Opening New Worlds of Imagination: Writer James Rubart on George MacDonald

I write stories for people who want more joy, more freedom, more hope. Do I want to wildly entertain you? Yes! Do I hope you can’t put them down? Of course. But even more, I want you to finish and have more LIFE and FREEDOM than when you started. That’s the theme at the heart of all my novels.
— James L. Rubart

The words above—which immediately reminded me of George MacDonald—are the first you see on the home page of James Rubart is a best-selling, award-winning author of compelling and thought-provoking novels like Rooms, Book of Days, and most recently The Pages of Her Life. Any author who writes page-turners in which the characters quote George MacDonald is my kind of guy, so I jumped at the chance to talk with him at a recent Christian writer’s conference in Portland, Oregon. What follows is a portion of our conversation:

Jess: How did you first discover MacDonald?
Jim: I discovered George MacDonald through C.S. Lewis. My mom bought The Chronicles of Narnia for my sister and me when we were ten or eleven years old, and they just blew my mind. They were what inspired me to become a writer! So when I got into my teen years, I started reading more and more of Lewis, and at one point I came to his famous words, that he considered MacDonald to be his master. Wow! I thought, who the heck is this George MacDonald guy? And I started to dip my toe into the MacDonald pond.

I had some friends in high school and college who were huge C.S. Lewis fans, and one of them gave me a book called Phantastes, and said, ‘Jim, you’ve got to read this.’ I read it my freshman year in college and had the same experience as when I read the Narnia stories. I understood why Lewis called him his master. So I proceeded to immerse myself in the world of George MacDonald, reading Sir Gibbie and Lilith and many others.

Jess: I love that for both you and Lewis, Phantastes was a transformative experience! And yet, it’s a book that leaves some readers—even fans of the Scotsman—cold.

Jim: It reminds me a bit of when I saw The Matrix—it was the first movie I’d ever watched which immediately went into my top ten. But my brother-in-law, whom I saw it with, told me he didn’t understand any of it. Same thing with Phantastes—I just got it, and the story opened up new worlds of imagination, new ways of thinking about the world.

Jess: Lewis said that the experience of reading Phantastes “baptized” his imagination. Sounds like you went through something similar. Tell me some more about how MacDonald’s writing has influenced you.

Jim: I grew up during the 1970s, graduated from high school in 1980. I had been raised as a Christian, and I was always into music, but most of the Christian music back then was mediocre, namby-pamby stuff. I was looking for great spiritual music that would push the envelope, and eventually I discovered some terrific, cutting-edge Christian bands. It was really the same thing with Christian fiction—I’d read some decent stories, but nothing that went to the edge, that went beyond the ordinary and opened up new worlds. And then I read C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald.
So when it came to writing my own stories, like my Well Spring series, I realized I could go into weird, fantastic places, just like MacDonald did—and when I wrote my first novel, Rooms, I included a quote from his writing, as a ‘shout-out’ to the great man.

Toni Morrison famously said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” Well, that’s just what I’ve been doing for the past twenty years, inspired by masters like George MacDonald.

James L. Rubart is 28 years old, but lives trapped inside an older man's body. He thinks he's still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and loves to send readers on journeys they'll remember months after they finish one of his stories. More at and on Facebook: