“10+ books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take but a few minutes, and don’t think too hard—they don’t have to be the “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you”Tagged by miss-apple-pie
At The Back Of The North Wind was an extremely important book for me. On the surface, it’s a fantasy story about a boy who gets approached by the North Wind, who takes him on adventures around the world (some exhilarating, some terrifying, some both), and then starts asking some things of him that are extremely difficult.
Under the surface, it’s George MacDonald trying to come to terms with the loss of his son, who the main character is modeled off of.
Some people might not like it because it has some Victorian novel clichés about sick kids. I liked it a lot. I felt like it spoke to some deeper experiences I was having as a result of severe, life-threatening illness. Like even though it never said it outright, it talked about what it’s like to have death sitting in the room with you, waiting patiently for you to be ready. And a number of other experiences that can only be sensed, not explained in language. Which is what made George MacDonald such a genius of a writer — he could get at those places that can only be sensed, and do it with words.
The story is beautiful, and chilling (as the North wind should be), and heartbreaking, and I related so much to it when I read it in the hospital on my Kindle. It’s also free online just about everywhere, because it’s quite old and copyright doesn’t apply.
George MacDonald’s books are like… Madeleine L’Engle, or Michael Ende, or Diane Duane. They always have deeper layers to them. layers of meaning you’re not going to see if you just look on the surface. But you can feel them down there. And they’re important layers. They’re real things about the world that the book is trying to show you without being too obvious about it. And these authors do it beautifully.
There is something about this book that just thoroughly and totally resonates with my experiences of delirium and life-threatening illness, even though those are not topics explicitly covered in the book. They’re entirely done by metaphor and layers and stuff like that.
But I’d strongly recommend you give it a try, if you’re at all interested in these experiences. Because… I don’t know how to explain, but it’s like it immerses you in feelings that are familiar from illness, without actually talking about the child ever being ill all that much, from what I remember. It amazes me when an author has that kind of talent. And maybe I’m talking this book up too much and you’ll be disappointed, but I find it hard to be disappointed by nearly anything George MacDonald has ever written.
I really need to reread this now that I’m out the other side. There are so many books that got me through the “I might be dying” period — At the Back of the North Wind is one of them, The Fault in Our Stars was another, which I just reread as a book on tape, and saw the movie when it came out (the movie was disappointingly bland, but I’m still glad I went).
I find that the Victorians understood things about sickness that we’ve forgotten these days now that we lock it up in hospitals and nursing homes. They understood things about delirium, things about death, things about illness, because for better or worse they saw these things happening in front of them, there were no antibiotics, even a routine infection could result in both delirium and death.
And it comes out in their novels, and I look for it, because I look for people who understand, even if they’ve been dead for over a hundred years, what does time have to do with it? What matters is they understand things I’ve gone through that I can’t find any decent support for in modern times. And this book was one of those books where I found understanding, even if the understanding was always under the surface somewhere where I couldn’t quite get at it.
This is a beautiful tribute to a beautiful book.