Before the controversy surrounding the rings of power I was The Lord of the rings… but before The Lord of the rings were the works of George MacDonaldthe Scottish priest and writer whose works had a major influence on the circle of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Many years before the One Ring or Aslan, MacDonald already explored the relationship between the fantastic and the spiritual in works such as fantasies either The princess and the goblins.
“MacDonald’s supernatural literature stands out for its mystical twist,” says the independent researcher Leticia Cortina, and adds that he uses fantastic or magical elements to introduce a spiritual dimension and address eschatological themes, linked to salvation. This concern -Cortina comments- differentiates MacDonald from his contemporaries, as JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, or Lewis Carrollthe author of Alice in Wonderland.
According to Cortina, we find a “direct ascendancy” between this generation -baptized as “the golden age”- and the British writers who succeeded them. “Many – he adds – consider MacDonald the grandfather of Inklings», the Oxford literary circle made up of Lewis, Tolkien or Charles Williams. The Scotsman also influenced other great writers such as GK Chesterton: the author of the man who was thursday wrote in MacDonald’s obituary that he was “one of the three or four great men of the nineteenth century” and said that reading The princess and the goblins “It made a difference to my entire existence.”
Predestination or mercy
George MacDonald was born in the Scottish town of Huntly in December 1824, and had a happy childhood, in a rural setting and with a family of deep Calvinist faith. From a young age he developed intellectual and literary interests., and felt the call of God to the priestly ministry, but had a conflict with the notion of predestination. “He had experienced loving parents, so he doesn’t fit when they tell him that God is a Father and loves… but that he only wants to save a small fraction of his creatures,” says Cortina.
MacDonald graduated in Chemistry and Physics from the University of Aberdeen in 1845, and five years later was ordained as a minister of the Arundel Trinity Congregational Church. However, his insistence on preaching about God’s Universal Love and his redemption caused his salary to be cut in half and he was later invited to leave. As a writer, was lucky enough to fall into the good graces of Lady Byron, the widow of the poet Lord Byronwho introduced him to literary circles.
His production ranges from compilations of sermons to realistic literature, but his best-known and most influential works move in the field of symbolic fantasy, for both children and adults. “I do not write for children – MacDonald pointed out – but for those who are like children, whether they are five, fifty or seventy-five years old”. As Cortina explains, the authors of this Victorian period «understood childhood as a state of spiritual purity». The experiential world of the child was claimed, and it was understood that man must look back at his childhood to recover some authenticity.
Some of his best-known works move along this line, such as –in addition to those already mentioned– The Princess and Curdie, the golden key either Lilith, one of his darkest stories, and that revolves around the end of life and salvation. in his essay about fairy talesIn fact, Tolkien noted that “death is the subject that most inspired George MacDonald.”
Admiration and disagreements
Analyzing how MacDonald’s influence was on the next generation, Cortina speaks of “immense mutual feeding.” The Canadian researcher Kirstin Jeffrey Johnsonco-editor of the book Informing the Inklingsspeaks of MacDonald as a pioneer, “a storyteller for storytellers,” while Professor Stephen Prickett he speaks of “an apostolic succession of mythopoiesis” between the MacDonald circle and the Inklings.
In the case of the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, we find absolute admiration. CS Lewis constantly praised MacDonald, whom he considered his teacher, and even included him as a character in The great divorce. “I hardly know another writer who seems closer, or more continuously close, to the Spirit of Christ himself,” wrote Lewis, who lived with pain how the figure of the Scotsman fell into oblivion after his death, until it was recovered in the 70s. and 80 of the 20th century.
In relation to Tolkien, however, Cortina adds a nuance. He highlights the great importance of MacDonald’s work in the beginnings of the author of The Lord of the rings, but notes that in his old age, Tolkien distanced himself from the Scotsman’s taste for symbolism. “Tolkien does not work with allegories,” he says, and points out that his work has a mythical character and goes to universal anthropological questions, which do not have an exact correspondence in our concrete reality.