21 August 2010


Locus Focus: Take Fifteen!

This is your last chance to win two extra entries for the "I Love My Friends" Giveaway!!! Write about a setting and link up a post. It'll be fun. Trust me. ;-)

I was going to burrow underground again this week, but then I thought I write about the "Nature Setting" I had in mind before I changed this month's theme. It fits my requirement of "no walls, no ceilings, no air of civilisation" (which is kind of vague because it is people, not city architecture, which makes a civilisation); but it's also more of a faerie world--closer to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth than to the wildernesses in James Fenimore Cooper or Gary Paulsen. I hope that's all right . . .

The Country at the Back of the North Wind
At the Back of the North Wind
by George MacDonald

Kilmeny had been she knew not where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;
Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew,
Where the rain never fell and the wind never blew;
But it seemed as the harp of the sky had rung,
And the airs of heaven played round her tongue,
When she spoke of the lovely forms she had seen,
And a land where sin had never been;
A land of love and a land of light,
Withouten sun, or moon, or night;
Where the river swayed a living stream,
And the light a pure and cloudless beam:
The land of vision, it would seem,
And still an everlasting dream.

It is always hard to write about a place when one can't give hard descriptions of it, but must stick to vague impressions. G.K. Chesterton did a good job with Sunday's Home (see Locus Focus: Take Three!), but I don't think George MacDonald does half so well with the mysterious land at the back of the north wind. At that early point of his serial novel, he is clearly unsure of what he wants his setting to mean. And yes, it must mean something, for At the Back of the North Wind is a novel with the heart of an allegory.

What is interesting is that MacDonald comes clean about this very difficulty. I'm not sure if that's a cop out or not . . .

I have now come to the most difficult part of my story. And why? Because I do not know enough about it. And why should I not know as much about this part as any other part? for of course I could know nothing about the story except Diamond had told it; and why should not Diamond tell about the country at the back of the north wind, as well as about his adventures in getting there? Because, when he came back, he had forgotten a great deal, and what he did remember was very hard to tell. Things there are so different from things here! The people there do not speak the same language, for one thing. Indeed, Diamond insisted that there they do not speak at all. I do not think it was right, but it may well have appeared so to Diamond. The fact is, we have different reports of the place from the most trustworthy people. Therefore we are bound to believe that it appears somewhat different to different people. All, however, agree in a general way about it . . .

So what do we know for certain? This country at the back of the north wind seems to have only one climate: that of a mild spring day. The ground always smells lovely and the wind always blows gently. It is a land full of a "rayless" light: there are no sun, moon or stars. Everyone agrees that there is a river running through it, right over the meadow grass rather than on a bed of rock, pebbles or sand, and singing as it runs. Most people who visit this country and then return describe it as if it were a dream. Or maybe they just sound that way.

When Diamond gets back, he is so changed by the experience that people start wondering whether he is right in the head. He has become so perfect, you see. Even other children call him "God's baby" and try to avoid playing with him. I know exactly how they feel; I would have gone out of my way to avoid someone so freakishly good myself. Then again, maybe I'm just envious: I haven't been to the back of the north wind.

But really, it sounds quite boring to me--and so I have to agree with Diamond's assessment that the people there aren't really happy. They're pleased to be there, of course, but they're also a little sad "as if they were waiting to be gladder someday."

At the very end, when we find out North Wind's deepest, truest nature, we finally figure out what this mysterious country at her back (yes, literally at her back) actually is. And I start to like it better because it has more edge. Even the motherly North Wind herself is more savage in her love for Diamond--or should I say, more elemental. The story finally crosses over the line between fairy and faerie. Which is great . . . except that we don't get to join Diamond at the back of the North Wind once more. Yet somehow even that is all right, because MacDonald hints that someday, if we are as good as he has been, the North Wind will come for each of us, too.

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

Quick Link to This Week's Other Locus Focus:

Lewis Carroll's Wonderland @ Birdie's Nest

Image Source: At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald


Birdie said...

I've never read the MacDonald book. I'll have to see if we have it in the library here. Just to give it a poke and see whether I agree with you XD

Enbrethiliel said...


I know that there are some readers who really, really love it. Who knows? You might be one of them and be grateful to me forever for inspiring you to read it. ;-)

You might also be interested in a recent post in which I read At the Back of the North Wind and J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan together: Second Star to the Right and Straight On . . .

And thanks so much for coming to my rescue this week. I thought I was going to be completely lonely!