The Golden Key, A Victorian Fairy Tale by George MacDonald, Illustrated by Ruth Sanderson

I've just received an advance copy of George MacDonald's The Golden Key from Eerdman's Books for Young Readers, a new edition illustrated by the incomparable Ruth Sanderson, which will be published in December. Now, I've got quite a library of MacDonald's books, and am not easy to impress, but MacDonald and Sanderson are a marriage made in the third heaven, as St. Paul might say. Breathtakingly beautiful hardly begins to describe this book; Sanderson' black-and-white scratchboard illustrations have the haunting quality of one's profoundest dreams. 

Those who want to read more about the genesis of this volume can read Sanderson's wonderful essay, Unlocking Wonder in the Golden Key. She has been musing about the book, exploring its depths, for forty years, and the following paragraph from her essay is worth quoting:

Just as the human spirit cannot be defined in its complexity, the gestalt of George MacDonald’s story “The Golden Key” washes over the reader in waves of numinous, mythopoeic images that, taken as a whole, convey more meaning than do the individual images and scenes. And most importantly, for those readers who are drawn into the world of this undeniably eccentric Victorian fairy tale, the story elicits a powerful emotional response. One of the first aims of any good fiction writer—past or present—is to engage the reader’s emotions. As the characters yearn for the land from where the mysterious shadows fall, the reader yearns along with them. Along with creating an emotional connection, the story’s unique and evocative imagery is also intellectually fascinating, and inspires the adult reader to wonder what these images might represent on a symbolic level. In this essay I will examine the numinous qualities of “The Golden Key,” explore some of its symbolism, and the ways in which this story differs from a traditional fairy tale. Finally, I will present my long-time connection with the story, and my visual interpretation/extension of the symbol of the golden key itself.
— Ruth Sanderson

Click on the image below to view a slideshow of illustrations by Ruth Sanderson for The Golden Key--though the images on our site don't really do justice to their impact when you are holding the book in your hands.