George MacDonald discussion

MacDonald's Scottish novels

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message 1: by David (last edited Sep 27, 2018 11:08AM) (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Thought we could have a discussion thread entirely given over to discussion of GM's Scottish novels, and perhaps another, separate one of the non-Scottish realistic fiction (such as the Wingfold and Marshmallows trilogies.)

I love the sermons and fantasies for which MacDonald is most famous, but have a natural bias towards the Scottish novels, being a Scotsman myself, and a fellow North East native with GM. I've read most of the novels set in Scotland, and would find it hard to pick a favourite, though my son is named after Donal Grant, and I have a strong connection to 'Robert Falconer' because again, like GM, I was immersed in Scottish Calvinism from my youth (I always rejected it myself, but felt its baleful influence), and can very strongly sympathise therefore with Robert and his struggles.

Those of you who participate in the GM facebook communities may be aware that I have begun translating the Scottish novels from broad Scots into English to help make them more accessible-beginning with Robert Falconer, which came out last year, and continuing with 'Castle Warlock', which is due for release this Christmas. I can provide a link for anyone interested.

Would be good to get a discussion going about people's favourite Scottish novels, and all the elements of culture, language and spiritual wisdom that contribute to their impact upon us.

message 2: by Micah (last edited Sep 26, 2018 11:37PM) (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments It just goes to show that something is seriously wrong. I am not on Facebook—don’t even know what goes on there—but I am here. Trouble is, I seem to be all alone. Where are the conversations? This group seems dead! Oh right . . . this isn’t Facebook. But to mention George MacDonald’s Scottish novels and not be overrun by exhilarated fanatics? I simply can’t believe it!

I for one start nodding in agreement every time I hear David Jack give his opinion about anything. Hopefully I can get this discussion going somewhere.

I love George MacDonald’s Scottish novels! I’ve only read three of his novels, Sir Gibbie, Donal Grant, and David Elginbrod. I love them all, and they were all Scottish. I love the Scottish culture, I love the Scottish language, I love the Scottish geography, wildlife, plants, history, people, and probably the food too, if I ever have a chance to taste it. And the only thing I might find sour—the theology—is kindly remedied by our dear friend, who merely—as Chesterton notes—gave Scotland a religion consistent with its character. (

Just the other day I found myself reading the conversation between Donal Grant and Lord Forgue, when the latter says “I’ll be damned if I do!” and the former replies “I’m afraid you’ll be damned if you don’t.” What brilliance! The conversation fills an entire chapter, and in reading it I realize again and again how gifted MacDonald was in his ability to write realistic and natural, yet entertaining and engaging, conversations between his characters. It really makes his writing first-rate.

Please, somebody! Write a comment! Post a remark! Let’s get this conversation going!

message 3: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Thanks for trying to get some discussion going, Micah! I might mention this group in the reviews section for of some of GM's books, and see if I can scare up some more contributors!

message 4: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments Haha, I feel your pain, Micah! In my defense, I'm not into any truly 'social' social media. I prefer Goodreads and Pinterest where I can just do my thing and avoid human interaction. Pardon me for my introversion. :)

Let's me just say this immediately: I am a hopeless MacDonald fan (I'm also a hopeless C. S. Lewis fan, and a hopeless J. R. R. Tolkien fan, but I suppose that's irrelevant.).

And I am absolutely in love with Scotland. Though, really, it's a bit against my principles to be in love with something I've never met... Let's just say I met Scotland through MacDonald's gorgeous Scottish novels: The culture! The history! The art! And best of all the landscape and wildlife. I positively INHALE beauty, and to me, beauty is art and nature (which, BTW, are exactly the same thing. The universe is God's art.) Scotland has somehow become the epitome of beauty to me. Blame George MacDonald! The rugged highland regions hold an irresistible appeal to me. Perhaps it's a good thing I'll probably never visit Scotland because I'm afraid I would be sorely disappointed. How could anything ever live up to my imagination?

That said, I come to the purpose of this post. How on earth does one learn to read Scottish Dialect?! Is there a hand book I can buy and use as a dictionary for the words I am unable to decipher? I dearly want to read the original novels (I've been reading Michael Phillip's versions), but the samplings of dialect that I have read were so unintelligible I temporarily gave up. Rest assured, I don't plan on spending my entire life unable to read his original Scottish novels! So If I have to simply start reading and stumble through as best I can at first, I am up for the challenge. But...that doesn't mean I wouldn't appreciate an alternative.

BTW, my favorite of MacDonald's realistic novels is "Sir Gibbie." It will always be one of those epic literary experiences for me: a book I hold up and compare to all the other books I read. I haven't found authors that really compare yet. Lewis and Tolkien are wonderful, but they're wonderful in a different way. Any suggestions for books/authors that have a similar flavor to George MacDonald's Scottish novels? Thanks!

Oh, yes, one more thing. That marvelous conversation in "Donal Grant." It's probably my favorite part of the whole book. George MacDonald is a genius when it comes to conversation.

message 5: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Hi Rebecca, help is at hand! I have translated MacDonald's 'Robert Falconer' and 'Castle Warlock', they are both available to order, and I have finished Sir Gibbie, but it isn't quite ready to be released should be published in a month. I will post the link here for the first two (they're also available on amazon, but a bit cheaper here)...

message 6: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments I was also interviewed about the translations very recently, so I'll post that link too, as you may find it helpful (you can see the front cover of Sir Gibbie if you scroll down to the has been very slightly altered since the interview, but that's essentially what it will look like)...

message 7: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments That is quite helpful, David. Thanks so much! I like Michael Phillip's editions, but they are considerably condensed. I'm always left feeling as though I missed some excellent details. I think I would enjoy reading with the original and the translated side-by-side. I may eventually begin to actually understand the dialect. Hmm, I've been wanting to read Robert Falconer. Now I'll have to decide which book I want to read first. My favorite kind of decision. :)

message 8: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments You're welcome Rebecca! Michael Phillips has done a great job in terms of introducing more people to the stories, but I'm with you: I never want to miss out on the original, authentic words an author has written. People have said the translations have helped them with the dialect, although of course the Scots column can be paid as much or as little attention to as you like. If it helps with your decision, Falconer has full page illustrations (as Gibbie will also) whereas I ended up illustrating Warlock myself with thumbnail sketches, every 5 chapters or so. But Warlock is just as good a story, and has more romance and supernatural stuff. They're both great, so I don't know which I'd pick if I were you :)

message 9: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments Well, I don't suppose it matters too much, as I plan on getting both eventually. :) My mom is a wonderful person but she does not understand fiction. Lol, She persists in calling GM's books "untrue!" (By that she simply means "fictional") So I think I'll gift one or two of the books to myself for Christmas. Ooh, Sir Gibbie will be available by then! Good thing I'm a patient person...

message 10: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments You're right, it doesn't really matter if you plan to get them both :) and hopefully your patience won't be tried too much: I would estimate that Gibbie will be published by late October/early November, but definitely in time for Christmas!

message 11: by Micah (last edited Sep 28, 2018 12:58AM) (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments Hi Rebecca! Your first question was about reading Scots. I was able to conquer it with the aid of John Bechard’s dictionary: I had already read several fantasies, and went back to my staging area, Wikipedia, and in glancing down I saw an extensive two-column list of novels. I figured it was time to begin exploring them, but I didn’t know where to start, so I simply scanned through the list for anything that sounded interesting. Sir Gibbie caught my fancy, so I went to and downloaded the book in PDF. That’s how I ended up using Bechard’s dictionary: it was included at the end of the book. Anyway, I loved it, Scots and all, and it became my favorite novel of all time. (If you want my whole story I gave it its own discussion topic: This is My Story. I encourage all visitors to put their own stories there to. It would be a wonderful collection of testimonies!) Immediately afterward I downloaded Donal Grant from the same site. I loved it too, and I was amazed at times with my own comprehension, especially during the housekeeper’s ghost story, which presented conversations within conversations, written completely in heavy dialect! After I had read the novels and praised them up and down, my grandmother presented me with some of the Michael Phillips renditions, which she and her daughter (my aunt and fellow MacDonald admirer) had gotten a hold of when they were first being published in the ’80s. Wondering who this Phillips guy was, I started skimming through them. Something seemed seriously wrong. Then I decided to make my investigation more scientific by taking a passage of Donal Grant and comparing the original text to the Phillips version. What I found was that Phillips had taken about half of it away, leaving only a skeleton: the idea the original passage conveyed was lost, and the edited passage itself seemed ambiguous and unclear. Needless to say, I formed a pretty low opinion of Phillips based on that experiment, and I continued to hold that opinion until I found the real Phillips on the Internet, and found he was actually a really nice guy. But that is beside the point: what I really mean to say is that, if you have not read the original novels in their original forms, you have been missing out for sure! Eventually my sister (who never read Scots before) decided to read Sir Gibbie, the same version I read, and she fell in love with it too. She got tired of having to refer to the dictionary though, but she was able to understan’ the beuk weel eneuch, and lo’ed ’t forby! . . . Sorry! Really, for me anyway, understanding the Scots came naturally, easily, quickly, and as a matter of course. When I first heard that there were version of the novels with the Scottish taken away, my thoughts were, Why would somebody want to do that? The Scottish language is part of why I love the novels so much. Aside from its unique influence on the general mood and atmosphere of the books, it’s actually crucial to the stories in many places: when a character goes into dialect, it can indicate the person as being a “semple fowk;” also it is used sometimes to indicate the characters’ moods: often when Donal is angry, he slips into his “mither-tongue;” the same is true when he is with someone he trusts and respects, such as Andrew Comin or the housekeeper. It adds an entirely original dimension to the story that is automatically lost in any translation. Everyone is different, and you may find it more difficult to master the language than I did; but believe me, the reward it worth every bit of the effort! What David Jack is doing with his side-by-side work is wonderful for obvious reasons. I might get a hold of his versions some day; but for the time being I love to read original originals exclusively! (If you want to know what I mean:

And as for your other question: other books with similar flavor to GM’s Scots novels? I know of nothing comparable! But I have not read much in my life: I’ve never even read a Tolkien book, and only part of the Narnia series. So I wouldn’t consider myself an authority.

And lastly, about your Mother calling fiction “untrue!”: I always think back to a quote I heard a while back that went something like this: “A fairy-tale may contain more truth than a biography!” I thought GM had said it, but I can’t find it now. Can anyone tell me where I heard it? Or if I invented it? Thanks!

message 12: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments Hello Micah! The dictionary looks like just what I've been looking for. Very helpful, thanks! And it sounds like I'm in for a real treat: If I love Phillip's versions without Scots, how much will I love the originals? I can understand that the language would add a next-level degree of flavor. Hopefully I'll pick it up as naturally as you and your sister did.

Hmm, I've never come across that quotation. It does sound like something GM would have said. Maybe I'll have to share it with my mom. ;)

Also, I read Phillip's editions of Donal Grant last month, and was honestly disappointed. The plot felt like a rehash of Malcolm. The spiritual insight was excellent though, and I think reading it with all the original conversation intact would help me enjoy it more. As we've noted, dialogue is were GM excells.

message 13: by David (last edited Sep 28, 2018 07:46AM) (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments I wouldn't want to put you off the dictionary idea if you think that will be most helpful Rebecca, but I imagine that most people, like Micah's sister, would get tired of having to refer to it constantly, and the parallel text in the translations is designed to sidestep that problem. It's as close to a word-for-word translation as you could get without sounding artificial, so not only are the full conversations preserved, but you can even tell what individual words mean by looking across to from one column to the other and comparing what's in each.

message 14: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments The main reason my sister got tired of the dictionary was because it was at the end of the book, and the book was obviously long, and every time she would look up a word she would of course lose her page and have to try to find her way back. It wasn’t until afterward that I found the online version. When I read David Elginbrod to my aunt last June, and I had to look up a word, I simply switched to my web browser (I was reading on my tablet) and used the “Find” function to locate the desired word in the list. If my sister had been doing it that way she probably wouldn’t have became weary of it. The added benefit was that I had a second tab open to Wikipedia, which I used to look up every single book and person MacDonald happened to mention in passing, or quoted from at the beginning of each section. It drastically increased my enjoyment, and taught me much at the same time. I was reading the original volumes from Internet Archive:

Yes, I don’t know where I heard the quotation. It’s one of those mysteries of mine, for the time being.

I didn’t read Malcolm yet, but I’ve heard a lot about it. But I do love Donal Grant.

message 15: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Well I suppose it would be easier to read it online than to keep checking the back of a book, but it sounds like you took to the Scots easier than most people do, and I would think that even having to switch between tabs on line would be a bit troublesome if you had to do it a lot. Of course the advantage of that method is that it's free if you have a computer and don't mind reading things in that format; but then the translations were designed for the easiest possible comparison with Scots and English right next to each other on the page. It's not literally word for word, as no real translation can be without sounding unnatural, but it's as close as possible to that, and you can read it in Scots if you're confident enough -with just an occasional glance at the right hand column to assure yourself you've understood a word correctly. But it all depends on what suits the individual.

message 16: by Micah (last edited Sep 28, 2018 11:44AM) (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments Yes, that’s great, David. Your translations are probably the only ones I would ever recommend to someone.

message 17: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Yep, I wouldn't want to twist anyone's arm to order them, but I do like to let people know what they are. I really admire what Michael Phillips has done in re popularising the stories, but I tend to call them abridgements rather than translations to avoid confusion. Mine are translations of the whole novel, but nothing is lost. The translated parts are additional, because the whole novel, including all of the Scots dialogue is still there. The aim was to make it the best of both worlds, as novices can just focus on the English translation, and refer to the Scots column whenever they want, and confident Scots readers can just have the English as a backup if they want it. It's mostly, but not exclusively, for those who find the Scots too much for them, but who are also interested in the Scots language, as I think we all should be, because it's a huge part of the flavour of the books.

message 18: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments This is what I plan to do: study the dictionary a bit until I'm semi-familiar with the Scots language, then (at Christmas) when I get David Jack's translation, I can hopefully follow the Scots sidebar with ease. Being able to refer to the translation when I'm uncertain is probably what will keep me going at the beginning. One of the reasons I love the English/Scots parallel idea is that I can lend the book to friends who know nothing about the language (ahem, like me at this point) and they can still fully enjoy the story.

message 19: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Yes, that's another of the intended advantages, Rebecca. Those who struggle, either greatly or at least to some degree, with the Scots, are likely to know others in the same boat (if their friends also read MacDonald), so it's a resource that is now available for the first time to recommend. This will mean more people who, for all practical purposes, have only been able to read the abridgements, now being able to read the full novels-and equally, the translations can be a way of getting people into MacDonald who have never read him before-because it's not uncommon for me to hear of people even struggling with the toned-down Scots in the Phillips editions. Once one does become pretty well versed in the Scots tongue, the books can just be read as normal, because we haven't taken the Scots would just be a case of reading the left hand (broad Scots) column, and ignoring, or only occasionally glancing at, the English on the right. We had considered doing straightforward translations in the early days, simply replacing the Scots with English...but I'm very glad we didn't, in spite of the extra work!

message 20: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments Yes, I am very glad you decided not to take the Scots out entirely. The decision to have both actually elevated your translations into a higher dimension, to tell the truth. They might become as well-known and respected among MacDonald readers as the Phillips versions have been. Hopefully they will replace the Phillips abridgments—because I want everybody to understand the Scots! My favorite parts are the prayers—like Sir George’s dying prayer early in Sir Gibbie, Janet Grant’s prayer in the cow-shed on Glashgar later in the book, and David Elginbrod’s prayers at the beginning of his novel. They are written in broad Scots, and touch the soul in a special way. Possibly the sincerity showed through better when MacDonald wrote in his native tongue.

message 21: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments I absolutely agree with regard to the prayers, fact I don't know if you'll remember this, but in Sir Gibbie, Donal says "Losh, man! what wad come o’ me gien I hed to say my prayers in English! I doobt gien ’t wad come oot prayin’ at a’!" And then MacDonald adds..."I am well aware that most Scotch people of that date tried to say their prayers in English, but not so Janet or Robert, and not so had they taught their children. I fancy not a little unreality was thus in their case avoided." (and just as a side note, referring to Scottish people as "Scotch", even though MacDonald does, is outdated now...Scottish people refer to inanimate objects as "scotch", like whisky or tape for example, but the people and the language are Scots or Scottish!)

message 22: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments As for replacing Phillips's editions, I can see what you're saying, and I think Michael himself prefers the originals, but I like to think of our series as being complementary...I personally would love everybody to read the originals, and of course my translations serve the purpose of eliminating the language barrier, but that still leaves the issue of LENGTH, and some people will always prefer a shorter read. From that perspective, I continue to be grateful to Michael for introducing so many people to at least the main storylines and messages of GM's novels, but of course the full novels are now AVAILABLE even to non Scots speakers, and whether my translations ever rival, or even overtake MP's editions, I just hope they bless people by making MacDonald more accessible, whether that readership is in its hundreds as it is just now, or eventually in the thousands or millions like Michael's Bethany House novels. All MacDonald exposure is good exposure!

message 23: by Micah (last edited Sep 28, 2018 10:15PM) (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments Really? That’s, well, “fair weird!” as my mother would say. General English convention demands that adjectives formed from proper nouns be capitalized. I would never say “canadian prime minister,” no matter how much I dislike the guy. In fact the word “canadian” lights up in red every time I write it. Let’s try . . . “scotch.” Huh! It didn’t light up in red! How about “english.” Yep, that lit up in red. I suppose it must be a special convention for Scotland. How about “french.” Well that didn’t light up either! This is something I don’t remember learning in Language Arts!

But not to get too far off topic: the length was never an issue for me. In fact my grandmother owns one single Phillips novel, Wild Grows the Heather in Devon, and in the preface Phillips rants about how much he loves long novels, and how his favorite MacDonald is eight hundred pages! I feel the same way. I read the original Donal Grant in four days. But of course that was back when I could read North Wind in three days. Now-a-days I go for weeks without reading anything. In fact I’ve been reading the same fairy-tale book for over a year now—and not because it’s hard to get through! I rather like it! I just have too many other things to do I guess. I’m hoping being part of an active community will help me get back to reading again.

I’m also wondering why there’s only three of us here. . . .

message 24: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Ah well, I wasn't particularly referring to the capitalisation issue, but to the fact that with the people or the language it should be "Scots" (or Scottish) , rather than "Scotch", regardless of the uppercase/lowercase usage.

Since you mention capitals though, I double checked, because I wasn't actually sure myself on that one when it came to whisky and tape for instance, and this is what I found...

"Personal, national, or geographical names, and words derived from such names, are often lowercased when used with a nonliteral meaning. For example, the cheese known as “gruyère” takes its name from a district in Switzerland but is not necessarily from there; “swiss cheese” (lowercase s) is a cheese that resembles Swiss emmentaler (which derives its name from the Emme River valley)

Among the examples included... is “scotch whisky.” But in your example, you are right to capitalize “Scotch” in “Scotch whisky” because you are opposing “Scotch” to “Irish.” "

So I would conclude that scotch tape perhaps doesn't need to be capitalised. But of course all this is a bit of a digression, so apologies for leading us off the beaten track of MacDonald related discourse :)

message 25: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments I totally agree about long novels though...It's just that there will always be some who can't handle or won't try them, and Michael has catered to those with the abridgements. And I don't know why there are only three of us here...hopefully it will show up that there's a conversation going on and some others will join in!

message 26: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments I feel like I have to agree on the 'long novels' subject. It's why I read so many classics. The way I see it, if the writer isn't skilled enough to keep my interest during a 500+ page book...Why bother reading his/her books at all?! So when the prefaces to Phillip's books always metion how the original book was 4 or 500 pages of small print, I just look at my sparse 200 pages of trimmed material and sigh. I also agree that for some people the shorter editions are better. A lot of my friends do not possess an attention span as long as mine. :)

message 27: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments I am equally to blame about the digression, though I think MacDonald’s national background does merit some discussion now and then. But as for the “beaten track of MacDonald related discourse” . . . I hardly know what you mean!

My feeling about long novels is that I don’t like stories to end. I want them to go on forever. So the longer a novel is, the more prolonged the feeling that it will never be concluded.

By the way, Rebecca, if you haven’t already you should check out

message 28: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments This is priceless! Thanks, Micah. I can somewhat follow the Scots conversation when I'm reading it, but with just the recording...? Absolutely hopeless! I played a few of the poems/ballads for my mom, and she couldn't understand a word you were saying, David. :)

You know, I think reading the books with their original dialect will make the characters feel more believable, more human.

Last year I read There and Back (the Phillips abridgement) and this poem was included:

" Erthe out of erthe as wondirly wroghte,
Erthe hase getyn one erthe a dignyte of noghte,
Erthe appone erthe hase sett alle his thoughte,
How that erthe appone erthe may be heghe broghte."

After meditating on it for twenty minutes, I thought I had it properly translated, and after another twenty minutes I thought I had discovered the meaning (I can be a bit slow on such things!) Just out of curiosity, what is the correct translation and meaning?

message 29: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments I believe that’s Middle English, most likely from Chaucer. MacDonald and his friends loved Chaucer.

We’d better ask David Jack about that one. I would love to be able to read Middle English, because I’d like to read Beowulf some day. I struggle with the Middle English far more than the Scots.

message 30: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments Well, I obviously wouldn't know Scots from Middle English.... Help, David!

message 31: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments I'm very happy to help, Rebecca :) Beyond the translations themselves, feel free to ask me about specific words or phrases any time you like!

message 32: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments David, check message 28.

message 33: by David (last edited Sep 30, 2018 02:59PM) (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments I must have answered without reading Rebecca's comment properly. I thought she was just asking for general help with Scots-my apologies, Rebecca! I can tell you that the poem in message 28 is definitely not Scots but (I think) Middle English. Your translation is probably at least as good as mine would be, but if you post what you think it means, perhaps we could all help each other? (I actually haven't read all GM's English novels, and this is one I haven;'t got to as yet.)

message 34: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments Yes, any assistance with Middle English would be very much appreciated. The original David Elginbrod quoted extensive passages of Chaucer, and I was left in confusion. The Scots I understood; that I didn’t!

message 35: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Ha! You're in the same boat as me then!

message 36: by Micah (last edited Oct 01, 2018 08:16AM) (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments Apparently it has nothing to do with Chaucer. A quick search returned this book.

Check out the Introduction page for a quick description. (Click on the right-hand page three times.) A few pages into the Introduction is a section titled “Origin and Growth of the Poem,” which may also be helpful.

message 37: by Micah (last edited Sep 30, 2018 10:05PM) (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments It’s just another one of those things whose origin is unknown, that found its way through all of culture, and then was wiped from the public consciousness over the past few generations. That book I linked above is a great resource. I can’t go all through it right now, neither am I skilled enough in language to receive of all its bounty; but here is another version of the poem:—

1 Erth owt of erth is worldly wrowght,
   Erth hath goten oppon erth a dygnite of nowght,
   Erth vpon erth hath set all his thowght,
   How þat erth vpon erth myght be hye browght.
      . . .
8 Alisander was but erth, þat all the world wan,
   & Ector vpon erth was hold a worthy man,
   & Julius Cesar þat þe empire first be-gan ;
   & now, as erth within erth, þei lye pale & wan.

The version I have quoted from can be found on pages 27-29 of the book (using the numbers printed at the top corners of the pages). In context the meaning seems plain enough. I think it is a poem about pride; and how man, who is nothing, esteems himself so great; about how kings and emperors are dead in the grave, no different than any other men. It is merely an elaborate expansion of “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. . . . ”

message 38: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments That's exactly what I concluded as to meaning. I assumed I was wrong though, because I tend to overthink EVERYTHING! For example, in literature class when we have a fairly simple multiple choice question, I'll turn it and twist it so as to mangle it beyond recognition. Then I explain how I came to my conclusion and everyone else in the class is just sitting, brains audibly buzzing with a look of confusion on their faces. Nice to know I wasn't too far out in left field this time.

So what are we supposed to do when we come to long Middle English quotations in the midst of the novel? GM obviously expected his readers to be more educated than I personally am...

message 39: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments My guess would be that this isn't a regular thing with MacDonald. Long passages of Scots, yes, but Middle English, not so much.

message 40: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments He was evidently familiar with much of Geoffrey Chaucer and perhaps William Langland (Later Middle English) as well as Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare (Early Modern English), largely thanks to John Alexander Scott and John Ruskin, no doubt.

Over a year ago I found and downloaded this software: I found it very useful. Of course you’ll need a Windows PC to use.

message 41: by Plough (new)

Plough Publishing Forgive me for crashing into this conversation, but I did want to connect with such avid MacDonald readers about Plough's new anthology: - we ran a GoodReads giveaway on it last year, and I have a few more review copies on my desk. Happy to share with any of you who would like to give it a read. Please email me at if you'd enjoy a copy. With best wishes, Maureen Swinger, Plough Publishing House

message 42: by David (last edited Oct 02, 2018 08:56AM) (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Crash away! hopefully more people will follow your lead and we can really get the conversation going...I have a copy of the book (Kindly sent to me by Plough themselves) and I can say it's a great read, with some excellent and diverse GM quotes!

message 43: by Micah (last edited Oct 02, 2018 09:37AM) (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments Looks good . . . can’t say I’m free to give away my address though. And I can’t make online purchases.

message 44: by Plough (new)

Plough Publishing Thanks, David! Delighted to hear you have read it already.
Hi Micah, it's a free copy (we always set aside a quantity for reviewers/GoodReads giveaways) but if you'd rather not share your address, no worries. Best wishes, Maureen

message 45: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments I really appreciate the work of you publishers and editors to help introduce MacDonald to more people! Really, I feel such books should be sent to people who have never discovered this great bounty. . . .

message 46: by Micah (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments I heard from Rebecca that Malcolm features some real action. That’s enough to interest me! (This thread is supposed to discuss GM’s Scottish novels, so I hope I don’t sound out of context!)

message 47: by Becca (new)

Becca (beccanorth) | 26 comments I think if you enjoyed Donal Grant, Micah, you would also love Malcolm. They are very similar, though I prefer Malcolm. In many places the book had me laughing at loud--Malcolm is an exceedingly truthful, polite person, so someone inevitably questions him--perhaps I should say "interrogates him!"--quite insistently on the wrong subject. Rest assured, she got her answer! And the action in the book is marvelous. Malcolm is the epitome of controlled righteous anger. When he witnesses a human or an animal being abused, he can't just sit idly by! He's amazingly dynamic, and he was such fun to read about. Another interesting element is his adoptive father/grandfather who has an the most fiery Scottish temper you ever did see. Through him, George MacDonald's ancestral history is woven into the story.

message 48: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments Malcolm is high on the list for future translations. DG was meant to be next, as it's Gibbie's sequel, but since we're publishing them at a loss at the moment, the better commercial option might be to go for Malcolm, as it's better known. The final decision probably won't be made till after Gibbie is published though, and it's even possible I could start on one and then change courses any rate, there will be another GM translation coming up at the end of 2019!

message 49: by Micah (last edited Oct 05, 2018 09:36PM) (new)

Micah (micahchuk) | 43 comments Sorry to hear you’re publishing at a loss—maybe there’s just not enough people interested. Why is MacDonald doomed to such an eternally small following?

And why do people feel guilty to join the discussion?

message 50: by David (new)

David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 43 comments It is a travesty that MacDonald is so neglected in comparison to Lewis, for example. Having said that, he is better known than he was a few decades ago due to Michael Phillip's abridgements, and we are still trying to get word out about the translations, since we're just on book 3. With Gibbie being his most popular Scottish novel, I'm really hoping it helps launch the series. A pre Christmas release and the fact that it's beautifully illustrated should hopefully boost its chances.

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