thought people wouldn't have the patience to read them, and so they were shortened. People in our modern world have difficulty understanding old literature with its formal language and lengthy storytelling. Charles Dickens' books are thought to be long and difficult by some modern readers, although the stories are unchanged in modern editions except for modernized spelling and they usually have no illustrations. I always enjoyed the TV versions of Dickens since they helped me understand his books. I wonder if they'll ever make any movies or TV versions of MacDonald's.

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Postby David Jack » 13 Aug 2007, 14:00

Larry W. wrote: I wonder if they'll ever make any movies or TV versions of MacDonald's.


Dear Lord, i hope not! :shocked: Look what they did to Lewis! If they butchered Macdonald in the same way i just don't think i could take it....

Maybe the publishers thought people wouldn't have the patience to read them, and so they were shortened.


the american guy who republished them produced both editions, the edited ones and the 'undefiled' versions. what his thinking behind the edited ones was, i'm not sure. i suspect he thought getting rid of the scots was essential if he was to get americans (and to a lesser extent the english) to read macdonald. (this wasn't a mercenary move by the way: phillips is a genuine macdonald fan and i believe he really is/was on a mission to give macdonald a wider posthumous readership. in my opinion, the deletion of the scots has a seriously detrimental effect on the books, but i can see where he was coming from with his idea.) in the second place, i think you're right about the patience thing. again i believe this was a mistake, partly because i have a deep seated aversion to editing of any works i love, but also because i think he underestimated modern readers. those that would read macdonald at all would, i think, want to read ALL that he wrote in a given book, just as those who read dickens would feel cheated if huge chunks of 'little dorrit' or 'bleak house' were removed.
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Postby Stanley Anderson » 13 Aug 2007, 14:18

David Jack wrote:
Larry W. wrote: I wonder if they'll ever make any movies or TV versions of MacDonald's.


Dear Lord, i hope not! :shocked: Look what they did to Lewis! If they butchered Macdonald in the same way i just don't think i could take it....


You do know that The Princess and the Goblin was made into an animated film, right? It had the voices of Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom the same two that were in the original version of Shadowlands before the Anthony Hopkins version.

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Postby Larry W. » 13 Aug 2007, 15:40

David Jack wrote:
Larry W. wrote: I wonder if they'll ever make any movies or TV versions of MacDonald's.


Dear Lord, i hope not! :shocked: Look what they did to Lewis! If they butchered Macdonald in the same way i just don't think i could take it....

Maybe the publishers thought people wouldn't have the patience to read them, and so they were shortened.


the american guy who republished them produced both editions, the edited ones and the 'undefiled' versions. what his thinking behind the edited ones was, i'm not sure. i suspect he thought getting rid of the scots was essential if he was to get americans (and to a lesser extent the english) to read macdonald. (this wasn't a mercenary move by the way: phillips is a genuine macdonald fan and i believe he really is/was on a mission to give macdonald a wider posthumous readership. in my opinion, the deletion of the scots has a seriously detrimental effect on the books, but i can see where he was coming from with his idea.) in the second place, i think you're right about the patience thing. again i believe this was a mistake, partly because i have a deep seated aversion to editing of any works i love, but also because i think he underestimated modern readers. those that would read macdonald at all would, i think, want to read ALL that he wrote in a given book, just as those who read dickens would feel cheated if huge chunks of 'little dorrit' or 'bleak house' were removed.


I think the BBC could do a decent job on MacDonald. We usually see things like it on Masterpiece Theatre on PBS here in the USA. I am quite pleased with the adaptations of Dickens and other classics. The BBC Narnia wasn't anything great but the stories were close to the books. I say, let the BBC do it instead of Hollywood or Disney and we will have some thing more like the real book.

Over thirty dollars a book (plus shipping) is too pricey for me. I'd rather borrow the unabridged edition than buy it, although none of those books are available at my local libraries. (And with my working hours cut I have to really watch my money) So I'll settle for the abridged edition.

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Postby Larry W. » 13 Aug 2007, 15:45

Stanley Anderson wrote:
You do know that The Princess and the Goblin was made into an animated film, right? It had the voices of Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom the same two that were in the original version of Shadowlands before the Anthony Hopkins version.

--Stanley


I have never seen it. Is it good? I wonder why they never did At the Back of the North Wind, one of MacDonald's most popular books. That would really be interesting to see in animation.

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Postby David Jack » 14 Aug 2007, 17:05

Stanley Anderson wrote:
David Jack wrote:
Larry W. wrote: I wonder if they'll ever make any movies or TV versions of MacDonald's.


Dear Lord, i hope not! :shocked: Look what they did to Lewis! If they butchered Macdonald in the same way i just don't think i could take it....


You do know that The Princess and the Goblin was made into an animated film, right? It had the voices of Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom the same two that were in the original version of Shadowlands before the Anthony Hopkins version.

--Stanley


wow, seriously? i heard about the cartoon very recently but had no idea those two were in it. they must have incredible taste if they were in that and shadowlands. i was very impressed with them as jack and joy, so i'll certainly try to get a hold of 'the princess and the gobin' dvd at some point.

and i agree with larry that the bbc can usually be trusted to do pretty faithful book adaptations. their narnia chronicles may have been filmed on a shoestring but i adored them as a child and still get far more out of them than adamson's recent attempt.
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Postby David Jack » 14 Aug 2007, 17:12

Larry W. wrote:Over thirty dollars a book (plus shipping) is too pricey for me. I'd rather borrow the unabridged edition than buy it, although none of those books are available at my local libraries. (And with my working hours cut I have to really watch my money) So I'll settle for the abridged edition.

Larry W.


i'm notoriously bad at getting things done with any kind of promptness, but if you PM me your address, i have a spare copy of 'robert falconer' sitting in my drawer (very old and tattered and the print is quite small) which i'd be happy to pass on to you if you like. perhaps you're familiar with the american version, 'the musician's quest'?
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