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The Golden Key

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  2,457 ratings  ·  247 reviews
The adventurous wanderings of a boy and girl to find the keyhole which fits the rainbow's golden key. ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published December 1st 1984 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (first published 1867)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,457 ratings  ·  247 reviews

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Althea Ann
Jan 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don’t remember if I’d read this before or not. If I did, it was when I was a child. I read ‘The Princess and the Goblin’ and ‘The Light Princess’ dozens of times, and loved them. I know I also read ‘At the Back of the North Wind’ and didn’t care for it as much. I’m not at all sure I would’ve loved this when I was little, but I loved it now. It does feature the same Grandmother/Lady seen in ‘The Princess and the Goblin,’ with her magical baths. She has got to be one of my favorite characters in ...more
Jun 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to be young again...
Shelves: dear-to-my-heart
this book is one of the three things that i lent to my (now) boyfriend, before we hardly knew eachother, which he says caused him to fall in love with me... this is one of those books that, if i even glance at it sitting quietly on my bookshelf, i can feel the magic that it contains inside. a beautiful, wondrous tale that will be just as potent until the end of time.
Nov 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the truly great aspects to having kids is the surprising return to childhood authors long forgotten. Three exciting rediscoveries for me have been Ruth Krauss, Randall Jarrell and of course the chimerical George Macdonald. Macdonald while seldom still talked about, is an obvious precursor to the likes of Alice in Wonderland, Peter and Wendy, and Lord of the Rings.
The Golden Key is something I simply adored as a kid. While I'm quite certain much of the overall abstraction was completely
Brian James
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ru
Having long been a devoted obsessive to children's literature, and having a particular fondness for its origins in post-Romantic era England, I have to say it's a little embarrassing to have not read George MacDonald before now.

The Golden Key is the kind of spooky, symbolic fairy tale that served as the foundations of literature written for children. It follows a young boy who finds a key from fairy land, but does not know what the key opens. There begins a journey which he undertakes with a gi
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A boy and girl set out to find the golden key, which unlocks the door to the land of falling shadows. The story unfolds in a mysterious, surreal, dream-like flow. The children age through life before the end. The symbolism hides under the key of extensive study. Elements of paganism and Christianity evidenced in my interpretation, as Earth, Water and Fire personified in characters the children sought after. In the end, the boy defeats wind as he crosses the sea on foot, a mirror of Jesus walking ...more
Dec 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: love
finally read this to my kids. They loved it, just as I did, which makes me very happy. The language is archaic, but beautiful, and the story is classic G.M. fairytale... you think you understand the allegory, but sometimes feel uncertain if things are put in for meaning or for the thrill of the fantastical.
Calvin Edwards
Sep 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book was very strange and it freaked me out.
Mailee Pyper
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was interesting and sweet at moments, but so strange. I really wasn't sure what was going on, or what the point was of what did occur. It ended and I thought..."is that really it?" ...more
Aug 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full disclosure: The biggest reason I requested a copy of The Golden Key was Ruth Sanderson's illustrations, which, I'm happy to report, were breathtaking. Scratchboard art blows my mind; being a non-artist, I just can't wrap my brain around how artists like Ruth create such beauty by scratching away at solid black to reveal bit by bit a complete picture. The proportions, the balance, the fine details...beautiful!

As for George MacDonald's fairy tale, which I read in one sitting, I found it easil
David Gregg
Dec 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Bewilderingly creative--almost to the point of being, as one reviewer put it: "stream of consciousness."

I'm giving it three stars, not in comparison to other authors' works, but in comparison to MacDonald's. I've enjoyed other of his works more, such as "The Princess and the Goblin," "The Day Boy and the Night Girl," and "Gray Wolf." I enjoyed it, but not so much that I would give it a four.

**UPDATE**: I read it again. My appreciation of "The Golden Key" has risen, and so has my rating: to four.
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 stars for allegorical obviousness, bumped up for the fascinating images (especially the land full of shadows cast by multiple dimensions of unseen objects) and sometimes lovely writing.
A boy finds a golden key at the base of a rainbow in Fairyland; a girl flees home to join him on a journey in search of the key's lock. A dreamlike, numinous fairytale, The Golden Key is delicate, brief, and bold. It reminds me best of Neil Gaiman's remarkable poem "Instructions," despite the gap of years and style that separate the two works: both are boldy fantastic, freeform to the point of forgoing plot but never direction, short but evocative. It reminds me also of Catherynne M. Valente's T ...more
David Jack
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: george-macdonald
The story of Mossy and Tangle, the Golden Key, and 'The land from which the shadows fall' is one to rival anything in the MacDonald oeuvre; and therefore necessarily (since MacDonald is peerless as an original mythmaker) among the very finest fairy tales you could read.
But what to say about the tale that would do it justice? Ostensibly, it's a quest of two children to take the Golden Key, found by one of them at the foot of a rainbow on the borders of fairyland and find the lock it was made to
Aug 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
This book has more metaphor and symbolism that Dylan's first four albums. I understood what many of the allusions were in this story, but can someone tell me what the hell this book is all about? This is the first of McDonald's "children's" books that I've read and I found myself wincing at parts (I won't go into detail right now about which ones) that I thought were too stilted, underdeveloped or just weird. I know "The Golden Key" is supposed to be McDonald's best (or nearly his best) "childre ...more
Krisette Spangler
Aug 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fairy-tales
I know I'm in the minority, but I really don't enjoy George MacDonald's fairy tales, except of course, The Princess and the Goblin and The Light Princess. All of the other tales I've read, the characters just plod along through an uninteresting adventure. I realize people often find great meaning and hidden symbols in these adventures, but I find them tedious.

J.Aleksandr Wootton
Mar 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I recently read this on Tolkien's recommendation ("On Fairy Stories"), but had read enough of MacDonald previously not to have extremely high expectations of the story itself.

Don't read MacDonald for his stories, or his writing style. Read him for the curiosity of his images and the well-phrased philosophic observations he sprinkles his stories with.
Beautiful story with lyrical imagery; Sanderson's scratchboard illustrations really enhance the text. I am not sure that I completely understood all of it, but the book does encourage the reader to let their imagination loose. The author and illustrator's notes at the end were interesting and informative. ...more
Amber the Human
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
I read this because Sendak illustrated it. And it was alright ... but mostly just really confusing. There's a quality to it ... almost like L'Engle. But without the point. The children just kind of go through the story ... and there are no hardships ... just strange talking fish. ...more
A little hard to follow. I'm going to listen again. I feel like much of the allegory was going over my head. ...more
One of my favorite MacDonald stories, now beautifully illustrated by Ruth Sanderson. My four year old loved it.
Charles Haywood
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very famous book, not quite children’s fairy tale and not quite adult allegory—or rather, it’s both, and more. As fairy tale and as allegory, it has so light a touch as to be ethereal, combined with a feeling of enormous substance. There is, for child or adult, little obvious moral, yet the reader is left with a feeling of transcendence. Quite an accomplishment in what is really just a short story, and doubtless why the book is still famous today.

I read this book to my children, becaus
Ali M
Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the version of this book that was illustrated by Ruth Sanderson and it was a beautiful reading experience. The scratchboard drawings are rich with detail and have a lovely warmth and promise to them even though they are in black and white. The illustrations capture the story perfectly, which on the surface is simple enough, but also leaves you with a sense of warmth and hope and promise that is hard to pin down and hard to explain.

Finishing this book, I was filled with a sense of simple
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Only those who like to understand the mind of G. MacDonald, and those who like poetic imagery
The book tells the account of a little boy and girl who find a golden key in fairy land and follow a trail to the door the key unlocks.

I did like one particular quote immensely. The dialogue is spoken to the little girl who at this time in the story is lost and has come far down in a cave and there she meets 'The Old Man of the Earth.'

“Then the Old Man of the Earth stooped over the floor of the cave, raised a huge stone from it, and left it leaning. It disclosed a great hole that went plumb-dow
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Re-read (don't know how many times I've read this, but it's been some years since my last experience)

I believe this story may have been what inspired Lewis's idea of Shadowlands.
Jan 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Just finished it again and am starting to read it to the twins. There is much in terms of rich imagery and provocative symbols, but nothing is quite so moving for me as their experience in the midst of the shadows.

“About the middle of the plain they sat down to rest in the heart of a heap of shadows. After sitting for a while, each, looking up, saw the other in tears: they were each longing after the country whence the shadows fell.

“We must find the country from which the shadows come,” said Mos
Jan 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story was thought provoking on the extreme, and I am still mulling over it in my mind. I is very symbolic and I feel in this reading I just barely scratched the surface of what MacDonald has to teach hear. It is not and easy story by any means and has many elements I appreciate only because of my experience with non-linear film. If you are looking for an easy story to just hop through then the Light Princess is a better choice from MacDonald's work, or if you're looking for a good solid sto ...more
Amanda G. Stevens
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
A parable of a journey to the "land from whence the shadows fall." In true MacDonald fashion, not everything lines up to a specific allegorical meaning but rather guides the reader into contemplation and quiet awareness of spiritual realities in general, and in particular the trials that cleanse and mature us along our way. Gentle and subtle, and the sacrifice and metamorphosis of the "air-fish" is particularly lovely. ...more
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this wishing I was reading it aloud to children. Picked it up because of Maurice Sendak illustrations, beautiful. It feels foundational, this story, one that surely has to have influenced other fairy tale writers, or maybe the author has just tapped something that feels ancient about story building.
This is my second time reading it through all the way. So good! W. H. Auden's afterword touches upon why this is such a good Christian literature. No symbol hunting allowed here. ...more
May 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Very fascinating. I feel like I understood it but didn't at the same time. Like MacDonald's other fairy tales, it gives you this sense that your soul understands, but your mind does not. ...more
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George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister.

He was educated at Aberdeen University and after a short and stormy career as a minister at Arundel, where his unorthodox views led to his dismissal, he turned to fiction as a means of earning a living. He wrote over 50 books.

Known particularly for his poignant fairy tales and fantasy novels, MacDonald inspired many authors, such

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“Then the Old Man of the Earth stooped over the floor of the cave, raised a huge stone from it, and left it leaning. It disclosed a great hole that went plumb-down.
"That is the way," he said.
"But there are no stairs."
"You must throw yourself in. There is no other way.”
“You have tasted of death now,” said the old man. “Is it good?”
“It is good,” said Mossy. “It is better than life.”
“No,” said the old man: “it is only more life.”
More quotes…