Many years ago, as a homeschooling dad, I decided to read through a list of “100 Essential Classics” so that when my children were old enough to read literature, I could embark on that journey with them. I read whatever struck my fancy, in no particular order, thinking that I had five years or so to get through the list. Don Quixote was a romp, and my children enjoyed my reading some parts aloud. (Don’t read a modern English translation, they’re awful. There is one from the late 19th that has a vocabulary as rich as the original Spanish, and the poetry rhymes.) Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Brothers Karamazov, some Dickens, Chesterton’s works, C.S. Lewis (everything he wrote), Tolkien, and more, were delightful and insightful true classics.
But then my random finger selection method fell upon Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. At the end I slammed the book shut (well, the cover of my eBook) frustrated and filled with such an empty, hopeless feeling. Yes it was well-written, but the world to which it had transported me was full of despair.
Literally moments later, desiring to come out of the gloom, and for some unknown reason, I thought of trying a George MacDonald book, even though none were on “the list.” After all, if Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton all cited him as a profound inspiration, there must be something to him. So at random, I selected The Flight of the Shadow. Wow! It was as if George MacDonald had read Wuthering Heights also, slammed it shut in frustration, and set down immediately to pen a story like Bronte’s, but full of light. The setting and tone of the two stories is astonishingly similar, yet MacDonald’s Muse (Jesus) shines through.
At that point I abandoned “the list” and set about reading everything George MacDonald wrote. Each book, some written better than others, was packed full of characters who truly walk with Jesus, teaching by example what a thousand sermons could not. How wonderful it was to meet Sir Gibbie and his adoptive mother Janet, and Donal Grant, and Malcom (and his blind grandfather Duncan), and Thomas Wingfold, and Alister and Ian, and Cosmo, and so many more.
The best part is that God has greatly blessed (beyond what I had even imagined) the original desire I had when I began “the list.” My older children, 13, 15, and 16, and my wife, have joined me in reading about a dozen MacDonald Essentials. Not long ago, during a discussion of our family bible study in the Gospel of Luke, my 13-year-old son said, “Hey! That’s just like what Donal Grant did for so-and-so!” That was only the beginning of the insights and lessons about living a life of simple obedience to Jesus that my family has taken away from MacDonald’s stories.