Informing the Inklings: George MacDonald and the Victorian Roots of Modern Fantasy

I had a pretty good suspicion I was in for a treat when I ordered Informing the Inklings: George MacDonald and the Victorian Roots of Modern Fantasy, edited by Michael Partridge (of GM Society fame) and Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, author of Storykeeper: The Mythopoeic Making of George MacDonald (2019), who lectures internationally on MacDonald, Tolkien, and Lewis. It came available on Amazon just the other day, and I am delighted to report that my expectations were fully gratified.

This is a book that will not only please the academic community, but all lovers of classic fantasy. The dozen authors who contributed chapters to this superlative work write in a clear, engaging style. I’ve read all of MacDonald and quite a bit about him, but was thrilled to gain new insights into the Scotsman and his work.

Editor Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson’s chapter, “Rooted Deep: Relational Inklings of the Mythopoeic Maker, George MacDonald,” was one of my favorites. She describes her own “adventurous path of discovery” as she researched MacDonald, and, as she increasingly delved into primary source material, found that much of the conventional wisdom about him was utterly wrong. To cite just a minor example, I admit to being among those who thought that Phantastes had not been well received by critics, but Johnson “found many more positive [reviews] than negative ones…[i]n fact, three years after Phantastes..was published, journals actually declared the novel ‘a very decided success.’”

More significantly, Johnson observes that MacDonald is “a whole compendium of the literature of Western Civilization, and notes that his first “realistic” novel, David Elginbrod, contains over ninety “explicit references to other books and authors” in addition to a “myriad of allusions or unmarked quotations.” She points out that while many people think of MacDonald as a “failed minister” turned writer to support his family, “MacDonald was a professor of English literature for ten years…and a lecturer on English Literature for forty years…[t]he man I was studying was not a preacher-author (let alone a failed preacher). He was a teacher-author—and a very successful one.”

How satisfying, therefore, when Johnson writes of MacDonald’s mentor, A.J. Scott, “under whom MacDonald had specifically chosen to study, and whom he named his greatest influence other than his father…What I was amazed to discover…[was that] A.J. Scott was the first ever full-time English Literature professor.” She goes on to provide a concise discussion of Scott, and provides, among other things, a discussion of how Scott, MacDonald, and Ruskin were all passionately interested in Dante. “Reading their various conversations…about Dante,” Johnson writes, “gave me deeper insight—and much greater delight—in the Dantean aspects, implicit and explicit, of Lilith.” Fascinating!

You can get a good feel for the depth and breadth of this volume from the table of contents below. I highly recommend this book!


Preface by Stephen Pricket

"Needles of Eternal Light": How Coleridge Aroused MacDonald and Lewis by Malcolm Guite

Rooted Deep: Relational Inklings of the Mythopoeic Maker, George MacDonald by Kirstin Jeffrey Johnsonn

Materiality, Metaphore, and Mystery: Imagination and Humanity in George MacDonald by Trevor Hart

Organized Innocence: MacDonald, Lewis, and Literature "For the Childlike" by Daniel Gableman

Fantasy, Fear, and Reality: Tracing Pathways Bewteeen Kingsley, Carroll, and MacDonald Leading to the Inklings by Jean Webb

"The Leaven Hid in the Meal" George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, and the Practice of Literary Criticism by Bethany Hebbard

Dreaming into Hyperspace: The Victorian Spacial Imagination and the Origins of Modern Fantasy in MacDonald and Carroll by Kirstin A. Kirsty Mills

Genre Problems: Amdrew Lang and J.R.R. Tolkien on (Fairy) Stories and (Literary) Belief by Sharin' Schroeder

St. George and Jack the Giant Killer: As Wise as Women Are'? Gender, Science, and Religious Faith in George MacDonald's Thomas Wingfold, Curat and C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength by Monica B. Hilter

"A Living House": Everyday Life and Living and Sacramental Poetics in George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis by Rebekah Lamb

Interpretations of Faerie: A Reading of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as Informed by George MacDonald by Szabadi István