Recently I had the great pleasure of writing the foreword (excerpted below) to Rabbit Room Press's new edition of MacDonald's classic fairy tale. You can now pre-order this gorgeous leather-bound book, which also features an afterword by Andrew Peterson and linocut illustrations by Ned Bustard.
A princess, cursed by a spiteful aunt, has lost her gravity. She can’t seem to keep her feet on the ground—or her mind on a serious matter. And when her aunt drains the lake where the weightless princess flourishes, the only solution is for someone to plug the hole—but at what cost?
What will it take for the princess to feel the weight of the world at last?
Something magical happens when the wind blows through a wind chime. A moment before the arrival of that invisible wisp of breath, all is still. The wind chime is motionless and silent. No one would guess that its pendulous form contains the possibility of music.
And then, a breeze. A dance. A sudden flurry of notes, as if the wind chime has been surprised into speech and, to its own utter delight and the delight of those listening, begins to sing.
Put two wind chimes side by side, and the magic deepens. For the wind is the same, and yet the way it curls around each of them, the slight differences in their shape, the way the chimes respond to the movement of the air—all result in a unique song for each. Same breath, different music.
For the writer of this fairy tale you now hold in your hands, each of us is a wind chime. Each of us, he believed, possesses depths of song none could guess, not even ourselves. And that potential inside us—that hidden music waiting to be awakened by the invisible breath of a story, a symbol, a beautiful image, a flicker of truth—is our God-given gift of imagination.
Like many others, you may have first encountered George MacDonald through the writings of C. S. Lewis—in Surprised by Joy, perhaps, as the author of the book (Phantastes) that “baptized” Lewis’s imagination and showed him the beauty of holiness, or in The Great Divorce as the narrator’s gentle Scottish guide through heaven. “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master,” Lewis said; “indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.” The more you read of both authors, the more you will see the truth of Lewis’s statement.
But MacDonald’s influence extends far beyond Lewis. Typical of the prolific Victorians, he published over fifty volumes in his lifetime, including realistic novels, fantasies, collections of short stories and fairy tales, poetry, sermons, essays, translations, and literary criticism. A man of wide interests and gifts—preacher; literature teacher; humanitarian; actor; friend of theologians, artists, and orphans; father of eleven children; gentle patriarch of a home famous for its hospitality to literary luminaries and working-class neighbors alike—he was one of the most beloved Christian authors and thinkers of the 19th-century English-speaking world, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Queen Victoria enthusiastically dispersed his novel Robert Falconer among her grandsons. Lady Byron, the famous poet’s widow, became one of MacDonald’s most loyal supporters and a lifelong patron. Mark Twain discussed co-authoring a novel with MacDonald and requested a second copy of At the Back of the North Wind because his children had worn out the first one. Lewis Carroll, a regular guest in the MacDonald household, shared his Alice stories with MacDonald’s children, who begged him to publish them. When G. K. Chesterton (who called him “St. Francis of Aberdeen” and claimed The Princess and the Goblin “made a difference to my whole existence”) presided over a centenary celebration of MacDonald’s life and work in 1924, Sir James Barrie (the author of Peter Pan) and the poet William Butler Yeats were among the many distinguished guests. J. R. R. Tolkien, Florence Nightingale, Oswald Chambers, Madeleine L’Engle, and Maurice Sendak have all spoken of their debt to him, and modern fantasy literature owes much of its revived interest and inspiration to his faerie creations.
He was a magnet of a man and a writer whose power lay deeper than mere craft. His ability to view the world through the eyes of a child reflected his belief that a childlike approach to life is essential to faith, and his genius for conveying spiritual truths through symbols has few rivals. But he was a Christian who pondered the why of his art as well as the how. For numerous readers and fellow writers then and since, he articulated something about our human identity as imaginers that has fundamentally shaped our view of what it means to write a story, and also to receive one.
Read the rest of this article on the Rabbit Room website.