Who: George MacDonald, 19th-century Scottish preacher, poet, and novelist. He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others.
Where: Rural 19th-century Scotland.
Overview: Heather and Snow, which Michael Phillips republished as The Peasant Girl’s Dream, is one of George MacDonald’s Scottish novels. The novel opens on Francis and Kirsty running a race on a highland hillside. Both are ambitious, even stubborn. Kirsty and her family are tenant farmers on the land of Francis’ family. But as they grow, tension comes between them. Kirsty and her feeble-minded brother Steenie grow in tenderness and maturity in the light of Christ, while Francis becomes proud. The story turns on Francis’ pride, and Kirsty’s refusal to let him waste his life.
Readers looking for a romance per se will be disappointed as the budding romance in this novel is sidelined by faith and obedience—a common pattern in MacDonald’s realistic novels.
Meat: MacDonald, in the characters of both Steenie and Francis, deals with various forms of mental illness (depression, trauma) and even retardation. As in almost all of his novels, in the end, the love of our neighbor is the only door out of the dungeon of self. MacDonald has a refreshing way of showing the impact of friendship on spiritual life.
Bones: The original edition fully justifies Michael Phillips’ mission of updating the language of MacDonald’s books; speaking as a linguist, armed with a dictionary, the Scottish dialect here is challenging. I wouldn’t recommend MacDonald’s Scottish novels in the original editions unless you just love language. You can pick up the updated edition, The Peasant Girl’s Dream, very cheaply.
Quotes: “The story of God’s universe lies in the growth of the individual soul.” (p. 21)
“She could not sit still and look on the devil’s work.” (p. 93)
“The Lord’s gowk’s better nor the warl’s prophet.” (Or, “The Lord’s fool is better than the world’s prophet.”) (p. 125)
“Let her be prepared for the best as well as for the worst!” (p. 147, loc. 2328)
“One of the hardest demands on the obedience of faith is—to do nothing; it is often so much easier to do foolishly!” (p. 148)
“It seems to me there’s no shame in being frightened, so long as you don’t serve and obey the fright, but trust in him that sees, and do what you have to do.” (updated, p. 186)