Finding Comfort At the Back of the North Wind

Diamonds’ experience at the Back of the North Wind mirrored my own last summer. I was so tired from hitting a place in my fight against cancer, that I was in bed most of the time. I started re-reading George MacDonald’s novels that my husband and I had loved so much and had read when we were first married.

As I read the novels, I had a sense of the author having a deep relationship with God the Father, something I realize now I never had. My experience had always been of hiding in Christ and avoiding the Father at all costs. My curiosity was piqued, and I started reading his sermons. That’s when everything changed for me, as his writings took 56 years of religious roots that presented an angry God, and divided bone from marrow to expose a loving Father, who had always loved me, and loved me because of me, not just because of Jesus.

I went into a state of being that summer that I can honestly call the Bliss, and stayed there for four months, listening to sermons and doing research trying to figure out what was happening to me. It started in May and ended in August. During that time I had a deep sense of being carried, that I loved everyone, that my past shame was completely wiped away, that I had permission to feel a whole spectrum of feelings, that God wanted me to be who I truly was instead of trying to make me something I am not, and that he was nearer to me than my very breath. No distance. Can you imagine? I never could or would think that anything like that could happen to me, but I was actually experiencing my faith. Just like Diamond coming back from a long illness, I, too, came back. I gained my strength again and have been moving forward on a new chemotherapy, but better than that, better equipped for life.

I grew to love George MacDonald, to trust him as a spiritual guide as no one before. I read his biography, and the book At the Back of the North Wind was highly recommended and mentioned as a must-read. I am not a fantasy or children’s book fan, but I was so determined to glean all I could from this amazing man that I went ahead and started reading the book. I asked my husband before I started, “ Is it weird?’ He thought a minute and then answered with an resounding “Yes.” I was warned.

And so it went, little Diamond speaking through a taped-up hole in his bed-board to the North Wind, who appeared to him as a woman with extremely long black hair. So long, in fact, that when he goes to join her to fly around on her back, Diamond has to go the long way around his loft so as not to step on her hair that is flowing in bunches on the stairs to where he sleeps.

Now this is where things started to get interesting for me, because when I was a child of about seven or eight, I spent a lot of time in our back yard, which was equipped with a tether ball. I would hit the ball back and forth, getting a good rhythm, first this hand then that, and tell myself the story of how I was a beautiful lady who took in orphans. When they arrived at the house, it was always hard to tell whether I should bathe them first or give them something to eat. I didn’t really have any food either, so the orphans and I would forage in the forest for food and grow our own. At night I would put them to sleep, and since there were no blankets, I would wrap them up with my hair that was so long, if I untied it, it would go all the way down the street.

This little uncomplicated story I told myself over and over again, no other story ever taking it’s place, no expansion on it. I always felt at a loss for adding to the story; it simply was what it was, a happy place for me. So when I came across the description of North Wind with her tremendous amount of hair, it struck a chord in my memory that was so much my very Self. I had always thought this story so childish, and couldn’t imagine anyone, let alone an intellectual like George MacDonald would commit himself to a character with such ridiculously long hair. And the fact that she wrapped Diamond in it to keep him safe in flight--well, the correlations astounded me.

Diamond goes to the back of the north wind, and comes back. He experiences amazing heaven-like things there, indescribable really, but there was a river there that spoke things to Diamond that he could never quite remember, but certainly never forgot. When I was dropped from the Bliss, the feelings of being held and carried left, but I knew God wanted me to walk in all the things he had shown me during that time, instead of Him carrying me. That is what little Diamond is always doing throughout the book, remembering his time at the back of the north wind, and just allowing that experience to influence everything he was.

“It was dreadful to Diamond to hear the scolding and the crying. But it could not make him miserable, because he had been at the back of the north wind.

If my reader finds it hard to believe that Diamond should be so good, he must remember that he had been to the back of the north wind. If he never knew a boy so good, did he ever know a boy that had been to the back of the north wind?”

Diamond is sitting with his mother, and finds a book on the beach with rhymes that are unintelligible. As the mother reads them, Diamond says it sounds just like the river at the back of the north wind. “That’s almost the very tune it used to sing.” After his time at the beach,

“…he soon grew quiet and before they reached Sandwich he was fast asleep and dreaming of the country at the back of the north wind.”

“Some people wondered that such a child could rhyme as he did, but his rhymes were not very good, for he was only trying to remember what he had heard the river sing at the back of the north wind.”

I continued reading, uncomfortable with the places MacDonald was taking me, but I had grown to trust him through his novels and sermons and wanted to go wherever he led. As I continued reading, I came to Diamond's dream about the baby boy angels mining for stars. It was such a lovely dream, and such a sweet scene of the angels digging for the different colored stars. But what was resonating in my mind the whole time is a picture of some cherubs playing with stars that I had bought at an antique store maybe 20 years ago that has been in my bedroom wherever I have lived ever since. It would be really perfect for a baby’s nursery, but I was so taken by the picture and always have been, that the scene MacDonald describes of these angel boys playing with the stars could not help but remind me of this print!

There is a popular movie out right now where the promotions promise a “virtual experience inside the movie.” That exactly describes what I felt like reading At the Back of the North Wind. I could feel God’s sense of humor, and wondered what would happen next in the book that would surprise me, but at the same time felt ridiculous that there could really be anything else except a good read.

I read further and came to the fairy tale of Princess Daylight. She has a spell put on her by an evil fairy where she is made to sleep all day and is awake at night. But an added problem in the hex is that as the phases of the moon change, she becomes more beautiful in it’s fullness, more old and haggard in it’s last phases or disappearance. The spell is to be broken by a handsome prince, and is, in a wonderful way. Princess Daylight has never seen the daylight, and when she comes out of her spell at the very end of the story and the chapter, she says to the prince;

“You kissed me when I was an old woman: there! I kiss you when I am a young princess.’ murmured Daylight. ’Is that the sun coming?”

I live in Alaska where the sun hardly shines in the winter (and when it does, it comes in at an angle); it rises right above the horizon line for a few hours and then down again, all too soon. As I came to this part of the book, the sun came over the mountains and shone right on these lovely words. It was so amazing to me, that I would be sitting there reading this book at ten o’clock in the morning, and that the sun would come up and shine on this page at this exact moment when Princess Daylight is asking, “Is that the sun coming?” I felt the smile of God so strong, and wondered what was going to happen next with this amazing book!

I have to say that nothing else really did happen, except little Diamond did get taken to the back of the north wind again, after being prepared to not be afraid. I just had my tumor markers done and they are going the wrong way, and I don’t know what is ahead, but like Diamond I don’t want to be afraid, though I can’t say I have always felt brave when facing my own death. The way the book illustrates the different forms that God can take in your life, sometimes scary, sometimes loving, and the security that comes by being in North Wind’s arms even when it may not be the most comfortable place--none of this was lost on me.

“He trembled so at the thunder, that his knees failed him, and he sunk down at North Wind’s feet, and clasped her round the column of her ankle. She instantly stooped and lifted him from the roof - up - up into her bosom, and held him there, saying, as if to an inconsolable child:

‘Diamond, dear, this will never do.’

‘Oh yes, it will,’ answered Diamond. ‘I am all right now - quite comfortable, I assure you, dear North Wind. If you will only let me stay here, I shall be all right indeed.’

But you will feel the wind here, Diamond.’

‘I don’t mind that a bit, so long as I feel your arms through it.’ answered Diamond, nestling closer to her grand bosom.

‘Brave boy! Returned North Wind, pressing him closer.

‘No,’ said Diamond, ‘I don’t see that. It’s not courage at all, so long as I feel you there.’

‘But hadn’t you better get into my hair? Then you would not feel the wind; you will here.’

‘Ah, but, dear North Wind, you don’t know how nice it is to feel your arms about me. It is a thousand times better to have them and the wind together, than to have only your hair and the back of your neck and no wind at all.’

‘But it is surely more comfortable there?’

‘Well, perhaps; but I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable.’

Here lies George MacDonald’s ability to strike at our deepest fear, the fear of death, working at almost subconscious levels to waylay this fear. I believe this is what resonates with so many readers, as we fly on George MacDonald’s words of comfort that resonate over time and culture.

Illustration by Lorraine Williams

Illustration by Lorraine Williams