George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Victorian author who had an important influence on many of the most creative popular writers after him. His novel Phantastes, which he subtitled “A Fairy Tale for Adults,” was published seven years before his friend Lewis Carroll came out with Alice in Wonderland. G.K. Chesterton, whose prolific writings include the Father Brown mysteries which were adapted into a television series, beginning in 2012 and continuing for the nine seasons since,* wrote a biography of MacDonald in which he expressed his indebtedness to him. C.S. Lewis repeatedly mentioned how important MacDonald’s writings were in his personal conversion to Christianity, as well in serving as a truth-through-fantasy model for his own Space Trilogy and Chronicles of Narnia, which include the popular The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He wrote, “I regard George MacDonald as my master; indeed, I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”
To appreciate George MacDonald, you have to understand two important things about him. First, he was a deeply committed Christian. He started his career as a clergyman in the Scottish Congregational Church, and when he moved more and more into the field of writing, it was in order to have a greater impact for expressing his faith than he could from behind a pulpit. Second, he was a dedicated family man. He and his wife Louisa had eleven children, all born between 1852 and 1867. That means Louisa was almost non-stop either pregnant or nursing during those fifteen years.** And George was a very loving and committed husband and father. The image at the top, a primitive photograph actually taken by Lewis Carroll, shows George in a loving pose with his daughter Mary and his son Ronald.***
It’s hard to imagine that this sophisticated and eloquent writer could pen the simple, sweet thoughts of MacDonald’s poem entitled Baby. It begins with the lines:
Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into here.
Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.
After reviewing other endearing infant qualities, MacDonald ends the poem with these lines:
How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.
But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.****
It’s not surprising that George MacDonald’s favorite part of the Gospel story focused on Christmas. The Baby in the manger fascinated him. He describes this in his incisive poem, entitled That Holy Thing:
They all were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high;
Thou came’st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.
O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but Thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road Thy wheels are not
Nor on the sea Thy sail!
My how? or when? Thou wilt not heed,
But come down Thine own secret stair,
That Thou mayst answer all my needs —
Yea, every bygone prayer.
God’s “own secret stair” for redeeming us was through “a little baby thing.”
— Pastor George Van Alstine
* Father Brown had earlier been the subject of two Hollywood movies (1934 and 1954), as well as a popular BBC radio series beginning in 1945.
** Louisa was not just a child-bearer. She was a woman of many gifts. She wrote and directed plays, in which family members acted, she played the piano and organ and she led in the family’s spiritual life.
*** Yup, Ronald MacDonald. He moved to America, where he authored several books himself. Ronald’s son Philip became a leading writer of mystery novels in the 1930s, as well as a Hollywood screenwriter. His television credits include episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Perry Mason.
**** You can read the entire poem at: allpoetry.com/poem/8558445-Baby-by-George-MacDonald
For a fuller discussion of George MacDonald’s fixation on Christmas, you may want to read “The Day of All the Year: George MacDonald and the Joy of Christmas.”