C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

C. S. Lewis, his worlds, and his faith.

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C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Jul 19, 2014 6:25 pm

C.S. Lewis wrote:... I tried, trembling, to tell this man all that his writings had done for me. I tried to tell how a certain frosty afternoon at Leatherhead Station when I had first bought a copy of Phantastes (being then about sixteen years old) had been to me what the first sight of Beatrice had been to Dante: Here begins the new life. I started to confess how long that Life had delayed in the region of imagination merely: how slowly and reluctantly I had come to admit that his Christendom had more than an accidental connexion with it, how hard I had tried not to see the true name of the quality which first met me in his books is Holiness.


The above passage appears in the ninth chapter of The Great Divorce when the narrator, a character that is heavily influenced by Lewis himself, meets George MacDonald in Heaven. In reality, Lewis actually did read that very book when he was sixteen, later saying, "Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day at a train-station bookstall, I began to read. A few hours later, I knew that I had crossed a great frontier."

C.S. Lewis also greatly admired George MacDonald's religious teachings, to such a degree that Lewis compiled a collection of them known as George MacDonald: An Anthology. It is in the Preface of this book that we find these two quotes from Lewis, which tell us something of his admiration for MacDonald:

C.S. Lewis wrote:I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continuously close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined.

In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. 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. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it.


George MacDonald, born in the year of 1824 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, was a Christian minister, poet, and pioneer in the world of fantasy literature. While his name has grown somewhat obscure over the years, MacDonald and his writings have had a profound effect on classic literature. He was the friend and mentor of Lewis Carroll, and a friend and arguable literary influence of Mark Twain. Besides C.S. Lewis, he has also been an influence to many other authors: J.R.R. Tolkien, E. Nesbit, and Madeleine L'Engle, to name a few.

While it has been several years since I have read any of MacDonald's fictional works (I read The Princess and the Goblin at around ten years of age), I've begun reading MacDonald's series Unspoken Sermons over the past eight or so months and have absolutely loved it. I don't think Lewis's assessment was off-the-mark when he described MacDonald's writings as "Christ-like", and I often run across lines and ideas in Unspoken Sermons that remind me of themes I've encountered in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Have you read any books by George MacDonald, whether fiction or non-fiction? Do you perceive any parallels between MacDonald's novels and the Chronicles of Narnia? (Have you noticed any times in which Lewis actually quotes from him in his books, as Lewis claimed in the aforementioned quote?) For those of you who are familiar with his religious teachings, have you observed any unique influence from MacDonald on Lewis's beliefs as a Christian, or in the religious themes that are found in the Chronicles of Narnia and Lewis's other works?
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby aileth » Jul 25, 2014 5:16 pm

The quote I remembered right off was this one:
Prince Caspian wrote:'Wouldn't it be dreadful if some day, in our own world at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you'd never know which were which?'

after they had shot the bear in the woods. This idea was taken from The Princess and Curdie when he was given the gift of telling, by taking hold of someone's hand, what kind of beast they were turning into. He encountered a monkey and a snake, among others.

The same rose-fire that gave him that gift, was alike in another fashion. When Eustace was undragoned, he afterward described the thick, scaly skin coming off, leaving him soft and white and tender; he also told of the pain. That is reminiscent of the ordeal that Curdie underwent in the old Princess's fire,
and found that all that was gone of them was the rough, hard skin; they were white and smooth like the princess's.
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby jewel » Jul 25, 2014 5:26 pm

I've never read Gorge Macdonald. So many people say he's so good. If I were to read him, where should I start.
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby wild rose » Jul 27, 2014 4:00 am

I only discoverd George MacDonald recently. My brother had been talking about him for quite some time after he read The Princess and the Goblen and then one day while at the bookshop, whilte browsing through the English section I stumbled across the book. Even though it was TERRIBLY over priced, I bought if for Narnian_Archer, seeing as it was her birthday the next day. And on the way home, I of course read it. I have to say, I just loved that book. I love the way it was written, I love the story, I love the characters, I love verything about it. There was a little bit about the author at the end of the book and I read the George MacDonald greatly inspired C.S. Lewis. I've been meaning to do a research on George MacDonald, but I haven't had time to do it yet.

aileth, I found your post very intersting, I had no idea that George MacDonald influned certain parts of the Narnia books, but I also find tha fascinating.

I really want to read more of George MacDonald, I'm searching for The Princess and Curdie, but so far I haven't been able to find it in the bookshops :| it was a pure miracle I found the Princess and the Goblen, but I'm hopeful that I'll be able to find it with time
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Jul 29, 2014 10:27 am

Oh wow, thanks for those observations, aileth! Those are so cool! :ymapplause: I really need to read The Princess and Curdie someday, but like wild rose, I've never been able to find it. Of course, it's available online, but I'd like to reread The Princess and the Goblin first before tackling the sequel and I haven't had time yet.

I'm so glad you liked The Princess and the Goblin, Wild! It's really a wonderful book. Narnian_Archer is in for a treat for her birthday. :D

I don't know if Lewis was particularly inspired by this passage in regards to themes that appear in The Silver Chair, but I will say that I was strongly reminded of that when I read it in George MacDonald's "The Last Farthing" in Unspoken Sermons:

It is the vast outside; the ghastly dark beyond the gates of the city of which God is the light—where the evil dogs go ranging, silent as the dark, for there is no sound any more than sight. The time of signs is over. Every sense has its signs, and they were all misused: there is no sense, no sign more— nothing now by means of which to believe. The man wakes from the final struggle of death, in absolute loneliness— such a loneliness as in the most miserable moment of deserted childhood he never knew. Not a hint, not a shadow of anything outside his consciousness reaches him. All is dark, dark and dumb; no motion—not the breath of a wind! never a dream of change! not a scent from far-off field! nothing to suggest being or thing besides the man himself, no sign of God anywhere. God has so far withdrawn from the man, that he is conscious only of that from which he has withdrawn. In the midst of the live world he cared for nothing but himself; now in the dead world he is in God's prison, his own separated self. He would not believe in God because he never saw God; now he doubts if there be such a thing as the face of a man—doubts if he ever really saw one, ever anything more than dreamed of such a thing:—he never came near enough to human being, to know what human being really was—so may well doubt if human beings ever were, if ever he was one of them.


Now, what George MacDonald is describing here is what the "outer darkness" might be like to those who experience it, and I don't think that Jill, Puddleglum and Eustace had been cast out into that.

Even so, I see a lot of similar themes running through this quote and through The Silver Chair, particularly as you get to the part where Jill, Eustace and Puddleglum are in the throes of enchantment and are losing faith in everything, as well the whole experience of the still, dark, silent hopelessness of Underland. The bit about the signs is extremely evocative of overarching plot of The Silver Chair, too. Knowing what high regard Lewis had for MacDonald's writings, especially his religious teachings, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he drew some inspiration for The Silver Chair from this passage.
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby aileth » Jul 29, 2014 6:00 pm

I admit with shame that I still haven't read The Princess and the Goblin. Talk about back to front, reading the sequel first! His tales for children are really enjoyable. I had The Golden Key as a child, liked it, but then decided to get rid of it later, because it was a "kid's book." (I have since managed to lay hands on all of those books that I discarded at the time.) The turn of phrase often reminds you of Lewis's writing, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Lewis's reminds you of Macdonald's style

The Portent is much heavier reading. I don't have a copy of it, but it is much darker in tone--definitely not a children's book. If you want to read copies of his adult novels, I prefer the ones edited by Dan Hamilton, rather than the ones done by Michael Phillips--they seem closer to the originals. (Modernization--gackk!)
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Jul 30, 2014 5:16 pm

You can find The Princess and the Goblin online for free, aileth, or you could also purchase an inexpensive ebook if you download a eReading platform like Kindle for PC or Nook for PC. Of course, I know that it's not nearly as nice as curling up with a real, ink-and-paper book, but sometimes you can't wait, either. ;))

I ran across an article today about the representation of "the Childlike" found in both MacDonald and Lewis's writings. I thought it was quite good, and it had a lot of interesting and profound quotes scattered through it. I especially liked the fact that the author of the article took the time to point towards different characters within Lewis and MacDonald's fictional works to illustrate the disparity between childlikeness and childishness. The paragraphs comparing the personalities and journeys of Lucy from The Chronicles of Narnia and Irene from The Princess and the Goblin were particularly well-presented, I thought.

I felt like the author of the article may have been missing some of MacDonald's points from his "The Child in the Midst" sermon, but I would really need to go back and reread that before commenting myself. It's been a while. All in all, though, it was a very good article and well worth the time it took to read it, I felt. :)
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby aileth » Jul 31, 2014 9:53 pm

Can you believe it? I have a copy of The Princess and the Goblin and still haven't read it :ymblushing:

I picked up Curdie to find those quotes and ended up reading through it again. When I first read it, I hadn't read the Space trilogy, so couldn't make any comparisons. But the scene in the castle, when the evildoers were punished, is very much like the nasty part at the end of That Hideous Strength. Of course, Macdonald's beasts were sentient, and Lewis's were not, but in essence they were fulfilling the same purpose.
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Oct 09, 2016 2:20 pm

I already posted about this in the discussion on C.S. Lewis and sehnsucht, but it is so apposite to this thread that I felt it needed to be posted here as well with some additional thoughts... this is an excellent article detailing how the theme of sehnsucht appears in both of the fictional works of C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald, and tells us much about how the latter influenced the former in respect to that theme.

I have long wondered about Lewis's belief that he never wrote a book in which he did not quote MacDonald, and this past summer I noted the very likely connection between MacDonald's "the land where the shadows fall" and Lewis's Shadowlands when I read The Golden Key. I didn't know about the connection between Lilith and Till We Have Faces until reading the above article, however. (I haven't read either yet.) It makes me want to go hunting for more connections.

Speaking of which, I am hoping to reread The Princess and the Goblin sometime before the end of the year as it recently occurred to me that there seem to be some thematic connections between it and The Silver Chair. (If my memory is serving my correctly, the goblins' plot to take over the kingdom seems quite similar to the LotGK's designs to take over Narnia.) Does anyone else have any thoughts on this? I'll certainly post mine after rereading.
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Re: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald

Postby coracle » Oct 10, 2016 2:30 am

Oh yes, we could certainly list some similarities - they are underground and prefer being underground, dislike the overlanders, are different physically, and on at least one occasion a human was kidnapped and imprisoned below ground.
The goblins, on the other hand, are more like those in The Hobbit, ugly and nasty creatures with an evil leader who is one of themselves - the earthmen are oppressed by someone who is not from their race.
Apart from McDonald elements, we must realise that there are a lot of elements in European fairy-tale and folklore that turn up frequently in different stories; the human child, kidnapped by fairies, goblins, or elves,is not uncommon.
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