While Macdonald’s Phantastes is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read and I enjoyed the Curdie books as a child, I’ve never been a fan of his other novels and was not particularly looking forward to reading this anthology. Just as it feels wrong that I love Bach but not his favourite instrument, the organ, so I always thought it felt wrong to love C.S. Lewis and not George Macdonald, one of Lewis’s most-loved inspirations. Happily, the issue is cleared up in the preface, where Lewis calls the Macdonald books I happen to like “the great works,” while admitting that “necessity made MacDonald a novelist, but few of his novels are good and none is very good” (xxix). The rest of the preface provides an excellent discussion of mythology, which would make the book a must-read in any case.
Each of the 365 excerpts presented in this collection is worthy of a day’s reflection and reading the whole book in one go felt rather like going to a dinner buffet that only serves steak. There is an aura of the commonsense and uncompromising, softened by the humility and gentleness that should be the defining characteristics of every Christian. Some of my favourite quotes were the ones on spiritual “dryness,” where MacDonald points out that the firm foundation on which our faith is built cannot be shaken by changing emotions and feelings:
That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, “Thou art my refuge” (1).
Troubled soul, thou are not bound to feel but thou art bound to arise. God loves thee whether thou feelest or not. Thou canst not love when thou wilt, but thou art bound to fight the hatred in thee to the last. Try not to feel good when thou art not good, but cry to Him who is good. He changes not because thou changest. Nay, He has an especial tenderness of love toward thee for that thou art in the dark and hast no light, and His heart is glad when thou doest arise and say, “I will go to my Father.” …Fold the arms of thy faith, and wait in the quietness until light goes up in thy darkness. For the arms of thy Faith I say, but not of thy Action: bethink thee of something that thou oughtest to do, and go to do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend. Heed not thy feeling: Do thy work (18).
N.B. Most of the book is not written in the old-timey, King James Version speech.
[Why I read it: given to me as a birthday present by my parents.]