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A son of a Scottish clergyman describes his childhood during the early 1900's. As an author, George MacDonald often wrote about himself, though he disguised his own thoughts and feelings and experiences by putting them into the lives of his fictional characters. Then he mixed in all sorts of made-up incidents in order to create a story, so you can hardly tell what actually happened to MacDonald and which things are pure fiction. This is an especially good example of what we might call "autobiographical fiction." Right from the first page MacDonald tells Ranald Bannerman's story through the voice of Ranald himself-in the first person. This adds to the sense the reader has throughout that the events recorded here are real. During this particular period of George MacDonald's life, when he was in his mid-forties and most of his eleven children were between five and nineteen years old, he did some of his finest writing for young people. I'm sure that's not by accident, for he was often thinking of his own sons and daughters, as well as his own boyhood, when telling stories on paper. Therefore, we can conclude that many of the incidents in this book, The Adventures of Ranald Bannerman, are things that probably happened. Not everything, of course-but much of it-because this is, after all, a story MacDonald told. And realizing this makes Ranald all the more a personal friend. Because in a way, he's a picture of young George MacDonald.
George MacDonald occupied a major position in the intellectual life of his Victorian contemporaries. The Complete Fairy Tales brings together all eleven of his shorter fairy stories as well as his essay "The Fantastic Imagination. " The subjects are those of traditional fantasy: fairies good and wicked, and children journeying into unsettling dreamworlds or undertaking life-risking labours. But though they allude to familiar tales such as "Sleeping Beauty" and "Jack the Giant-Killer," MacDonald's stories are profoundly experimental and subversive. By questioning the concept that a childhood associated with purity innocence, and fairy-tale "wonder" ought to be segregated from adult skepticism and disbelief, they invite adult readers to adopt the same elasticity and open-mindedness that come so naturally to a child. Enlisting paradox, play, and nonsense much like Lewis Carroll's Alice books, these fictions challenge us to question and rethink our assumptions, and offer an elusive yet meaningful alternative order to dubious certitudes of everyday life. .
The classic tale of a young princess and a miner boy who outwit a colony of goblins in an exciting adventure set in a maze of underground caverns. When Princess Irene discovers a secret staircase at the top of the castle, she enters a world so mysterious she doesn't know whether to believe it is real. For, hidden in the highest tower, is a beautiful old lady who lives among the pigeons, spinning magic thread beside a fire made of roses. But when strange cat-like creatures are found prowling the palace gardens, and Curdie the miner boy encounters a band of embittered goblins plotting revenge on the royal household, the princess must place her trust in the old lady if they are to save the palace from destruction.
The only problem with McDonald's books, is that most of them have quite a few passages in the Scottish dialect. The Scots tongue, of course, is mostly English, but there are a lot of words and phrases from German and Norwegian and old Gaelic, too. I immediately went to the library in our town. I found three books by George MacDonald and checked them out. The first was called The Princess and the Goblin. It was a fairy tale, and I liked it. It reminded me of Narnia. The second was At the Back of the North Wind. I liked it too. It was part fairy tale, part real. But it was the third book I found that day that changed me forever. It was no fairy tale at all, but the story of a little boy who lived in the mountains of Scotland a century ago. The title of that book was Sir Gibbie. The boy called Gibbie grabbed my imagination and my heart just as strongly as had all the Narnian boys and girls and animals and places. But the interesting thing about Gibbie was that he lived in no fairy tale world, but in a real place. So while I found myself falling in love with the story about Gibbie, I also found myself falling in love with the mountainous region of Scotland too, that part of north-central Scotland called "the Highlands." Though it was a real country you could actually locate on a map, I found my imagination being drawn to Gibbie's homeland just as much as it had to the land of Narnia. But I also discovered that what I had heard about the Scottish dialect was right. It was difficult to understand at first! Besides being more than four hundred pages long (with small type!), the original of Sir Gibbie had some very odd-looking passages. But I loved Sir Gibbie so much that I wanted to share the story with everybody! And that's why I decided to edit and shorten the original, and "translate" the Scottish dialect into more understandable English. Now through this new edition, entitled Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands, many more people of all ages will be able once again to read this captivating tale that was lost to the reading public for so long. Michael Phillips
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