George MacDonald (December 10, 1824-September 18, 1905) was a Scottish author and poet and a Christian minister. Though no longer a household name, his works (particularly his fairy tales and fantasy novels) have inspired deep admiration in such notables as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle. C. S. Lewis wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his "master". Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day in a train station, he began to read; "a few hours later," said Lewis later, "I knew I had crossed a great frontier." G. K. Chesterton cited The Princess and the Goblin as a book that had "made a difference to my whole existence". Elizabeth Yates wrote of Sir Gibbie that "[i]t moved me the way books did when as a child ... Now and then a book is read as a friend, and after it life is not the same ... Sir Gibbie did this to me." Even Mark Twain, who initially despised MacDonald, became friends with him upon their meeting for the first time, and there is some evidence that Twain was influenced by MacDonald (see links below for an article on the subject).
The man who was to inspire such feeling was born on December 10, 1824 at Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father, a farmer, was one of the Macdonalds of Glencoe, and a direct descendant of one of the families that suffered in the massacre of 1692. Macdonald grew up influenced by his Congregational Church, with an atmosphere of Calvinism. But he was never entirely happy with Calvinism; legend has it that when the doctrine of predestination was first explained to him, he burst into tears (although assured that he was one of the elect). Later novels, such as Robert Falconer, show a similar distaste for many Calvinist ideas.
He took his degree at the University of Aberdeen, and then migrated to London, studying at Highbury College for the Congregational ministry.
In 1850 he was appointed pastor of Trinity Congregational Church, Arundel, but his sermons (preaching God's universal love and the possibility that none would, ultimately, be damned) met with little favour and his salary was cut in half. Later he was engaged in ministerial work in Manchester. He left that because of poor health, and after a short sojourn in Algiers he settled in London and had taught for some time at the University of London. MacDonald was also for a time editor of Good Words for the Young, and lectured successfully in America in 1872-1873.
His most well-known works are Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, and Lilith, all fantasy novels, and his fairy tales — "The Light Princess", "The Golden Key", and "The Wise Woman", to name a few. "I write, not for children," he wrote, "but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five." MacDonald also published some volumes of sermons (the pulpit not having proved an unreservedly successful venue).
MacDonald also served as a mentor to Lewis Carroll; it was MacDonald's advice, and the enthusiastic reception of Alice by the MacDonald children that convinced Carroll to submit Alice for publication. MacDonald was also friends with John Ruskin and acquainted with most of the literary luminaries of the day; a surviving group photograph shows him with Tennyson, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Trollope, Ruskin, Lewes, and Thackeray.
In 1877 he was given a civil list pension. He died on September 18, 1905.
As hinted above, MacDonald's use of fantasy as a literary medium for exploring the human condition greatly influenced a generation of such notable authors as C. S. Lewis (appearing as a character in The Great Divorce), J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle. MacDonald's more realistic novels, such as Alec Forbes, had their influence as well; they were among the first realistic Scottish novels, and as such MacDonald has been credited with founding the "kailyard school" of Scottish writing.
Partial list of works
Within and Without (1856)
David Elginbrod (1862)
Alec Forbes of Howglen (1865)
Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood (1866)
Robert Falconer (1868)
The History of Gutta-Percha Willie, the Working Genius (1873)
The Wise Woman, or The Obstinate Princess: A Double Story (1875)
The Marquis of Lossie (1877)
Donal Grant (1883)
The Princess and the Goblin (1888 or earlier)
The Princess and Curdie (1883, sequel to the former)