George MacDonald, Victorian Faerie Author, Pre-Dracula Vampire Classic, etc.

Discussion in 'Literary Fiction' started by Extollager, Jul 13, 2015.

  1.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    George MacDonald (1824-1905) has impressed a remarkable range of fantasists, including David Lindsay, H. P. Lovecraft, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Lin Carter.

    His classic of the weird, Lilith (1895), predated Dracula by two years, and remains, with that novel, one of the two monuments of vampire fiction.

    Somewhere, David Lindsay said something to the effect that he was so indebted to Lilith thathe could not have written A Voyage to Arcturus without its example -- or something like that. I may be mistaken. I hope someone has the citation for us.

    Lovecraft gives Lilith high marks in his "Supernatural Horror" essay, demonstrating acquaintance with two versions of MacDonald's book and expressing a preference for the earlier.

    It seems incontrovertible that the goblins in Tolkien's Hobbit are right out of the first of MacDonald's two Faerie books for children, The Princess and the Goblin.

    C. S. Lewis was an advocate for MacDonald throughout his adult life, recording the impact of reading MacDonald's Phantastes in his autobiography.

    Lin Carter edited no fewer than three MacDonald books for the famous Ballantine Fantasy series, and included MacDonald's very fine Faerie tale, "Photogen and Nycteris" / "The Day Boy and the Night Girl" in his New Worlds for Old anthology. The Ballantine books by MacDonald are Lilith, Phantastes, and a collection of long tales, titled Evenor.
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    I anticipate that most discussion for this thread will be on MacDonald's fantasy, but his numerous realistic novels are not without interest. Wilfrid Cumbermede is worthy of attention from readers interested in English Romanticism. Sir Gibbie may have influenced Mark Twain (the two authors considered a collaboration, btw). The Portent, a short novel, will appeal to fans of the Gothic. One edition includes a frontispiece by Maurice Sendak, who also illustrated editions of MacDonald's Faerie tales The Golden Key and The Light Princess.
     
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    hitmouse

    hitmouse Well-Known Member

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    The Princess and the Goblin was a fantastically frightening book when read to me aged 5-6. Might have been on the BBC children's TV show Jackanory.
     
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    Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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    I have
    The Light Princess (and other Fantasy stories)
    The Grey Wolf (and other Fantasy stories)
    The Princess and the Goblin (1976 Penguin, ill. Arthur Hughes 1st pub 1872)
    The Princess and Curdie (misplaced)
    Back of the North Wind (misplaced, I do have a LOT of books)
    Phantases

    Also
    George MacDonald - An Anthology. 365 Readings. Edited/Selected by C. S. Lewis. Who only once spoke to someone that had known George MacDonald.
    Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/127
    I must read Lilith...

    It's amazing that he's really a Generation or more earlier than that Grandfather of Fantasy, Lord Dunsany.

    Edit:
    I have a quite nice animated version of The Princess and the Goblin too. I feel not only did it influence The Hobbit, but C.S. Lewis's "The Silver Chair", in some ways one of my favourite Narnia books. You really feel cold and hungry on that trip north with Puddleglum. And as for Puddleglum fighting the Witch's enchantment ...
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2015
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Of all the countless fairy tales that I have ever read this is one of my absolute favorites. (From the very beginning, when we are introduced to Watho, a witch with "a wolf in her mind,")

    As a child, I loved "The Light Princess" although I had to read it as an adult to really appreciate the humor. When I read "The Princess and the Goblin" in my teens the whole idea of the grandmother, the symbolism around her, blew me away. But now I prefer "The Princess and Curdie" which is, of course, a deeper book, and there are passages that just beg to be read over and over because they are so gorgeous.
     
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Weeeellllll..... While my admiration for HPL is enormous, there were times when he was guilty of that "second-hand scholarship" he accused Poe of,* and this is an excellent example. The problem, you see, is that, until recently,** the earlier version remained unpublished and seen by very few. Lovecraft was not one. To quote Joshi on this:

    -- The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature, p. 102n26​

    *One such causes an embarrassing discrepancy between the reality of the illustration around which "The Picture in the House" revolves and that illustration as described in the tale. Another was his relying on the (admittedly wonderful) film of The Golem for his description of the novel in Supernatural Horror in Literature -- when he read the novel later on, he was thoroughly mortified at his gaffe, as the two are nothing alike. Yet another was his extensive praise for Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (most of which, surprisingly, remains fairly accurate) when, due to the novel having been out of print for a very long time, all he had to go on were two excerpts from anthologies and the comments of other writers on the subject, until late in life, when he was given a copy of the novel itself.

    ** If memory serves, it has finally seen print a few years ago. I may be mistaken, and it may still remain unpublished.
     
  6.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    ...Whatever David Lindsay may (or may not) have said about the importance of Lilith for his Voyage to Arcturus, Lindsay may well have been influenced by MacDonald's tale in the writing of his own novel The Haunted Woman, which I've just read for a second time. The strange house that extends into what we may loosely call "another dimension" reminds one of Mr. Vane's similarly ancient house in MacDonald's weird romance. (I was also reminded of Wuthering Heights, notably around page 134!)

    JD is right about the first version of Lilith only appearing recently; at least, I think the Johannesen edition of the first and the final versions was the former's first printing, around 20 years ago. In fact, Johannesen published a Variorum Lilith in three volumes: First and Final Versions; Versions B & C; Versions D & E.

    One should salute the Johannesen productions. You can read about how they are made such that each volume is a work of craftsmanship:

    http://www.johannesen.com/bookmaking.htm

    I'm not sure the two intermediate Lilith volumes are still available.
     
  7.  
    Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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    I'm reading whatever edition of Lilith is on Gutenberg right now. I can see an influence on Voyage to Arcturus (which I 3/4 read recently and gave up on). My library is a little scary too. I think 58 shelves of books in the room ... but there are maybe 14 other book cases spread through the house.
    Lilith is quite unlike the other George MacDonald books I've read (The Light Princess, The Grey Wolf, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, Back of the North Wind, Phantases).
    Closest to Phantases.

    It's interesting. Back to reading now.
     
  8.  
    Connavar

    Connavar Well-Known Member

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    Macdonald is one of those important classic fantasy writer of Lord Dunsany era or before that i wish i have read 5 years ago already. I like everything i have read about his fairy stories, Lilith etc

    If i was more fantasy reader than SF reader i would have read so much Macdonald earlier than now. I wonder is The Princess and The Goblin a good way to start reading him? I know his vampire novel is hailed but im looking to read his important, acclaimed fantastic stories first.
     
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    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Conn, The Princess is a children's book. If the tone of The Hobbit doesn't bother you, you should be able to read the MacDonald with pleasure, but if the tone of Tolkien's book makes you uncomfortable, I wouldn't recommend starting MacDonald with that one. It is, though, an uncommonly pure effort of the faerie imagination.

    I'd say the curious adult reader might start MacDonald's fantasy with a couple of the stories that Lin Carter reprinted for the Ballantine Fantasy series, "Photogen and Nycteris" ("The Day Boy and the Night Girl") and "The Golden Key," or with Lilith, which has won accolades from various adult readers including one whom I haven't mentioned yet, H. G. Wells. At least, you'd think Wells liked MacDonald's novel from a 1985 letter he wrote to MacDonald, in which he said "assuming more than three dimensions, it follows that there must be wonderful worlds nearer to us than breathing and closer than hands and feet."

    However, publicly he was critical. I include Philmus's summaries of Wells's criticisms of some other fantastic fiction as of some interest for their own sake and also to provide a bit of context for what Wells said about Lilith.

    ----his previous verdict on Lilith had been that it "is fantastic to wildness and well-nigh past believing," that it "passes into the insanity of dreams, declines to the symbolic and the cryptic, [and] ends in an allegorical tangle" (#31§1). His censure amounts to accusing MacDonald of violating what Wells formulates elsewhere as "the elementary rule of the fantastic: that, granted the fantastic assumption, the most strenuous consistency must be observed in its development. That fantastic means 'anyhow' is a juvenile delusion" (#81). As for his feelings toward allegory, his tacit aversion is suggested in his review of a book by William Morris, wherein the epithet Wells attaches—"stout oaken stuff"—applies more to the moral calibre of the man than to The Well at the World's End. He is willing to allow Morris' fantasy passages of "weird effectiveness" without caring to inquire if they be "coherently symbolical" or allegorical (#79; see also ## 24§5 and 55§2).
    He admires Swift for the double-edgedness of his satire (#6). Poe he also congratulates unstintingly, in asides, as the "consummate creator of strange effects" (#11§6; see also ## 15§1, 31§1, 37). Poe's heirs, however, he just as unstintingly condemns. He judges "the style" of M.P. Shiel's Prince Zaleski to be "a veritable frenzy of impure English" (#7§3), while his comment on The Rajah's Sapphire is that it "appears to have been written by a lunatic" (#65§5). Sheridan LeFanu he characterizes as a master of piling horror upon horror until the effect of horror is totally lost (## 11§6, 17§6). In regard to Arthur Machen's The Three Impostors, Wells notes that the author "has not mastered the necessary trick of commonplace detail which renders horrors convincing" (#43§2)—an observation which, together with his "elementary rule of the fantastic," anticipates much of what Wells has to say about science-fictional method in the 1933 Preface to his Scientific Romances.----

    http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/12/philmus12.htm

    For what it's worth, I'd suggest that what MacDonald is attempting in those late pages in Lilith that Wells deprecates isn't allegory but "vision," having more in common stylistically with the concluding pages of A Voyage to Arcturus than those of The Pilgrim's Progress.
     
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    Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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    Lilith though isn't as easy a read as other MacDonald's, I can't read it in as large chunks as I'm accustomed. Off to read some more now, just past the Cat Woman's cottage and in Pine Woods or similar.
    Phantases was much easier read.

    It's not a Vampire novel like the Bram Stoker Dracula published a couple of years later. It almost reminds me of Pilgrims Progress, and A Voyage to Arcturus seems to have a very similar style of journey. Or is it a Scottish thing (David Lindsay is also Scottish)? Well David Lindsay admitted the source, you'd assume it anyway!

    The two Princess books are not too childish at all for real Adults (Older Teenagers might not be young enough or old enough), they are seriously classics and my favourites of all his books. I'm actually finding Lilith a bit tedious.
     
  11.  
    BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    Ive read Lilith, beautifully written book. (y) I had the exact edition as shown above .:)
     
  12.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    He seems to have been relatively fortunate in his illustrators past (e.g. Arthur Hughes' illustrations for The Princess and the Goblin and others) to more recent (Sendak, Gallardo, etc.).
     
  13.  
    Connavar

    Connavar Well-Known Member

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    I dont mind childrens literature, some of the finest books, authors i have ever read are Lewis Caroll. I dont mind the tone at all ei compared to Tolkein i care much more about prose style, type of lit. Fairy,fable authors are more my style.

    I will read Princess books, his fantasy short stories because that is what he is a literary legend for. Im actually glad he wrote books for children since i missed reading classic children books when i was a kid i read them as an adult with a pleasure to feed the kid me who never read books and to analyze, rate great childrens lit as an adult.
     
  14.  
    BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    He did influences Tolkien.
     
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