I picked up At the Back of the North Wind at Half Price Books for 3 reasons: 1) It’s George MacDonald 2) Andrew Peterson’s house is named after this book (North Wind Manor), and 3) the book is simply gorgeous in the Everyman’s Classics edition. Those are reasons of varying solidity, but here are my reasons for why you also should pick up this book. Read on for more:
In At the Back of the North Wind, George MacDonald tells the story of Diamond, a young boy who doesn’t quite seem to fit in this world. He lives with his mother and his father, who is a coachman. Diamond’s friends call him ‘cracked,’ and ‘God’s child,’ thinking him to be a bit cracked in the head. Even so, Diamond brings joy to everyone he comes into contact with. Something about Diamond is different.
As he’s lying in his bed, he feels a cold draft on his back, and turns over to paper over a hole that’s formed in the tarpaper. But a voice calls to him, and he meets the North Wind, who needs the freedom to roam as she pleases throughout the house.
After this first meeting, the North Wind takes Diamond on strange, beautiful, and sometimes terrible adventures. Though the North Wind is a beautiful woman, sometimes she changes into a terrible figure that can sink ships, stir up storms, and punish wrongdoers. Finally, Diamond cannot resist the call to return to ‘the back of the North Wind,’ and slips out of the world, still a boy, having touched hundreds of lives around him.
MacDonald bathes his entire book in a special sort of allegory. Diamond is truly touched with a heavenly light — he echoes Jesus Christ in a difficult to pin down sort of way. His heart is so pure, his intentions so sincere, that even his enemies can’t help but feeling love for him. Even simultaneously, the North Wind is both the richest blessing and the harshest curse that man has known.
For a children’s book, there’s no shying away from pain and suffering. And that’s what makes North Wind so special: George MacDonald is talking about Story here: he’s not concerned with crude morals that can sum up the full one hundred and fifty pages. He wants us on the same journey that Diamond took — he wants to take us to the back of the North Wind.
George MacDonald was unique because he combined the glitter of fantasy with the beautiful truth of reality. It’s the most unique sort of children’s tale I’ve ever read, and I, at least, am convinced that we need more like this. And maybe the world would be better if not only children, but also adults, took the time to visit the back of the north wind, and live all their lives as if they had been there.
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