In 1875, George MacDonald, Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister, published the novel Malcolm, the rags-to-riches story of a common fisherman who finds his identity as a (Christian) gentleman. The sequel to Malcolm, The Marquis of Lossie, soon followed in 1877. This was the era of Charles Dickens and the other great Victorian novelists, and MacDonald was following in their tradition, with a bit of a difference. First of all, MacDonald, a friend and mentor to Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), was a pioneering author of fantasy (The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, The Light Princess) as well as the realistic, romantic novels the Victorians had grown to love and read avidly. And MacDonald was emphatically a Scot. His novels almost all take place in Scotland or in a fantasy world that looks and sounds a lot like Scotland—–with all the heather and mountains and seas and kilts and bagpipes and thick Scottish brogue that such a setting implies.
In the 1980’s, Christian author Michael Phillips wanted to make MacDonald’s realistic fiction more accessible for a new generation. He edited the two volumes of Malcolm’s story and re-published them with the Gaelic language toned down and reinterpreted and with some of MacDonald’s long didactic passages either excised or edited to be shorter and more to the point. Phillips also gave the novels new titles, The Fisherman’s Lady and The Marquis’ Secret. You can purchase these updated versions (or borrow them from Meriadoc Homeschool Library). Or you can read Malcolm and The Marquis of Lossie in the original language online at Project Gutenberg or other online book sites.
In The Marquis’ Secret, Malcolm, who has been secretly told of his true identity, must decide how to handle the information and the responsibility he has inherited. There’s a running analogy in the book between the taming of a wild horse and the growth of a man (or woman) and the “taming” of that man’s (or woman’s) sin nature. As Malcolm must discipline and guide the horse, so the Lord must tame and discipline His children to bring them into the fullness of what He has created them to be.
The two novels that make up the story of Malcolm are all that modern literature is required not to be: melodramatic, yes; didactic, absolutely; one dimensional characters, yes, that too. Malcolm is a hero, through and through, although he says he has had to allow God to tame his temper and his passion for justice. The bad guys are obviously evil, but in MacDonald’s near-universalist worldview there is much hope for redemption for each of them. Nevertheless, sometimes a dose of hopeful preaching through Victorian drama with characters who are recognizably either good or bad (until the bad repent and become good) is just what the reading soul needs. If you want an absorbing drama that will leave you encouraged rather than discouraged about mankind and the depth of God’s mercy, George MacDonald’s Malcolm is just the ticket.
And if you’re in the Friendswood/Clear Lake/South Houston area this weekend, the play, Malcolm, is being performed by Selah Arts at Trinity Fellowship in Friendswood, May 26, 27, and 28th at 7:00 pm each evening.