Ruth Sanderson: The Golden Key

I discovered George MacDonald’s works in the 1970s, including his adult novels, Lilith and Phantastes, and his children’s novel, At The Back of the North Wind. I found these books compelling and moving. I have also read Rolland Hein's book, the Harmony Within, many times over the years. Much as I loved these books, MacDonald's fairy tales were the stories that truly captivated me, and one story in particular has become a life-long obsession. Reading "The Golden Key" close to forty years ago instilled in me a profound desire to some day create pictures that illuminated this evocative text. Over the years, when people have asked, “If there was one book you’d like to illustrate, what would it be?” —my answer has always been "The Golden Key" by George MacDonald.

Yet there were serious obstacles in my path. This numinous story is much too long and complex for a picture book, the typical format for a fairy tale, and I wanted to create a fully illustrated version. So my "dream project" was put on the shelf. A few years ago it occurred to me that this long story might be broken into chapters, and illustrated in black and white for a middle-grade audience. I also felt this was a more suitable age for this unusual story. In contemplating the style and medium to use, I felt that scratchboard would be perfect to convey the story's mythic quality and dramatic light and dark imagery. And now, having been a professional illustrator for forty years, with over eighty published books, I felt I was finally up to the task of doing this story justice.

George MacDonald considered Fairyland to be a symbol of the imagination, and he invited each reader to interpret his stories after his/her own sensibilities. I hope that a new generation of readers will interpret my pictures in the same light. For me, imagination is the Golden Key. And I feel that we are all longing for "that country from which the shadows fall."

(The book will be published by Eerdmans in fall of 2016, with over forty-five scratchboard illustrations.)