The Life of George MacDonald

George MacDonald (1824-1905)

A reference about the life and works of the Scottish, Victorian author George MacDonald featuring a list of his most famous works.



George MacDonald was born on 10 December, 1824 in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland – the home of Gaelic myths. The second son of George MacDonald and Helen MacKay, he was raised along with his four brothers in Huntly and in nearby Pirriesmill on his father’s farm. A prominent family in the community in both His father, one of the MacDonalds of Glen Coe, was a direct descendant the Clan Donald whom suffered at the hands of the Cambells in a 1692 massacre. The Doric Dialect of the area, frequently appeared in the dialogue of some of his non-fantasy novels, such as Alec Forbes.

Although his family had be prosperous, running a linen mill, thread-spinning and bleaching works, and a bank, several events eventually devastated the family fortune including increasing competition from mills in southern Scotland, technological advances, and a town flood. George became well acquainted with poverty which he continued to know throughout the rest of his life, despite his success as an author.

Educated in country schools as a child, he went on to King’s College, Aberdeen University in the early 1840’s at 15, having received a scholarship. He attended from 1840-41 and 1844-45 received a Master of Arts and was awarded prizes in Sciences and Moral Philosophy. (Later in his life he was granted an honorary doctorate from this esteemed institution.) It was during this period where he began to write poetry. His first work was published in 1846, anonymously, in the “Scottish Congregational Magazine”. He spent three years as a tutor in London and then studied for the Congregationalist ministry at Highbury College, London.

George was made pastor at Arundel, West Sussex, England in 1850. In 1851 Louisa Powell became his wife and they eventually had six sons and five daughters together. After about three years of having not meeting the congregational authorities’ expectations of preaching more dogmatic sermons, he resigned from the pulpit there. George had taught and felt that everyone was capable of redemption, rejecting his family’s Calvinistic influence. He believed in God’s divine presence but not divine providence. He believed that often too much emphasis was placed on strictly being saved from damnation in hell, and not enough on bearing the fruit of a Christian life in the present.






George MacDonald authored Within and Without (1855), a religious poem, followed by Phantastes (1858), one of the defining works of his career, an adult fantasy and moral allegory. Plagued by ill health throughout his life time, suffering from tuberculosis, he went to Algiers with the intent of gaining back his health at the benevolence of Lady Byron, who remained his patron until she died in 1860. He returned to England in 1859 resolved to further pursue his literary ambitions. He converted to the Church of England in 1860 as a lay member, but continued to preach independently as time allowed. To provide for his growing family he tutored and continued to publish his works. Yet, despite his success, he was unable to support his family and turned to writing novels in the 1860’s. MacDonald later accepted a professorship of English Literature at Bedford College, holding the post until 1867. He also lectured at King’s College, London.

MacDonald’s Scottish country life stories such as David Elginbrod (1862), Alec Forbes (1865), Robert Falconer (1868), The Princess and the Goblin (1871), and At the Back of the North Wind (1871) met with great success. He became widely known throughout Great Britain and the United States. His British literary connections were impressive and included Matthew Arnold, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Lewis Carroll. In fact, MacDonald was a mentor to Carroll, encouraging him to publish Alice and Wonderland, whom MacDonald’s wife had the priviledge of reading the original manuscript to their children, which met with much enthusiasm. John Ruskin also became a good friend and benefactor whose donations would often be the only source of income to the MacDonalds.

In 1872, between the tours of noted authors Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde, MacDonald was invited to tour and lecture in America. He was received with honor and great audiences. He established relationships with his American peers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain (although after a somewhat tumultuous beginning). He also developed friendships with G. K. Chesterton, Henry Longfellow, and Madeleine L’Engle. A well paying ministerial position was offered him but he chose to return to England. In 1877 he was pensioned at the request of Queen Victoria.During the 1870’s MacDonald wrote such favorites as Paul Faber (1879) and Sir Gibbie (1879).


Despite their financial situation and health problems the MacDonalds were a happy family and often entertained friends and neighbors with concerts and amateur plays. In 1877 one of his daughters was ailing and was taken to Bordighera, Italy, “Heaven of the English”, for a cure. Though she died, the MacDonald’s remained as he found the climate to benefit his own maladies. Most of the years between 1881 to 1902 were spent there. Among the titles published around during this time were Donal Grant (1883), Gifts of the Child Christ (1882), The Light Princess (1893), and his last novel, another moral allegory, the adult fantasy Lilith (1895).

George Macdonald suffered a stroke in 1899 and was not able to speak or write again. He was a complete invalid now and a complacent patient, yet held the look of expectation in his gentle face. Though his voice was gone, his eyes held their full expression as his only means of communicating. Like little Diamond in At the Back of the North Wind – those blue eyes that seemed rather made for other people to look into than for himself to look our of.” On their golden wedding anniversary in 1901 Louisa Powell died after being her husbands caretaker for nearly two years and closest confidant and cherished wife for fifty. After a long illness MacDonald died at Ashstead, Surrey, England on 18 September, 1905.

Although realism was the prevailing form of writing during much of the Victorian era, MacDonald held that realism and science constrained and damaged the imagination, placing limitations on the inner life and the world of the spirit. George Macdonald published over fifty volumes of fiction in some forty-two years, verse, novels, sermons, and children’s stories which rank high among the classics of juvinille literature. He remains on of the most beloved storytellers of all time and has affected the hearts of many, myself included.


George MacDonald was a visionary and was a major influence on many authors who considered him as their mentor.

While reading a copy of Phantastes (1858) one day in a train station, “a few hours later,” said Lewis Carroll of his future mentor, “I knew I had crossed a great frontier.” “I know hardly any other writer who seems closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ himself.”

C. S. Lewis said, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”

Elizabeth Yates wrote of Sir Gibbie that “it 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.”

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “…I for one can really testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence…Of all the stories I have read, including even all the novels of the same novelist, it remains the most real, the most realistic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life. It is called The Princess and the Goblin and is by George MacDonald…”

W. H. Auden said that George MacDonald was “one of the most remarkable writers of the nineteenth century” equal to, if not superior to Edgar Allan Poe.

“Surely, George MacDonald is the grandfather of us all – all of us who struggle to come to terms with truth through fantasy.” – Madeleine L’Engle

J.R.R. Tokien called his fairy tales “stories of power and beauty.”


The Life and Works of George MacDonald

Sermons, Non-Fiction, Anthologies, Biographies



Knowing the Heart of God


Knowing the Heart of God

Knowing the Heart of God has been carefully put together by editor Michael Phillips. Combining thematically relevant portions of poetry, sermons, and fiction, each title will help lead serious readers into deeper regions of faith in God. Knowing the Heart of God presents MacDonald’s philosophy for discovering life’s great truths. He insisted this could be done in a simple two-step process by first realizing who God is, and then obeying him. MacDonald trumpets obedience as the door in knowing God intimately. A challenging work, Knowing the Heart of God ultimately brings readers to the very feet of a loving father who wants to be known by his faithful.




George MacDonald Quotes

Quotes from the works of master storyteller, George MacDonald

“I write, not for children,” he wrote, “but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.”

“Alas! how easily things go wrong!
A sigh too deep or a kiss too long,
And then comes a mist and a weeping rain,
And life is never the same again.”

“We are often unable to tell people what they need to know, because they want to know something else.”

“Where did you come from baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into the here.
Where did you get your eyes so blue?
Out of the skies as I came through.”
–At the Back of the North Wind

“So perfectly like other people had she been in the water, that even yet the prince could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw her ascend slowly, grasp the balcony, and disappear through the window. He turned, almost expecting to see her still by his side. But he was alone in the water. So he swam away quietly, and watched the lights roving about the shore for hours after the princess was safe in her chamber. As soon as they disappeared, he landed in search of his tunic and sword, and, after some trouble, found them again.”
–The Light Princess

“Children are not likely to trouble you about meaning. They find what they are capable of finding, and to do more would be too much. For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether five, or fifty, or seventy-five.+
–The Gifts of the Child Christ

“As the thoughts move in the mind of a man, so move the worlds of men and women in the mind of God, and make no confusion there, for there they had their birth, the offspring of his imagination. Man is but a thought of God.”
–The imagination:
its function and its culture

“Better to be damned, doin’ the will o’ God, than saved doin’ nothing!”
–Alec Forbes of Howglen

“Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it.”

More Quotes by George MacDonald


The Poetry of George MacDonald

* Within and Without (1856)
* Poems (1857)
* The Disciple and Other Poems (1867)
* Exotics (1876)
* A Threefold Cord (1883)
* Poetical Works (1893)
* Approaches
* Lost and Found


Other Works of George MacDonald

* The Portent (1864)
* Unspoken Sermons (1867)
* The Golden Key (1867)
* England’s Antiphon (1868)
* The Miracles of Our Lord (1870)
* Works of Fancy and Imagination (1871)
* The History of Gutta Percha Willie: The Working Genius (1873)
* The Wise Woman or the Obstinate Princess (1875)
* The Diary of an Old Soul (1880)
* Dish of Orts (1883)
* The Tragedie of Hamelt, Prince of Denmark: A Study of the Text of the Folio of 1623 (1885)
* The Hope of the Gospel (1892)
* George MacDonald: An Anthology (1947)


The Renaissance of George MacDonald

“These books will assuredly be read yet again when the world has grown wise enough to appreciate their writer’s singleness of vision and the open road between him and God.” — Greville MacDonald, George’s son, 1924

After lying dormant for many decades and new interest in the works of George MacDonald emerged. In 1963, Elizabeth Yates edited “Sir Gibbie” in a more readable version. In the late 1970’s, Wheaton professor Rolland Heins issued four volumes of edited sermons and quotations attempting to simplify MacDonald’s works so they would have a more widespread interest. Then in the 1980’s, 100 years after the height of MacDonald’s popularity, author and editor Michael R. Phillips edited and trimmed many of his novels, translating them from MacDonald’s Scottish dialect into common English. These were reprinted by Bethany House Publishers. Many other publishing houses later followed suit, especially in the reprinting of his children’s fiction.


The Fiction of of George MacDonald

* Phantastes (1858)
* David Elginbrod (1862)
* Adela Cathcart (1864)
* Alec Forbes of Howglen (1865)
* Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood (1866)
* Robert Falconer (1868)
* Guild Court: A London Story (1868)
* The Seaboard Parish (1868)
* Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood (1871)
* The Vicar’s Daughter (1872)
* Wilfred Cumbermede (1872)
* Malcolm (1875)
* Thomas Wingfold (1876)
* Saint George and Saint Michael (1876)
* The Marquis of Lossie (1877)
* Paul Faber (1879)
* Sir Gibbie (1879)
* Mary Marston (1881)
* Castle Warlock (1882)
* Gifts of the Child Christ (1882)
* Weighed and Wanting (1882)
* Donal Grant (1883)
* What’s Mine’s Mine (1886)
* Home Again (1887)
* The Elect Lady (1888)
* A Rough Shaking (1890)
* The Flight of the Shadow (1890)
* There and Back (1891)
* Heather and Snow (1893)
* Lilith (1895)
* Salted With Fire (1897)
* The Curate of Glaston (2002)


“Lilith is equal if not superior to the best of Poe,” the great 20th-century poet W.H. Auden said of this novel, but the


One of nineteenth-century novelist George MacDonald’s most important works, Phantastes tells the story of its narrator’s dreamlike adventures in fairyland, masterfully recounted to convey a sense of profound sadness and a poignant longing for death.

Amazon Price: $9.60 (as of 01/22/2007)


The Curate of Glaston


The Curate of Glaston

This unforgettable trilogy depicts the spiritual awakening of curate Thomas Wingfold and the lives of those he touches. Surgeon Paul Faber believes in nothing but his own goodness until a beautiful patient reveals her secret past. Richard Tuke searches for the truth behind his mysterious heritage with the help of a thoughtful and independent woman. Filled with suspense and love, these novels reveal God’s intimate and loving means of drawing hearts near.

Previously released as The Curate’s Awakening, The Lady’s Confession, and The Baron’s Apprenticeship.

Amazon Price: $11.35 (as of 01/22/2007)


The Gentlewoman's Choice


The Gentlewoman’s Choice



The Children’s Books of George MacDonald

* Dealings With the Fairies (1867)
* At the Back of the North Wind (1871)
* The Princess and the Goblin (1871)
* The Princess and Curdie (1883)
* The Light Princess (1893)
* The Day Boy and the Night Girl (1988)
* The Complete Fairy Tales (1999)


George MacDonald Children’s Fiction



The Princess and the Goblin (Dover Juvenile Classics (Paperback))


The Princess and the Goblin (Dover Juvenile Classics (Paperback))

I read this book to my sons when they were both under six and they really loved it!



Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands (George Macdonald Classics for Young Readers)


Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands (George Macdonald Classics for Young Readers)



The Complete Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics)


The Complete Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics)

Amazon Price: $10.65 (as of 01/22/2007)


His Legacy

    “For whatever the significance of the many literary contributions he made, that legacy is primarily a spiritual one. It is in the spiritual realm that he sought to impact men’s hearts thoughts, attitudes, and priorities; and it is only in the spiritual realm that he can be fully appreciated and set in the context of history.

MacDonald was a complex man. But because his faith was so simple, so centered immovably in the character of God, MacDonald’s imaginative creativity was free to roam wherever it chose. The universe was the Lord’s and he was therefore free to explore all of it. There was no question he could think of, no conjecture his mind could frame, no thought that could come into his brain, no place he could go that didnt fall under the sovereignty of God. Therefore, as a writer and thinker, MacDonald posed bold–sometimes frightening–questions. He did not fear allowing his author’s pen to probe into any of life’s dark corners, for he knew God was there.”

— George MacDonald, Scotland’s Beloved Storyteller by Michael R. Phillips




366 Writings for Devotional Reflection


Diary of an Old Soul: 366 Writings for Devotional Reflection

George MacDonald offers a prayer for each day of the year, reflecting on some aspect of God’s relationship with us. MacDonald’s son, Greville, claimed that this volume “is a record of a life’s rather than a year’s religious thought.”

Amazon Price: $9.95 (as of 01/22/2007)



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