Tag Archives: 19th century

Christmas Carol

Review: A Christmas Carol

Rating: ★★★★★

Full Title: A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Dickens divided the original story into “staves” (i.e. stanzas), with the title likewise being an analogy to verse or song.

Who: Charles Dickens, the most famous English novelist of the 19th century.

Overview: A Christmas Carol is Dickens’ compelling and imaginative story of the life of a miser reformed by a tour through time in which he is visited by Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In all three tenses, Ebenezer Scrooge sees the truth that he had been missing about his own life, the life of his employee, and the effects of his miserable—pun intended—lifestyle on others.

Meat: This story, which many learned growing up from various adaptations such as those of Disney, is much more than a children’s tale. Like the story that follows it, it has elements of horror and fantasy woven into a simple story. And Scrooge is reformed by the vision of the results of his selfishness; in that sense, the story parallels a Christian conversion, and this is clearer in the original book.

Quotes:

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

“Bah,” said Scrooge, “Humbug.”

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

You can read A Christmas Carol for free on Kindle, Project Gutenberg, or listen on LibriVox.

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Author Guide: George MacDonald

This is a guide to the works of George MacDonald. The books in each section are in chronological order.

Fantasy

Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women (Our Review: ★★)
“Cross Purposes”
Adela Cathcart, containing “The Light Princess”, “The Shadows”, and other short stories
The Portent
Dealings with the Fairies , containing “The Golden Key”, “The Light Princess”, “The Shadows”, and other short stories
At the Back of the North Wind
The Princess and the Goblin (Our Review: ★★★★★)
The Wise Woman: A Parable (also published as “The Lost Princess: A Double Story”; or as “A Double Story”)
The Gifts of the Child Christ and Other Tales (republished as Stephen Archer and Other Tales)
The Day Boy and the Night Girl
The Princess and Curdie, a sequel to The Princess and the Goblin (Our Review: ★★★★★)
The Flight of the Shadow
Lilith: A Romance

Realistic fiction

David Elginbrod (updated as The Tutor’s First Love)
Alec Forbes of Howglen (updated as The Maiden’s Bequest)
Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood (Our Review: ★★★★★)
Guild Court: A London Story (updated as The Prodigal Apprentice)
Robert Falconer (updated as The Musician’s Quest) (Our Review: ★★★★★)
The Seaboard Parish, a sequel to Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood (Our Review: ★★★★★)
Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood (updated as The Boyhood of Ranald Bannerman)
Wilfrid Cumbermede
The Vicar’s Daughter, a sequel to Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood and The Seaboard Parish
Gutta Percha Willie, the Working Genius (updated as The Genius of Willie MacMichael)
Malcolm (updated under the same title)
St. George and St. Michael
Thomas Wingfold, Curate (updated as The Curate’s Awakening) (Our Review: ★★★★★)
The Marquis of Lossie (updated as The Marquis’ Secret), the sequel of Malcolm
Paul Faber, Surgeon (updated as The Lady’s Confession), a sequel to Thomas Wingfold, Curate
Sir Gibbie (updated as The Baronet’s Song) (Our Review: ★★★★★)
Mary Marston (updated as A Daughter’s Devotion and The Shopkeeper’s Daughter)
Warlock o’ Glenwarlock (updated as Castle Warlock and The Laird’s Inheritance)
Weighed and Wanting (updated as The Gentlewoman’s Choice) (Our Review: ★★)
Donal Grant (updated as The Shepherd’s Castle), a sequel to Sir Gibbie
What’s Mine’s Mine (updated as The Highlander’s Last Song)
Home Again: A Tale (updated as The Poet’s Homecoming)
The Elect Lady (updated as The Landlady’s Master)
A Rough Shaking (updated as The Wanderings of Clare Skymer)
There and Back (updated as The Baron’s Apprenticeship), a sequel to Paul Faber, Surgeon (Our Review: ★★★★★)
Heather and Snow (Scotch; updated as The Peasant Girl’s Dream) (Our Review: ★★★)
Salted with Fire (updated as The Minister’s Restoration)
Far Above Rubies

Poetry

Within and Without: A Dramatic Poem
Poems (1857)
“A Hidden Life” and Other Poems
“The Disciple” and Other Poems
Dramatic and Miscellaneous Poems
Diary of an Old Soul (Our Review: ★★★★)
The Threefold Cord: Poems by Three Friends (privately printed, with Greville Matheson and John Hill MacDonald)
Poems (1887)
The Poetical Works of George MacDonald (2 vol.)
Scotch Songs and Ballads
Rampolli: Growths from a Long-planted Root

Nonfiction

England’s Antiphon
The Miracles of Our Lord (Our Review: ★★★★★)
The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: A Study With the Test of the Folio of 1623
Unspoken Sermons (3 vol.) (Our Review: ★★★★★)
A Cabinet of Gems

The Hope of the Gospel (Our Review: ★★)
A Dish of Orts (expanded from Orts)
George MacDonald in the Pulpit
Getting to Know Jesus
Proving the Unseen
(edited sermons) (Our Review: ★★★★)

Compilations

God’s Words to His Children (sermons & sermonic novel excerpts)
Works of Fancy and Imagination
(short stories & poetry)
Cheerful Words from the Writing of George MacDonald (compiled by E. E. Brown)
George MacDonald: An Anthology (compiled by C. S. Lewis)
Beautiful Thoughts from George MacDonald (compiled by Elizabeth Dougall)
Knowing the Heart of God (compiled by Michael Phillips)
Discovering the Character of God 
(compiled by Michael Phillips)

Review: Heather and Snow (The Peasant Girl’s Dream) (No Spoilers)

Rating: ★★★

Who: George MacDonald, 19th-century Scottish preacher, poet, and novelist. He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others.

Where: Rural 19th-century Scotland.

Overview: Heather and Snow, which Michael Phillips republished as The Peasant Girl’s Dream, is one of George MacDonald’s Scottish novels. The novel opens on Francis and Kirsty running a race on a highland hillside. Both are ambitious, even stubborn. Kirsty and her family are tenant farmers on the land of Francis’ family. But as they grow, tension comes between them. Kirsty and her feeble-minded brother Steenie grow in tenderness and maturity in the light of Christ, while Francis becomes proud. The story turns on Francis’ pride, and Kirsty’s refusal to let him waste his life.

Meat: MacDonald, in the characters of both Steenie and Francis, deals with various forms of mental illness and even retardation. As in almost all of his novels, in the end, the love of our neighbor is the only door out of the dungeon of self. MacDonald has a refreshing way of showing the impact of friendship on spiritual life.

Bones: The original edition fully justifies Michael Phillips’ mission of updating the language of MacDonald’s books; speaking as a linguist, armed with a dictionary, the Scottish dialect here is challenging. I wouldn’t recommend MacDonald’s Scottish novels in the original editions unless you just love language. You can pick up the updated edition, The Peasant Girl’s Dream, very cheaply.

Quotes: “The story of God’s universe lies in the growth of the individual soul.” (p. 21)

“The Lord’s gowk’s better nor the warl’s prophet.” (Or, “The Lord’s fool is better than the world’s prophet.”) (p. 125)

“One of the hardest demands on the obedience of faith is—to do nothing; it is often so much easier to do foolishly!” (p. 148)

“It seems to me there’s no shame in being frightened, so long as you don’t serve and obey the fright, but trust in him that sees, and do what you have to do.” (updated, p. 186)

Review: Unspoken Sermons (3 vol.)

Rating: ★★★★★

Overview: This three-volume shows the breadth of MacDonald’s theological thought. MacDonald wrote these sermons in such a way that the conclusion of one introduces the next—but the topics are only vaguely connected. He focuses especially on themes like the Fatherhood of God, the meaning of suffering, and obedience to the two greatest commandments. C. S. Lewis wrote about Unspoken Sermons:

“My own debt to this book is almost as great as one man can owe to another: and nearly all serious inquirers to whom I have introduced it acknowledge that it has given them great help—sometimes indispensable help toward the very acceptance of the Christian faith.”

Incidentally, many of the thoughts in C. S. Lewis’ writings that are thought to be innovative or controversial were gleaned from these sermons. In Lewis’ anthology of MacDonald quotes, 257 of the 366 selections are from this little set of 36 sermons. (I am working on an article comparing Lewis’ most famous quotes with MacDonald’s sermon material.)

Meat: MacDonald’s strength in all his books is his stubborn insistence on God’s goodness. His spiritual writing is dense with thought, like that of Oswald Chambers. These sermons are a literary mix of highly abstract and clearly practical. There are many favorites. Lewis often hearkened to “The Hardness of the Way” in his books, such as Mere Christianity. “The Eloi” is a wonderful reflection on divine silence. “Life” is a fantastic exploration of divine suffering, and undoubtedly the most moving thing I have ever read outside the Bible. John Ruskin said that the first volume contained “the best sermons—beyond all compare—I have ever read.”

The other prominent point about MacDonald is his “theology of obedience.” MacDonald places great weight on John 7:17: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” He says in almost every sermon that obedience is “the opener of eyes” and “the only way forward.” This theology is probably most clearly expressed in “Love Your Neighbor” and “The Hardness of the Way,” although MacDonald’s next sermon set, The Hope of the Gospel, deals with this theology of obedience almost exclusively.

Bones: The long trains of thought make it difficult to read the sermons piecemeal; you really need a large cup of tea and an hour (or two) to spare. And some of the sermons are very heady and abstract. I recommend trying “The Way” and “The Hardness of the Way” since they are foundational and straightforward.

The bone that most readers choke on, though, is MacDonald’s universalist tendencies, seen most strongly in “Consuming Fire.” Suffice it to say, MacDonald was strongly countercultural in the context of a stolid Scottish Calvinism, and found himself searching far and wide for more satisfying expression of God’s heart. But most reviewers agree that these sermons “bring everyone who reads them into the very presence of the Living God,” and MacDonald was far more concerned with heart-obedience than systematic theology.

Quotes: “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.” (vol. 2, “Life”)

“The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like his.” (vol. 1, “Consuming Fire”)

“Do at once what you must do one day.” (vol. 2, “The Last Farthing”)

“Had he done as the Master told him, he would soon have come to understand. Obedience is the opener of the eyes.” (vol. 2, “The Way”)

“I believe that no teacher should strive to make men think as he thinks, but to lead them to the living Truth , to the Master Himself, of whom alone they can learn anything, who will make them in themselves know what is true by the very seeing of it.” (vol. 3, “Justice”)

Related: Miracles of Our Lord, God’s Words to His Children, The Hope of the Gospel, George MacDonald in the Pulpit