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Sir Gibbie (Sir Gibbie, #1)
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Dec Group Read: Sir Gibbie > Chapters 13-22

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Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
I'm finding it hard to stay with only my two chapters a day! Gibbie's mysterious good deeds were attributed by the country folk to a brownie. These are Christian people who still somewhat believe the folklore of their culture. Do you come from a family who believes in folklore or superstitions? Why do you think Christians still tend to fall back on these ideas?

My Cuban mother believed in demons everywhere. Her mother was a strong believer in luck: peacock feathers were bad luck, picking up a penny from the ground was good luck, a woman putting her purse on the floor was bad luck, pyramids and triangles were good luck. My caucasian father's family were strong believers in ghosts.

I think superstitions give people a thrill and help them explain things they don't understand. I'm not sure why it's easier to attribute things to lesser beings than God, but I think it may be more understandable and relatable for some. What do you think?


message 2: by Steve (new)

Steve Pillinger | 514 comments Mod
Hey, sorry I haven't been around for a while—sudden pile-up of work. But I've been keeping up with the reading, and I appreciate the questions you've been asking.

Superstitions… Hmmm. Interesting to hear of your family's beliefs in that area, which I'm sure are largely harmless. But superstitions are definitely not a good thing here in Africa. Well, it partly depends on how you define the word. One dictionary defines it as "A widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief." That focuses on the attitude of the person, rather than the beliefs themselves—with the emphasis on "irrational". I.e., superstitious people are generally looked down on in the West because the things they believe are thought to be illogical or imaginary.

In Africa, sure, there are people who are more 'superstitious' in that sense than others, seeing evil spirits under every bush; but what complicates the issue for us as Christians is that their beliefs are not irrational, since the powers they believe in are real, not imaginary. We've seen too many cases of the effects of evil spirits in the real world to doubt that. A woman we knew had her leg swell up like a tree trunk after being cursed. Only deliverance prayer in the name of Jesus healed her—and her friends and family were astounded, because curses like that are normally fatal.

So where does that leave Macdonald's brownies?! Well, I think by the Victorian era Christianity was so widespread and deeply entrenched in the British Isles that as he himself says it was only in the most isolated places that belief in supernatural beings like brownies was still to be found. History shows, however, that in earlier ages such supernatural beings were widely believed in—and feared. So while the Victorians (and we in the 21st century) might smile indulgently at those "superstitions", there was a time when, as in Africa today, those powers were real and active in everyday life.

And now, with the widespread drive in western countries to find spiritual reality outside of Christianity, we could be heading towards a time when such superstitions may not be called 'brownies' or 'pixies', but they will no longer be laughed at.


Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
Steve wrote: "And now, with the widespread drive in western countries to find spiritual reality outside of Christianity, we could be heading towards a time when such superstitions may not be called 'brownies' or 'pixies', but they will no longer be laughed at."

This is very true. My family's superstitions were mostly harmless, but there were a few times where overwhelming fear (phobias were also common in my family) impacted their lives because of it. Superstitions are seeping over to a more dangerous form in of spirituality in the US. As a teen, I had developed friendships with teens who were in Wicca and Witchcraft. These do "work," and I have seen it myself, What drives me nuts is the fear American Christians have of these forces. The name of Jesus is just as strong in the US as overseas, but the Church hides in terror of these rather than engaging them.

As I interact more with the speculative fiction community as a writer, the more I see that we are in a post-Christian America, as the church leaders call it. We are following Europe in having more and more people who have never heard the gospel before in their lives. These people seek out a spirituality that looks like the fiction books they read. This is part of my motives for writing a more subtle Christian message in my books. I want to touch these people specifically, and they would never pick up a traditional Christian fiction book with an overt gospel message.

The superstition in the church, rather than false religions, is more of a concern to me. It's much sneakier than pure witchcraft because it tries to co-exist with our faith and chokes it out into a form of fear. As we see in the story of Sir Gibbie, the harmless superstition and the fear of that superstition caused an innocent person to get hurt. The fear that is the foundation of superstition distracts from our faith in God and his protection. You are right, Steve. Even though I love fairytales including brownies and sprites, superstition is not a game even in its harmless forms.


David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 27 comments I'm sure MacDonald, as a Scot and a Celt, would have known about brownies through tradition, without any additional literary references, but nevertheless I can't help but wonder if he was influenced in his account of Gibbie's "brownie episode" by Sir Walter Scott's masterpiece The Heart of Midlothian, whose heroine is also taken for a brownie doing farm-work, whilst she pursues a long journey on foot. I thought about adding a footnote to my Gibbie translation mentioning Scott and his character Jeanie Deans, but ended up leaving it out. Interesting to compare the two, however-from Scott's and MacDonald's respective masterpieces (I would argue they both have numerous other masterpieces but Gibbie and The Heart of Midlothian are probably their most famous novels.)


Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
David wrote: "I'm sure MacDonald, as a Scot and a Celt, would have known about brownies through tradition, without any additional literary references, but nevertheless I can't help but wonder if he was influenced in his account of Gibbie's "brownie episode" by Sir Walter Scott's masterpiece The Heart of Midlothian, whose heroine is also taken for a brownie doing farm-work, whilst she pursues a long journey on foot."

I've never read The Heart of Midlothian, so it will be going on my to-read list. I've only read Ivanhoe and Rob Roy. I'm much more familiar with brownies in folklore since I am constantly reading every collection of folklore I can find. I'm now very curious to see the similarities in the novels. Thanks!


David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 27 comments I need to go back to Ivanhoe, as I never finished it. With Scott, as with GM, I have read more of the Scottish novels (in GM's case, all of them) than the England-based ones, and The Heart of Midlothian, as I said above, is considered his masterpiece. Rob Roy is great too, and I named my son after a character in Waverley-and his middle name is Donal, after Gibbie's best friend!


Lara Lee | 500 comments Mod
David wrote: "I need to go back to Ivanhoe, as I never finished it. With Scott, as with GM, I have read more of the Scottish novels (in GM's case, all of them) than the England-based ones, and The Heart of Midlo..."

Ivanhoe is one of my favorite novels. In the US, Ivanhoe is the novel most people talk about when they mention Sir Walter Scott. The more I read, the more I find I've missed nuggets of gold in my literary experiences. I only discovered GM a little over a year ago after reading a biography of C.S. Lewis. I've been slowly trying to read all of GM's works. I just downloaded a free version of The Heart of Midlothian from Amazon to work on my Sir Walter Scott repertoire.


David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 27 comments Excellent, I hope you enjoy it! Ivanhoe is probably the best known worldwide, at least in terms of popular culture, having been made into a movie or two and a few TV series, but critically THOM is considered his best work, and for me Scottish authors are best (for obvious reasons) when writing about Scotland. That said, I definitely mean to read Ivanhoe soon.


David Jack (smeagolthemagnificent) | 27 comments I can heartily recommend all of GM's Scottish fiction, all the fantasy, and pretty much all of the English novels I've read, even though I don't rate them quite so highly as the Scottish ones. Most people discover him through the C S Lewis route-even I did, as someone born in Scotland and raised in the North East-but some who do so stop at the fantasy works, or if they read the realistic ones, it's only in abridged form. Part of the reason for that is the broad Scots, so I'm hoping that my new series of translations will get more people reading the 12 books set in his homeland, especially with Douglas Gresham's endorsement!


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