North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies. #30 (2011)

By Croft, Janet Brennan | Mythlore, Fall-Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies. #30 (2011)

Croft, Janet Brennan, Mythlore

NORTH WIND: A JOURNAL OF GEORGE MACDONALD STUDIES. #30 (2011). Edited by Fernando Soto and John Pennington. ISSN 0265-7295. Available with membership, $18 annually in US.

MALLORN: THE JOURNAL OF THE TOLKIEN SOCIETY. #53 (SPRING 2012). Ed. Henry Gee. ISSN 0308-6674. With membership; 26 [pounds sterling] UK, 35 [pounds sterling] outside of Europe.

TOLKIEN STUDIES: AN ANNUAL SCHOLARLY REVIEW. #9 (2012). Ed Verlyn Flieger and Michael D.C. Drout. West Virginia University Press. ISSN 1547-3155. $60.00.

FASTITOCALON: STUDIES IN FANTASTICISM ANCIENT TO MODERN. #2.1&2 (2011). Ed. Thomas Honegger and Fanfan Chen. Wissenschftlicher Verlag Trier. ISSN 1869-960X. 20,00[euro].

NORTH WIND'S 2011 ISSUE STARTS OFF WITH GEOFFREY REITER'S "'Down the Winding Stair': Victorian Popular Science and Deep Time in 'The Golden Key.'" Reiter's thesis is that our understanding of MacDonald's themes can be improved if we are aware of the upheavals in natural science taking place contemporaneously with his writing. Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was a particularly popular book, outselling Darwin's Origin of Species until the late 1880s, and the influence of its "variant Genesis" account can be seen at a fairly straightforward level in The Princess and Curdie and more symbolically in Tangle's descent "down the winding-stair" in "The Golden Key."

Next Osama Jarrar discusses how MacDonald questions the dominant Victorian social and familial structure of his time through his fairy tales and fantasy novels. It is unfortunately marred by his misuse of the term 'genetic' as an opposite for 'hereditary'; perhaps a better term for his purposes would have been 'innate.' Jarrar argues that in characters such as Curdie and Diamond, MacDonald opposes a social scale based of hereditary social status with one privileging inner nobility of spirit.

Robin Phillips's "George MacDonald and the Anthropology of Love" represents another case where the terminology used could be more precise, as we are really being asked to consider religion and philosophy, not anthropology, in this article. Phillips begins with a review of two opposing religious influences on MacDonald--the rigid and legalistic Calvinism of his paternal grandmother and the more joyful and caring approach of his father--and how they manifest in his works in an existentialist preference for works over thoughts and a transformation of work into beauty through love, thus "anticipat[ing] a type of aesthetic apologetics that would concern later writers like G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis" (36).

Melody Green next examines how MacDonald and Lewis Carroll, friends and influences upon each other, both used nonsense poetry to challenge contemporary ideas and customs about death. Carroll, in his Alice books, tends to treat death as a joke and something to be made mock of--think of the "gently smiling jaws" of Alice's crocodile--where MacDonald turns this around to propose that a familiarity with death gives us the ability to create and enjoy nonsense in response to its absurdity. A similar article takes on the same topic in Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's works in Fastitocalon, described below.

Next we turn to the subject of corpus-stylistic criticism, which involves the computer-assisted analysis of vocabulary used in a selected portion of an author's output. It can be as simple as a word frequency list (the sort used to generate "word cloud" visual representations) or as complex as semantic tagging which places individual words into linguistic categories. Patrick Maiwald analyzes forty-one items of MacDonald's fiction, first at a simple word-frequency level, then in comparison with a similar group of contemporary Victorian fiction, and continuing on to more complex analysis of phrases and tagging. Maiwald freely admits that this sort of analysis is very limited and does not really have a great deal of importance on its own at present, but it can bring precision and corroboration to the study of an author's particular style or the development of themes and influences over his lifetime. …

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