1947 TIME Review of C.S. Lewis’ George MacDonald Anthology

After digging into Time’s 1947 cover article on C.S. Lewis, I thought it might be fun to reprint a couple of Time articles from the 40s. This week it is interesting to note that C.S. Lewis’ relatively unpopular anthology of George MacDonald quotations at least warranted a review. Next week I’ll share a review of The Great Divorce.

“Scottish Sage”

Time, 6/2/1947, Vol. 49, Issue 22

“Where are ye going?” said a voice with a strong Scotch accent. I stopped and looked…. On one of the rocks sat a very tall man, almost a giant, with a flowing beard…. Here was an enthroned and shining god, whose ageless spirit weighed upon mine like a burden of solid gold: and yet, at the very same moment, here was an old, weather-beaten man, one who might have been a shepherd….

“I don’t know you, Sir,” said I, taking my seat beside him.

“My name is George,” he answered. “George Macdonald.”

In The Great Divorce (Time, March 11, 1946), Oxford’s witty Christian Apologist C.S. Lewis (The Screwtape Letters) imagines this celestial meeting with the man he acknowledges as the greatest influence in his life. Just published in the U.S. is Lewis’ full-dress tribute to his master—George Macdonald: an Anthology (Macmillan; $1.50).

Fantasy & Insight. Handsome, bush-bearded Scot Macdonald was born in 1824 of a line of Aberdeenshire Calvinists. His father, a hard-tender, humorous man, reared his son with Presbyterian rigor—forbidding him to use a saddle until he had mastered riding bareback, advising him “to give over the fruitless game of poetry,” exacting his promise to renounce tobacco at the age of 23. After graduating from King’s College at Aberdeen, George was “called” in 1850 to become minister of a dissenting chapel. But within two years, his deacons were grumbling that he had expressed belief in a future state of probation for heathens, and that he was tainted with German theology. Macdonald finally resigned to take up the poverty-stricken lecturing, preaching and writing at which he spent the rest of his 81 years.

It was as a writer that George Macdonald was best known. His At the Back of the North Wind, and “Curdie” books for children, and such mythopoeic fantasies as The Wise Woman, Lilith and The Phantasies [sic] are still reread and remembered by those with a nostalgia for the turn-of-the-century world of nannies, nurseries and button boots. But it was Macdonald’s Christian insight that made him great. Says Lewis:

“Necessity made Macdonald a novelist, but few of his novels are good and none is very good.”

Terror & Comfort. Lewis throws British understatement to the winds in praise of Macdonald’s religious wisdom: “I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself…. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined.”

The anthology consists almost entirely of aphorisms and paragraphs culled from the three volumes of Unspoken Sermons. The items add up neatly to 365. Readers would do well to take the hint: like most such gem-collections, this little book would make a better year’s than an evening’s reading. Samples:

“Dangerous Moment—Am I going to do a good deed? Then, of all times,—Father, into thy hands: lest the enemy should have me now.”

“Spiritual Murder—It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice….”

“Hell—The one principle of hell is—’I am my own!’ ”

“Holy Laughter—It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence.”

“Not the Rich Only—If it be things that slay you, what matter whether things you have, or things you have not?”

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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16 Responses to 1947 TIME Review of C.S. Lewis’ George MacDonald Anthology

  1. dalejamesnelson says:

    Thank you for posting this review, Brenton — a remarkable little item from 72 years ago. Even the 1978 Macmillan reprint is (in my not heavily-used copy) falling apart — time has passed indeed.

    Dale Nelson

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thanks, indeed! I can imagine this must have helped boost and broaden (renewed) attention to MacDonald wherever Time was read!

    Interesting to think of the Phantastes reference in the intro taken up in the Time bio-piece, as you and Hannah were discussing – before its more famous appearance in Surprised by Joy: the ‘baptized’ imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Did anyone buy the GeoMacAnth? The intro is important. It is interesting too that everyone spelled Phantastes wrong.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I hope so! (Where do we look up historical sales figures?) That repeated Phantastes misspelling – in the days before ‘spell-checkers’ and ‘auto-correct’ – is astonishing! Could authors submit handwritten articles to Time, with sometimes illegible words – like Phantastes? – it seems unlikely, by the 1940s.

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  3. dalejamesnelson says:

    Brenton, David & all — Time’s 19 April 1943 carried a friendly review of The Screwtape Letters (pp. 76, 78). The piece is immediately followed by an article about Norwegian Lutheran bishop Eivind Berggrav, under house arrest and surrounded by barbed wire and Quisling guards. Other items in the issue include an article about J. S. and C. P. E. Bach that begins “While long-nosed Wanda Landowska” (sigh) and a bit about a shaggy Coloradan cave-dwelling prospector-hermit who pulled iron when a storekeeper refused to sell him food without a ration book — a requirement of which he was apparently unaware.

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  4. David says:

    Fascinating! I have the anthology and enjoyed perusing it for awhile, though I think MacDonald works better in context than excerpt.

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    • Me too. I found it less diverse, too, then reading MacDonald himself.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I can’t remember just when I first read it, but I think it whetted my appetite for more (though maybe I was already looking out for MacDonald books thanks to Surprised by Joy…).

        Liked by 1 person

        • dalejamesnelson says:

          This might be amusing: it seems to me that I discovered MacDonald, without knowing of the Lewis-Tolkien connection, back around eighth grade (so about age 12-13), simply while browsing in the middle school library. I suppose the “goblin” in the title of The Princess and the Goblin caught my eye. It would be nice to know what edition it was. It seems to me that I was embarrassed to check out a book with “Princess and the” in the title, so I read the book in the school library without checking it out. But this would have been around 1968, and my memory is uncertain. I am pretty sure that it was a hardcover edition with illustrations that appealed to me — I wonder if they were Arthur Hughes’s.

          1n 1969 I’d have read Lin Carter’s Tolkien: A Look Behind “The Lord of the Rings” and seen Carter’s reference (p. 94) to Phantastes as a “dream narrative” and Two Visionary Novels (Phantastes, Lilith) in the bibliography — where Carter says Tolkien denies influence from MacDonald & Carter agrees, based on these two romances (p. 210). Of course it’s The Princess and the Goblin that was obviously the source of The Hobbit’s goblins….

          Later, but still early, encounters with MacDonald came via the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series paperback of Lilith, early Seventies, and “Photogen and Nycteris in the same series’ anthology, New Worlds for Old, these books having been edited by Carter. The had cover art that was unusually attractive for paperbacks. I probably found the Ballantine edition of Phantastes not long afterwards.

          There could be a fair bit of trial and error in one’s reading explorations back then; and things one might have read and liked, for want of anything else new to read, might seem pretty poor now, if one tries to read them again. Case in point: Lester del Rey’s Day of the Giants!

          Dale Nelson

          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I remember seeing a lot of assorted Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series titles when I was getting interested in Lovecraft, Machen, et al., but can’t remember if I saw that Lilith – and/or the Phantastes and Evenor editions – then, and why I didn’t buy them, if I did! The New Worlds for Old cover looks familiar – why didn’t I try it? (put off by the naked lady?) – for I read Golden Cities, Far – and so knew Ariosto’s Orc before Tolkien’s!

            Don’t know if this is complete and accurate, but it is interesting:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballantine_Adult_Fantasy_series

            Liked by 1 person

          • Cool story Dale. I didn’t know I read the Light Princess till I reread it, and it was funnier as a dad reading it to my kid. I’m afraid that I am a Lewis-Tolkien convert toward GeoMac.

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  5. Pingback: Literary Diversity and the Bottomless C.S. Lewis: A Unique Journey in Books | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  6. Pingback: The Deeper Meaning of “The Great Divorce” (Throwback Thursday) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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