At the Back of the North Wind

At the Back of the North Wind

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Overview

George MacDonald's best-known fantasy has enchanted generations of children and adults since it was first published in London over a century ago. Considered to be a landmark in the development of the children's novel, this enthralling fairy tale is just as endearing today.

Modern readers will thrill to the story of little Diamond and the tall, majestic North Wind - the lady whose dark eye blazed and whose glistening black hair streamed around behind her. They and their fantastic tale are vividly portrayed in eight full-color paintings by Jessie Willcox Smith, one of America's most beloved illustrators.

This facsimile of the rare 1919 edition is sure to be treasured by young and old alike.

Moonbeam Awards: Young Adult Fiction- Religion/Spirituality - Bronze
Mom's Choice Awards Recipient - Silver

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781406529876
Publisher: Dodo Press
Publication date: 06/15/2007
Edition description: Illustrated Edition
Pages: 92
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.22(d)
Age Range: 1 - 17 Years

About the Author

Roderick McGillis is Professor of English at the University of Calgary.

John Pennington is Professor of English at St. Norbert College, Wisconsin.

Read an Excerpt

At the Back of the
North Wind

Chapter I

The Hay-Loft

I have been asked to tell you about the back of the North Wind. An old Greek writer mentions a people who lived there, and were so comfortable that they could not bear it any longer, and drowned themselves. My story is not the same as his. I do not think Herodotus had got the right account of the place. I am going to tell you how it fared with a boy who went there.

He lived in a low room over a coach-house; and that was not by any means at the back of the North Wind, as his mother very well knew. For one side of the room was built only of boards, and the boards were so old that you might run a penknife through into the north wind. And then let them settle between them which was the sharper! I know that when you pulled it out again the wind would be after it like a cat after a mouse, and you would know soon enough you were not at the back of the North Wind. Still, this room was not very cold, except when the North Wind blew stronger than usual: the room I have to do with now was always cold, except in summer, when the sun took the matter into his own hands. Indeed, I am not sure whether I ought to call it a room at all; for it was just a loft where they kept hay and straw and oats for the horses. And when little Diamondbut stop: I must tell you that his father, who was a coachman, had named him after a favorite horse, and his mother had had no objection:—when little Diamond then lay there in bed, he could hear the horses under him munching away in the dark, or moving sleepily in their dreams. For Diamond's father had builthim a bed in the loft with boards all round it, because they had so little room in their own end over the coach-house; and Diamond's father put old Diamond in the stall under the bed, because he was a quiet horse, and did not go to sleep standing, but lay down like a reasonable creature. But, although he was a surprisingly reasonable creature, yet, when young Diamond woke in the middle of the night, and felt the bed shaking in the blasts of the north wind, he could not help wondering whether, if the wind should blow the house down, and he were to fall through into the manger, old Diamond mightn't eat him up before he knew him in his nightgown. And although old Diamond was very quiet all night long, yet when he woke he got up like an earthquake, and then young Diamond knew what o'clock it was, or at least what was to be done next, which was-to go to sleep again as fast as he could.

There was hay at his feet and hay at his head, piled up in great trusses to the very roof. Indeed it was sometimes only through a little lane with several turnings,, which looked as if it had been sawn out for him, that he could reach his bed at all. For the stock of hay was, of course, always in a state either of slow ebb or of sudden flow. Sometimes the whole space of the loft, with the little panes in the roof for the stars to look in, would lie open before his open eyes as he lay in bed; sometimes a yellow wall of sweet-smelling fibres closed up his view at the distance of half a yard. Sometimes, when his mother had undressed him in her room, and told him to trot away to bed by himself, he would creep into the heart of the hay, and lie there thinking how cold it was outside in the wind, and how warm it was inside there in his bed, and how he could go to it when he pleased, only he wouldn't just yet; he would get a little colder first. And ever as he grew colder, his bed would grow warmer, till at last he would scramble out of the hay, shoot like an arrow into his bed, cover himself up, and snuggle down, thinking what a happy boy he was. He had not the least idea that the wind got in at a chink in the wall, and blew about him all night. For the back of his bed was only of boards an inch thick, and on the other side of them was the north wind.

Now, as I have already said, these boards were soft and crumbly. To be sure, they were tarred on the outside, yet in many places they were more like tinder than timber. Hence it happened that the soft part having worn away from about it, little Diamond found one night, after he lay down, that a knot had come out of one of them, and that the wind was blowing in upon him in a cold and rather imperious fashion. Now he had no fancy for leaving things wrong that might be set right; so he jumped out of bed again, got a little strike of hay, twisted it up, folded it in the middle, and, having thus made it into a cork, stuck it into the hole in the wall. But the wind began to blow loud and angrily, and, as Diamond was falling asleep, out blew his cork and hit him on the nose, just hard enough to wake him up quite, and let him hear the wind whistling shrill in the hole. He searched for his hay-cork, found it, stuck it in harder, and was just dropping off once more, when, pop! with an angry whistle behind it, the cork struck him again, this time on the cheek.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Preface, Stephen Prickett
Introduction
George MacDonald: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text and Illustrations

At the Back of the North Wind

Appendix A: Good Words for the Young and the Serial Publication of At the Back of the North Wind

  1. Mark Knight, Introduction: Good Words for the Young
  2. Cover of Good Words for the Young (1869)
  3. Norman Macleod, Editor’s Address (1869)
  4. Cover of Good Words for the Young (1870)
  5. George MacDonald, Editor’s Greeting (1 December 1870)
  6. “The Mother’s Prayer” (1869)
  7. Two Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1 July 1870)
    1. “The Rags”
    2. “What the Whole Family Said”
  8. “Up in Heaven” (1870)
  9. Arthur Hughes, Illustration for Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood (1871)
  10. Arthur Hughes, Illustration for The Princess and the Goblin (1872)

Appendix B: Children’s Literature and the Victorian Consciousness

  1. Review of At the Back of the North Wind, The Athenaeum (March 1871)
  2. Mark Twain and George MacDonald
    1. Letter from Twain to MacDonald (19 September 1882)
    2. Letter from Twain to W.D. Howells (1899)
  3. From Poems in Two Volumes, by William Wordsworth (1807)
    1. “My heart leaps up” (written in 1802)
    2. From “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (written in 1802-04)
  4. George MacDonald, “The Child in the Midst” (1867)
  5. Cartoon of MacDonald as “Goody Goody” (2 November 1872)
  6. George Cattermole, Illustration from Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)
  7. Hammatt Billings, Illustration from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)

Appendix C: Literary and Cultural Connections

  1. From Aesop, “The North Wind and the Sun”
  2. From Charles Kingsley, The Water-Babies (1863)
  3. From Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  4. Henry Mayhew, “Crossing-Sweepers,” from London Labour and the London Poor (1852)

Appendix D: Victorian Fairy-Tale Debate

  1. Charles Dickens, “Frauds on the Fairies” (1 October 1853)
  2. From George Cruikshank, Cinderella and the Glass Slipper (1854)
  3. John Ruskin, “Fairy Stories” (1868)
  4. George Cruikshank, Illustration of “Rumple-Stilts-Kin” (1823)
  5. George Cruikshank, Illustration of “The Elves and the Shoemaker” (1823)
  6. George MacDonald, “The Fantastic Imagination” (1893)

Appendix E: Illustrations of At the Back of the North Wind

  1. Jan Susina, Introduction: “The Brotherhood between George MacDonald and Arthur Hughes”: Hughes’s Illustrations to MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind
  2. Robert Trexler, Five Early Illustrators of At the Back of the North Wind

Appendix F: Maps and Other Illustrative Images

  1. Sandford Map of Central London, 1862
  2. Sandford Map of Central London, 1862 (detail)
  3. Maps of Hyperborean Region
  4. Parts of a Horse
  5. Parts of a Hansom Cab
  6. Currency in Victorian England

Works Cited
Select Bibliography

Customer Reviews

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At the Back of the North Wind 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Amily_Garnett More than 1 year ago
I listened to a radio drama of this book before I read it and I didn't think I'd like the actual book. But I fell in love with it. MacDonald is so discriptive and the characters are amazing. I found myself longing for North Wind to visit me...
nesum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"At the Back of the North Wind" is something wholly different than most of what I've read. It is a book of peace rather than conflict, which goes against the nature of plot as we know it. The only thing I can really compare it to is the slow windings of "Goodbye to a River" by John Graves, though the peace in that book is tinged with regret, while there is none of that here. I have rarely come across a character for whom I care so much as I do little Diamond. His simple, innocent, and true manner touches me deeply. This is one of those books that changes you, and for the better. I will treasure it always.
RRHowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Far from my favorite book of MacDonald's but it grows on you with time. At least, it did for me.
jjmcgaffey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Moralizing fluff. It's unfortunate - the first part of the book, in Diamond's voice, is quite interesting. Totally weird (who said surrealism?) but good - Diamond accepts what he sees and deals with it on its own terms. But after he goes to the back of the North Wind, the author's voice starts intruding more and more - every time Diamond accepts and deals, the author reminds us "after all, this was a child who had been to the Back of the North Wind" (yes, I know that, thank you. I read the book. Shut up). He also (because we move out of his head and into a wider world) gets much more portrayed as a "God's Baby" - innocent and not quite right in the head. And by the last chapters, in which the author portrays himself and how he met Diamond, I was - OK, spoiler coming.I was expecting him to die - the holy innocents never survive in these moral tales. And got what I expected. It actually reads rather like Peter Pan (the original, not the Disney or similar versions), or even Black Beauty (the horse Diamond is also an important character). But both of those have much better stories and writing to back up their moralizing. A Victorian children's moral tale, that doesn't manage to surpass its basis and turn into a good story. I suppose I'm glad I read it, but it's not worth rereading.
jessilouwho22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had an unusually difficult time rating this one. This is really a 3.5 for me, but I'm feeling positive today, so it gets a four. I think the trouble came from the fact that while I enjoyed this book and recognize it as a classic, I don't love it enough to rave about it. There wasn't much that I disliked about it. Sometimes the North Wind, and even Diamond at times, got on my nerves, but that was the only thing I disliked. Other than that, I really enjoyed this book for the images that MacDonald created. George MacDonald is credited as one of the forefathers of the fantasy genre (specifically for children), and his originality shined through this story. The only way I can describe it is that at various points, it felt like a really awesome and vivid dream that I just didn't want to wake up from. One of my favorite scenes was the dream Diamond had about the little angels digging for stars. I just had this really clear and impressive picture in my head as he was describing his dream. So cool! Another aspect that I particularly liked about this book was that, going into this, I knew that C.S. Lewis counted MacDonald as one of his biggest inspirations for the Narnia series, and as I was reading this, I would catch myself thinking, "Hmm...this feels awfully familiar." This was primarily evident through the usage of Christian allegory. He did it just right--it wasn't too preachy, but it was still obvious enough for the reader to catch it and understand it. It was definitely an interesting experience to read a story by an author that one of my favorite authors looked up to. The language is a bit dated, but this would definitely be a good book to read to kids for a bedtime story. I'm telling you, it will lead to some pretty sweet dreams!
Bourne444 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read a great deal as a child, and this was almost my favorite book. I remember reading it on a winter night, sitting in my outside sand box and feeling the cold, along with Diamond. (Of course we lived in Los Angeles, so it wasn't really all that cold.) But this book was part of the reason I grew up loving to read.
davegregg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At the start, for the first half of it, I struggled to push my way through "At the Back of the North Wind." I thought it tedious and drawn out. But by the time I had waded into the middle, I found I was swimming.I just finished this book, and I have to tell you, I have no way of using my tongue to convey how I feel and what this book has done in me. I sit without words, but without the ability to contain the rush of thought and emotion that crowd me on all sides. I look about and the only thing that can settle me and quiet me is a morning sunbeam passing through the curtains to the floor. Ach, that sounds so rhapsodic and romaunt. I'm caught up, and enjoying every minute of it, like a man in love. But though my worldly assessment of masculinity wants me to say no more and erase all this, how could I hide from you that bit of "mysticism" which I am presently enjoying?Well, let me try to do some justice to this thing we call a "review" and actually talk about the book. I have one thing to tell you primarily: complete the story. I read the last chapter twice. Mull it over. Let thoughts on the whole story come and give yourself time to think about them, to philosophize and wonder. And then digest your thoughts. This is one of the greatest stories of any kind I have ever known (of course, this is only my estimation), and it is thus no surprise to me that C.S. Lewis wrote what he did of MacDonald's story-making:"What he does best is fantasy¿fantasy that hovers between the allegorical and the mythopoeic. And this, in my opinion, he does better than any man.... Most myths were made in prehistoric times, and, I suppose, not consciously made by individuals at all. But every now and then there occurs in the modern world a genius¿a Kafka or a Novalis¿who can make such a story. MacDonald is the greatest genius of this kind whom I know."¿This from a professor of literature, at Cambridge.I felt like I had experienced a holy moment when I finished the very last sentence of the last chapter¿though I wonder if later, my words here will seem surfeit, but I know they can't, because, as Diamond and the North Wind explain in the latter portion of the book: whether the dream is true or not, the thing it has done and the thing it stands for is true; and if the thing is true, mightn't we also say that the dream is "true"?"At the Back of the North Wind" did nothing less to me than to make me aware of the wondrous ordinary¿that the ordinary is never actually ordinary, but full of wonders, for those willing to perceive them. It also made me ever more conscious of a different way of being, as I fell in love with the character of Diamond: one that is so contented in trust, and fulfilled in love, that it cannot but live for the good of others (finding not that its own pleasure and good is overlooked, but that the good of others becomes its own pleasure and good) and that it cannot even feign to fear anything (finding that it is always watched and always loved by capable hands and full heart).I will leave you to decide for yourself whether you will read the book. You will or you won't¿there are other ways to come to these things yourself and other places to find great stories (though not many will be so transcendent). But I don't feel any embarrassment in admitting the influence this book and George MacDonald's other works, each in their own kind, have made on me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is truly with the read.
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manirul01 More than 1 year ago
Amazing.....!Excellent......!Just enjoy it.....!
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This was te worst book ever!!!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a sweet book but at points it was dificult to read. Not from old english but bad spelling.
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Rebecca How More than 1 year ago
I could not get to the seconed chapter because of the spelling otherwise it seems like a good book
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I remember getting this book as a gift when I was a child and I loved it. I could not put it down, even at 10. Many years later, I discovered the book was still at home on the bookshelf and I had so many fond memories of it that I had to read it again. Still just as magnificent. The descriptions just take you right there and you live it. Amazing... even after all these years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago