Sharon Welsh Edel: The Odour of Music

The Odour of Music

Sharon Welsh Edel

A college theology class introduced me to C.S. Lewis.  Lewis, in turn, introduced me to George MacDonald.  Deciding to look up this “master” as Lewis had called him, I picked up the only MacDonald book in the library:  At the Back of the North Wind.  This was my first experience with his writing, and to this day I consider it my favorite book and one which has had a profound impact on my spirit.  Here was a children’s book which dealt with what would be considered harsh topics for young children:  poverty, abuse, neglect and, of course, death.  (For the purpose of this essay, I will presume that the reader is familiar with the story.)

MacDonald gives no cut and dry explanations for the harsh realities of life and death.  What he does is weave a story that leads a child, and perhaps the reader as well, to trust in Goodness and what shall be, in spite of what he may see or experience.  For me, the most powerful happening in the story occurs in Chapter VII:  The Cathedral.  Little Diamond cannot believe that the Good and Kind North Wind is about to sink a ship, causing the death of the many passengers. Caught up in the story, the experience of North Wind’s answer entered my heart like a surgeon’s knife, the words merely an encasement of a deep, abiding trust.

                I will tell you how I am able to bear it, Diamond:  I am always hearing, through every noise, through all the noise I am making myself even, the sound of a far-off song.  I do not exactly know where it is, or what it means; and I don’t hear much of it, only the odour of its music, as it were, flitting across the great billows of the ocean outside this air in which I make such a storm; but what I do hear is quite enough to make me able to bear the cry from the drowning ship.  So it would you if you could hear it.

Although Diamond still protests, she insists:

                But you have never heard the psalm, and you don’t know what it is like.  Somehow, I can’t say how, it tells me that all is right; that it is coming to swallow up all cries.

At the Back of the North Wind is a story which I have read and re-read countless times, often when my faith was in need of - not words, so much as the spirit of grace which imbues MacDonald’s writing.  North Wind, along with MacDonald’s other writings, has instilled in me a deep sense of trust which I do not know that I would have acquired in any other way.