Scotland's Forgotten Treasure: The Visionary Romances of George MacDonald

I am delighted to announce that through an agreement with Aberdeen University Press and author Colin Manlove, we have just published an affordable U.S. edition of Manlove's wonderful book, Scotland's Forgotten Treasure: The Visionary Romances of George MacDonald!

From the Preface to Scotland's Forgotten Treasure

MacDonald is also one of the prime exponents of Scottish fantasy, a genre which is arguably the other side of Scottish literature, and is peculiarly concerned with the believed supernatural. English fantasy often tends to be much nearer to a game of the impossible; Scottish fantasy has its roots in folk culture and in a landscape still imaginatively populated by legendary monsters, bewildering fairies and devils stemming from a largely unassimilated landscape of forgotten bens, lochs and moors. Its writers range from the medieval poets Robert Henryson or William Dunbar to the contemporary fiction writers Alasdair Gray or James Robertson; and it includes such figures as Burns, Scott, Hogg, Carlyle, Stevenson, Lang, ‘Fiona Macleod’, Barrie, David Lindsay, Neil Gunn and George Mackay Brown. Scottish is very different from English fantasy. The protagonists of Scottish fantasy are often solitary individuals, withdrawing from or without a society. Scottish fantasy tends to depict the mind rather than adventures into the outside world; it is often centred on one place. In it people get less rather than more from life. Frequently it portrays a breakdown of personal identity, setting the public or rational self against the urges of the unconscious mind. It is egalitarian in social outlook where English fantasy is hierarchic.

MacDonald, being a Christian, and himself living in England, exhibits some but not all of these characteristics. For example, his protagonists end more happy than sad, if they often have to die out of the world to reach this condition. And like many English fantasy writers he invents secondary or fantastic worlds that his characters enter, such as Fairy Land in Phantastes or the region of the seven dimensions in Lilith. Indeed he is one of the first to do this. His heroes in these worlds make journeys, though those journeys are inward and spiritual. The lush wooded setting of Phantastes seems more Surrey than Sutherland; although the bleak moors of Lilith seem to put us in Scotland, they could equally depict some of the arid land around Bordighera in Italy, where it was written. Nevertheless MacDonald did not stay long in any one place in England; and his strongest roots were always in Scotland and his beloved Aberdeenshire.

Yet there is one other feature of Scottish fantasy of which MacDonald could be called the prime exponent: and that is the note of longing. All his life MacDonald longed for the time when he would meet God. Desire is also seen in Hogg’s semi-mystic poem ‘Kilmeny’; in the ecstasy of Carlyle’s Herr Teufelsdrökh at the created world; in the urge of Stevenson’s Jekyll towards a wild freedom from the repressed self; and in the false glamour of Fairyland that draws and then entraps Randal in Andrew Lang’s ‘The Gold of Fairnilee’. It is found too in the wish of Barrie’s Peter Pan to stay young for ever; in the urge of David Lindsay’s Maskull to escape the sensual world to find the god Muspel; in the desire in Neil Gunn for a world of Highland purity; and in the longing to make a perfect sacrifice of himself to God that drives George Mackay Brown’s hero in Magnus. Such longing comes from a variety of personal or social causes, but frequently behind it is a sense of the inadequacy of the self or the world in which one has to live. That sense is often religious and mystical, sometimes involving a journey into the spirit. Such journeys are at the centre of George MacDonald’s fantasy

Colin Manlove (b. 1942) has lived and taught in Scotland for most of his life. He lectured in British literature at Edinburgh University from 1967 to 1993, and is the author of several books on fantasy, including Modern Fantasy (1975), Christian Fantasy (1992), and Scottish Fantasy Literature (1994). Though he has often published on George MacDonald, this is his first full-length study of the fantasy works. Besides his literary interests, Colin Manlove is, like MacDonald, fascinated by minerals and crystals, of which he has assembled a large collection. 


1: MacDonald’s life and character

2: MacDonald’s views, literary and theological

3: Before MacDonald

4: Phantastes (1858)

5: ‘The Golden Key’ (1867)

6: Lilith (1895)

7: Conclusion