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Mikeharvey

At The Back Of The North Wind by George MacDonald

Finally got round to reading George MacDonald's classic children's book 'At The Back Of The North Wind' (1871) two different editions of which I've had for years and never got round to opening.  
The chief character, Diamond, is a little boy, the son of a coach-driver. He lives over the stable where his father's horse, also called Diamond, lives. The boy is visited by the North Wind in the form of a strange, but beautiful, woman with long black hair.  The North Wind, whose size fluctuates alarmingly, takes Diamond on magical trips all over the place, and they have long conversations. This is the first quarter of the book, and then MacDonald relates the family's troubles and how Diamond learns to be a coach-driver to help his ailing father.  We also meet a poor girl who is a crossing-sweeper and a benevolent gentleman who becomes the family's saviour. Towaards the end of the book Diamond is once more taken on journeys by North Wind - and then there is a typical Victorian ending.  
I quite enjoyed ATBOTNW but found its continual change of narrative focus rather disconcerting. And knowing George MacDonald's Christian credentials I was always vaguely aware of underlying messages. I suspect that North Wind is the personification of some kind of religious inspiration, because after his meetings with her which affect him profoundly, Diamond becomes an asbsolutely Good character, full of wise saws, and whom everybody loves.  
I think the book lacks sufficient conflict, the family's poverty and ailments being not really dramatic enough. The book lacks dramtic scenes and could do with a convincing villain. The book has some rather weak poems - including that famous piece of Victorian sentimentality beginning 'Where did you come from, baby dear' (see the Poetry thread). There's also an interpolated fairytale called 'Little Daylight'.
In spite of what might be regarded as the books drawbacks I kept reading because of its intrinsically fascinating Victorian-ness. And because MacDonald is a good writer who holds the interest.  There are some marvellous decriptive passages.
Gino

It is noticeable how often poor girls work as crossing sweepers in sad Victorian tales, could it be that they are a respectable substitute for the greater number that were forced by poverty into prostitution but not considered worthy of of pity due to their 'immoral' occupation.

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