Saturday, August 04, 2007

Back of the North Wind

I so enjoy reading George MacDonald stories. They're like onions - multi-layered - and I think I only peel back one of them. If I was more disciplined in my reading I would peel more layers and see the depth of his storytelling. I know it's hidden in there, metaphorically hidden from the casual reader and beckoning for greater introspection and pondering. But I work best at this effort in a group setting. That's why I miss my book club so much. But on a first reading, At the Back of the North Wind is highly enjoyable, a pleasure to read.

MacDonald, in my opinion has a good understanding of the human condition - our tendency to control, fret, distrust, love, understand, all of the mixed emotions we can feel for good and bad. He has characters that are relatable and one or two who stand out above the rest, with an understanding of the whole life-picture, of what is permanent and differentiate from the impermanent.

Back of the North Wind is the story of a little boy, Diamond. He is named after the horse his father cares for as the cabman for the Colemans. One night the North Wind comes to Diamond and asks if he would like to go for a ride on her back. They go on several adventures and eventually she takes him to the Back of the North Wind. Where this is in MacDonald's fantasy-world is anyone's guess. My imagination took me to that place hovering between life and death. I could be wrong but that was my initial thought. The story is told through the perspective of the tutor that Diamond meets later in his life, after his travels with the North Wind

Those who meet him recognize his innocence, his special ability to see the world not only with the glass half full, but overflowing with joy, bliss and contentment. Those who don't understand Diamond say he has a tile loose or that he's God's special boy. Other recognize him as a true gift from above with a message of hope and an understanding that life is precious, people are precious and we should ALWAYS remember that.

Diamond takes care of his younger brother (a baby) and the neighbors baby (whom he rescues from his drunken father, who later sobers up because of Diamonds gentleness) with such tenderness that the parents are in awe of him. He is always looking to what other's need, especially his mother.
She was looking gloomy, and his father was silent; and indeed Diamond had done all he possibly could to keep out the misery that was trying to get in at doors and windows, he too would have grown miserable together. But to try to make others comfortable is the only way to get right comfortable ourselves, and that comes partly of not being able to think so much about ourselves when we are helping other people.
He's aware that his relationship and knowledge of the North Wind has made him different and he recognizes when others have been touched by the North Wind:
"Why, that girl must have been to the back of the north wind!" thought Diamond, but he said nothing, only stared; and as he stared, something of the old Nanny began to dawn through the face of the new Nanny. The old Nanny, though a good girl, and a friendly girl, had been rough, blunt in her speech, and dirty in her person. Her face would always have reminded one who had already been to the back of the north wind of something he had seen in the best of company, but it had been coarse notwithstanding, partly from the weather, partly from her living amongst low people, and partly from having to defend herself; now it was so sweet, and gentle, and refined, that she might have had a lady and gentleman for a father and mother. And Diamond could not help thinking of words which he had heard in the church the day before: 'Surely it is good to be afflicted'; or something like that. North Wind, somehow or other, must have had to do with her! She had grown from a rough girl into a gentle maiden.
I said at the beginning that as I read MacDonald I always sensed he had a good grasp on the human condition. This was especially true as I read:
It is a strange thing how the pain of seeing the suffering of those we love will sometimes make us add to their suffering by being cross with them. This comes of not having faith enough in God, and shows how necessary this faith is, for when we lose it, we lose even the kindness which alone can soothe the suffering.
I see this in my life when I am aggravated with myself for a mistake, a stupidity, a whatever and I take my anger out on those dearest to me - abusing them with my short temper.

Diamond's brief life lifts those around him to a higher plane of gratitude, blessedness, beauty, and joy. Because of his faith in the North Wind, (that she will care for him while she is fiercely blowing chimneys off their roofs or casting ships into perilous waves-performing what she was created to do) he walks through life looking for good, to serve others, bringing others into goodness and disregards (isn't even a thought) his own comfort.

After reading a MacDonald book I find a desire for greater contentment and a need to see others through Christ's eyes - that my cup is not only full, it's overflowing.

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

You are an such an encouragement Barbie. Thank you. Bought The Kite Runner last night to take on our trip. Also bought Inside the Kingdom by Carmen Bin Ladin. Read til 2AM. I've got work to do and now all I want to do is read!!!