The Literary Contribution of George MacDonald – A Wellspring of Firsts when it comes to Fantasy

If its fantasy, and George MacDonald wrote it, I have likely read it. As an extension, if you have written a work of fantasy, it is likely G.M wrote it first. And I think the same can be said comparing the works of C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Lewis Carroll and other authors of note, who have publicly acknowledged a debt to George MacDonald. But a passing acknowledgement doesn’t quite cut it. I have read C.S. Lewis on George MacDonald and the Cambridge Professor is not exaggerating when he writes “What he (G.M.) does best is fantasy – fantasy that hovers between the allegorical and the mythopoeic. And this, in my opinion, he does better than any…” But these authors owe more to MacDonald than praise. The above mentioned authors borrowed from G.M. directly, especially Lewis.

The literary trope of passing from one world into the next through some portal belongs originally to MacDonald. Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, and MacDonald were close friends and often discussed literature, metaphysics and the spiritual life. Did you know that Lewis Carroll was, like MacDonald, a deeply religious man, who had all the schooling and preparation to become a clergyman? Some think it was a problem with stuttering that kept the author of Alice from the pulpit. But I digress. Their social and literary lives were of close association; so is their work.

Here are a few passing loans from the work of George MacDonald:

A hall of statues, which will awaken by the touch of a lamp. Lewis changed it to the ringing of a bell in The Magician’s Nephew.

The hall of many rooms. p.107 Phantastes. Lewis used this in an essay about choosing a denomination within the Christian tradition.

The passing of someone into another world… through a mirror. Lewis in Through the Looking Glass.

The passing into another world through foliage overgrowing a desk (Phantastes), is similar to the fir tree in Lewis’s wardrobe.

The theme of ‘nothingness’ or being X’d in L’Engle’s first generation books. The same described in Lilith. p204

Catching a ride into another world by clutching onto another person’s appendage. C.S. Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew and Lilith p. 151.

The Witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe bears an uncanny resemblance and similar character to Lilith. Read p.109 in Lilith

I was reminded of the Selfish Giant by Oscar Wild when I read of the children MacDonald’s protagonist meets among  a grove of apple trees, who are hiding from the bad giants. p.56 Lilith

Dimensions, their number and gaining access to them. Wrinkle in Time and Lilith p.41

I tell you there are more worlds, and more doors to them, than you will think of in many years. p.40 Lilith

These are but a few. I do not wish to make a thesis of it, nor argue a case of copyright infringement in what was pinched from the work of George MacDonald; however, I was surprised, as I reacquainted myself with the works of MacDonald, how much the above mentioned authors ‘cut and pasted’ from this lesser known nineteenth century fantasy author. Of course, these noted authors created original, well constructed worlds of their own, in their own distinctive styles, but the genesis, the seeds of their creations owe much to the fields cultivated by George MacDonald.

My point? If you are a fantasy writer, a creator of alternative worlds, intersecting worlds, with an unflagging conviction that fantasy worlds and the world of Faerie present a deeper penetration of the world/s/ we live in or are invaluable to our understanding of so-called reality, then like the great authors noted above, become indebted to the fantastic work of George MacDonald.

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