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With 13 children of his own clamouring for bedtime stories it isn't surprising that author George MacDonald discovered he had a gift for composing fairy tales. But these were fairy tales with a difference. At the Back of the North Wind, the first to be published, became a Victorian favourite and marked something of a milestone in children's fiction. While owing a debt to Hans Andersen, Dickens and Kingsley, MacDonald created a distinctive imaginary world existing in parallel with the grim social realities of mid-19th-century England. A fairy tale is not al allegory, he once remarked. It is, of course, but the trick was to disguise it, to entertain the reader as well as instruct, leaving them to draw a moral if they pleased, or else simply to enjoy the fantasy. Children for over a hundred years have been enchanted and moved by the story of Nanny the crossing sweeper, her lame friend Jim, and above all Diamond, the poor coachman's son, whose life is transformed by a brief glimpse of a beautiful country at the back of the north wind . The first edition (1871) was illustrated by the pre-Raphaelite artist Thomas Hughes, whose romantic and highly individualistic drawings are reproduced in the Everyman edition.
Princess Irene lives in a castle in a wild and lonely mountainous region. One day she discovers a steep and winding stairway leading to a bewildering labyrinth of unused passages with closed doors - and a further stairway. What lies at the top? Can the ring the princess is given protect her against the lurking menace of the boglins from under the mountain?
First published in 1870-1 as a serial in GOOD WORKS FOR THE YOUNG, a magazine of Christian outlook, George MacDonald's fantasy is reguarded by his admirers as his finest novel. The story of the virtuous Princess Irene and the wicked goblins with heads as hard as stone has a strong moral overtone but is enjoyed by readers of all ages. The author said: 'I do not write for children, but for the child-like, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five'. Arthur Hughes, a follower of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, was a close friend of the author and provided the perfect illustrative accompaniment to his work.
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