21
Jan
15

George MacDonald

Cover illustration by Helen Stratton

Cover illustration by Helen Stratton

Lately I’ve been giving in to the urge to acquire old children’s books. I’ve always loved books for children, love to read them, and have randomly acquired a few over the years. But now that I’ve been writing stories with kids in mind, these books take on a new salience. Or so I tell myself. (At least, it’s another excuse to buy more books.)

George MacDonald was an incredibly prolific writer of novels and children’s stories, and is, along with William Morris, one of the most important ancestors of modern fantasy. His novels Phantastes and Lilith are inflection points in the history of fantasy.

His children’s books are true wonders. The title alone of At the Back of the North Wind is worth a stack of most modern paperback fantasy.

The Brit paperback of The Princess and the Curdie I found last week in an Ann Arbor thrift shop is not really “collectable,” but nevertheless a great pleasure to me. It’s in good shape, with color covers front and back by illustrator Helen Stratton .

Here’s a sample of MacDonald, from the first page of the book:

“A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old time, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains. But then somehow they had not come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them—and what people hate they must fear. Now that we have learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel quite awe enough of them. To me they are beautiful terrors.

I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight—that is what it is.”

curdiecover2_0001

Back cover art by Helen Stratton

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