Voices from pages.

The last few months have been consumed with reading Patrick O’Brian. More recently, George MacDonald.

The first time, it took me 2 years to get from Master and Commander to The Reverse of the Medal (as recorded at Ath). This time, it took me 2 months to traverse the same route, and beyond. (Picking up Clarissa Oakes today, and I can see myself finishing the series in good time.) I’ve been averaging two days per book, so thoroughly have I been caught up in the music of O’Brian’s storytelling. There’s no other way to describe the language than “lyrical”. The series is a symphony, each book a variation on the theme of Jack and Stephen’s lifelong friendship. Secondary characters add their own themes, and become just as beloved as the two heroes. The series has everything that one could love in a fine saga: delightful, poignant, humourous (sometimes absurdly so), exciting and suspenseful and sometimes grim, predominantly lighthearted… Above all, musical, like the song of water running past the sailing Surprise.

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Some years ago I fell in love with George MacDonald’s fantastical novels, Phantastes and Lilith, and have lately been reading his less-known works via Project Gutenberg. They are tales of Scotch and English country life in general, and people coming to faith in Jesus in particular. MacDonald’s portrayal of journeys to faith resonates strongly with me, because I myself have experienced some of those crises and doubts, and resultant growth towards God, and I fancy I see a bit of my own reflection in many of the characters’ struggles and victories. Didactism aside, MacDonald writes lovely stories. They are intimate and thoughtful, and draw from deep wells of sorrow and joy. I’ve read only a few novels so far — Thomas Wingfold, Curate and There and Back standing out most strongly — but they’ve already made a huge impression on me.

The stories may be intimate and personal, the characters portrayed in exquisite and loving detail, but the landscape in which they are set is vast as eternity. I cannot help but feel like a strong wind is blowing through the pages of MacDonald’s novels — felt it as early as Phantastes. This is the cold, implacable, primal wind that causes clouds to scud overhead; yet this same wind puts a hunger in me for something as wide and great as the trackless sky, a longing to reach and touch the cold and eternal stars far above who are so much closer to God. I daresay, this is the wind of the Holy Spirit breathing through MacDonald’s novels.

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