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George MacDonald: A Biography of Scotland's Beloved Storyteller

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Michael Phillips unveils the life of his literary mentor in this revealing portrait of a great writer of faith.


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Michael Phillips unveils the life of his literary mentor in this revealing portrait of a great writer of faith.

30 review for George MacDonald: A Biography of Scotland's Beloved Storyteller

  1. 5 out of 5

    Laurel Hicks

    Now I want to read all of his novels and poems! (I've read the fairy tales and fantasies.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Braun

    Overall, this is an excellent, comprehensive look into the life and thought of George MacDonald. My only minor issue with it is in Phillips' approach. His desire was for MacDonald's writings to speak on his behalf. This results in frequent multiple-paragraph, even multiple-page quotes from MacDonald's books. This may not be an issue for some but, by the end of this biography, I found these extended quotations to be a bit much. Between this and some redundancies, I couldn't help but think that th Overall, this is an excellent, comprehensive look into the life and thought of George MacDonald. My only minor issue with it is in Phillips' approach. His desire was for MacDonald's writings to speak on his behalf. This results in frequent multiple-paragraph, even multiple-page quotes from MacDonald's books. This may not be an issue for some but, by the end of this biography, I found these extended quotations to be a bit much. Between this and some redundancies, I couldn't help but think that this book could have been 50-75 pages shorter and possibly stronger. That being said, this book provided many enlightening insights into the life of George MacDonald and I have a greater appreciation for his accomplishments and legacy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Glen Grunau

    I enjoyed this biography – my first opportunity to become familiar with the life story of one of my most beloved authors, mentors and spiritual friends. But I find myself in agreement with the concluding words of the biographer Michael Phillips: “As MacDonald himself emphasized, his life lives in his books. And this is where the real biography is to be found . . . in the more than fifty volumes that flowed from George MacDonald’s pen.” George MacDonald once remarked: “People find this great faul I enjoyed this biography – my first opportunity to become familiar with the life story of one of my most beloved authors, mentors and spiritual friends. But I find myself in agreement with the concluding words of the biographer Michael Phillips: “As MacDonald himself emphasized, his life lives in his books. And this is where the real biography is to be found . . . in the more than fifty volumes that flowed from George MacDonald’s pen.” George MacDonald once remarked: “People find this great fault with me – that I turn my stories into sermons. They forget that I have a Master to serve first before I can wait upon the public.” It was suggested by this biographer that if MacDonald had not such a higher calling, his books would have “been as immortal as (his contemporary) Dickens”. MacDonald in his early years would have preferred to be a preacher, yet due to his poor health and controversial theology, he was never able to succeed in the profession. Yet his influence as beloved author would ultimately have a much more far-reaching impact. His health was often poor. Multiple bouts of tuberculosis as well as consumption, asthma, rheumatism in his lower back, eczema, intense headaches and bouts of sleeplessness were among his many ailments. He was also well acquainted with grief; several of his 11 children and his wife predeceased him. His daughter observed during one particular bout with severe illness that “he had suffered intensely, and who shall say these sufferings were not for other people – in what he may hereafter write . . . he says himself that he had never had anything but the luxury of illness before, and it was well that he should know its real misery . . .” G. K. Chesterton once said of MacDonald that his gift was “a miracle of imagination”. The biographer goes on to testify that MacDonald’s art was something “no evangelist, no gospel expositor, no devotional writer, even no ‘inspirational novelist,’ and certainly no Calvinist preacher had ever done. Concerned only with the so-called religious side of life (i.e., the miracle), their imaginations had been left behind, leaving only formula, ritual, dogma, and the lifeless phrases and proof texts of the Shorter Catechism in the drab Calvinist towns of their theology”. C.S. Lewis had the following to say about MacDonald: “. . . to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself . . . his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined.” With respect to his works of fantasy, C.S. Lewis testified that “MacDonald is the greatest genius of this kind that I know” and he further makes the claim that “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded his as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.” This biography makes many references to the theology of George MacDonald. I choose only one such reference – the letter he wrote in response to a critic of his “unorthodox” views: “Do not suppose that I believe in Jesus because it is said so-and-so in a book . . . the Bible is to me the most precious thing in the world, because it tells me his story . . . but (those who hold to) the common theory of the inspiration of the words, instead of the breathing of God’s truth into the hearts and souls of those who wrote it . . . are in danger of being idolaters of the Bible instead of disciples of Jesus . . . It is Jesus who is the Revelation of God . . . Jesus alone is the Word of God.” In this same letter, MacDonald confronts the claims to doctrinal certainly that were pervasive in the church of his day. To this he responded “With all sorts of doubt I am familiar, and the result of them is, has been, and will be, a widening of my heart and soul and mind to greater glories of the truth – the truth that is in Jesus – and not in Calvin or Luther or St. Paul or St. John, save as they got it from him, from who every simple heart may have it, and can alone get it. You cannot have such proof of the existence of God or the truth of the Gospel story as you can have of a . . . chemical experiment. But the man who will order his way by the word of the Master shall partake of his peace, and shall have in himself a growing conviction that in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge . . . I cannot say I never doubt . . . for doubt is the hammer that breaks the windows clouded with human fancies, and lets in the pure light.”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lindy

    I LOVE MacDonald! Reading about him is fascinating. This biography is so detailed was a bit slow going.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    A great biography in becoming familiar with the man who has written so many great works of poetry and story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    I'll start by saying I am a big fan of George MacDonald, as well as what Michael Phillips has done in bringing him to a new generation. However, I found this book more in the "useful for reference" category than "enjoyable for reading." The Prologue is awesome. And there were certain chapters I enjoyed. All in all though, I felt that the meat was lost in a sea of details about family life and lengthy quotes. There are several interesting anecdotes, but in general this biography felt overloaded. I I'll start by saying I am a big fan of George MacDonald, as well as what Michael Phillips has done in bringing him to a new generation. However, I found this book more in the "useful for reference" category than "enjoyable for reading." The Prologue is awesome. And there were certain chapters I enjoyed. All in all though, I felt that the meat was lost in a sea of details about family life and lengthy quotes. There are several interesting anecdotes, but in general this biography felt overloaded. I dropped it to two stars when I read the eight pages of quoting MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons as an explanation of how he thinks about the afterlife. I had already read many of those sermons, and a half-dozen of his novels, so these lengthy quotes didn't really add to the story for me. Phillips does point out that the best way to get to know MacDonald is through reading his books, and for me I felt that saying still stood true after reading most of this biography. If you want an introduction to George MacDonald, this biography would be a decent one. If you are a reader looking to delve into George MacDonald's thought-life or theology, his books can stand for themselves.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Frans Kempe

    A good biography of George MacDonalds life by Michael Phillips. He uses MacDonalds books and writing to paint a picture of his life both during his hard and good times. He does a good job in combining his religious views into the book and showing how important this side was him.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tessa Ryser

    Three stars not because it wasn't a good book, but simply because it's not the kind of book I particularly enjoy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Shanna Gabel

    I appreciated looking into George MacDonald's life. Very thorough book and well written!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joel Zartman

    Engaging enough. Full of quotations, so it is kind of a compendium of MacDonald seen through his own writings.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    George MacDonald was a fascinating man, and his work had an incredible impact on the English-speaking world, and yet, for anyone who isn't a fan of CS Lewis, he's largely an unknown. Christians aren't quite sure what to do with him: some of his beliefs are distinctly unorthodox, and yet his constant aim was to point people back to Jesus; his novels aren't first-rate literature, but his fantasy, which "hovers between the allegorical and the mythopoeic", according to Lewis, "he does better than an George MacDonald was a fascinating man, and his work had an incredible impact on the English-speaking world, and yet, for anyone who isn't a fan of CS Lewis, he's largely an unknown. Christians aren't quite sure what to do with him: some of his beliefs are distinctly unorthodox, and yet his constant aim was to point people back to Jesus; his novels aren't first-rate literature, but his fantasy, which "hovers between the allegorical and the mythopoeic", according to Lewis, "he does better than any man." I was excited to start off my "Year of George MacDonald" with a biography... but didn't love this one. While I could clearly see Phillips' love for MacDonald and his works, the organization of the book suffered. He built up much of his evidence for his claims of MacDonald's beliefs and emotions on passages from his novels. While I am willing to consider these claims, the use of extensive quotations from MacDonald's novels led to a very jolting, awkward sort of pacing. We read many passages from a book within the first few chapters, and read references to it throughout, only to finally learn where it fits in the cannon at the very end. And this doesn't happen to one book, but to many. The author also makes mention of events still to come in MacDonald's life (such as a death of a child), but doesn't actually get around to relating the event until several chapters later. Ultimately, I'm glad to have read it, but I hope to get my hands on a few other biographies this year to see if they manage to avoid the pitfalls of this one.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stan Shelley

    This unusual biography tells a great deal about MacDonald's heart and mind. Occasionally it tells where his body is and what it is doing.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Curtis

    What a fascinating life! A great story of hardship and endurance, being true to your convictions despite any negative outcomes.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Wegner

  15. 5 out of 5

    Reggia

  16. 5 out of 5

    Staci

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marjorie Middleton

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan Humeston

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chad Grissom

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kierkegaard's Pancakes

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Gray

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brad

  26. 4 out of 5

    Becca

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dave Page

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

  30. 5 out of 5

    Luke

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