I read “The Golden Key” in October while on holiday in the Smoky Mountains. I thought that I would write a short blog article on it when I returned home but found it difficult to put my thoughts and feelings into words. I reread it this afternoon. I suspect that no matter how many times I reread the story, I will always find it equally difficult to review.
It is a lovely, magical, yes even profound, story—a story of journeying and searching and finding, of enlightenment and transformation, of life and death and more life.
What will the key unlock?
I enthusiastically commend to you this fairy tale. I read MacDonald’s Curdie stories almost thirty years ago. I think I may now need to immerse myself in all of his fairy tales. Perhaps I am young enough now to appreciate them.
Thanks for the suggestions. It’s been so long since I read “The Golden Key,” that I forgot the story. And it’s been longer since I’ve read the Curdie stories. I hope I have grown young enough to appreciate them more.
Another book in my collection that I need to dust off and reread. “Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now” (“My Back Pages” by Bob Dylan, sung by the Byrds)
Virtually all of his books have been converted to free audiobooks by librivox narrators. Some recordings are better than others, but the quality is decent overall. I’ve been listening to the Unspoken Sermons, which never cease to amaze me.
Here is the link for “The Golden Key.”
The story of his that most fascinated me was Phantastes. It was a bit like Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress but even more fantastical. When reading Phantastes I always had the feeling that understanding of a particular passage was JUST outside my grasp.
I still vividly remember the main character opening a door through which a shadow ran through and attached itself to him. He was never to be rid of it again, a haunting picture of the way our fallenness clings to us.
Phantastes is on my reading list for 2015.
Phantastes is my favorite among his novels although I think Lilith is more explicit about his universalism and the hell that some souls will go through before they repent. My initial description after reading Phantastes was “this book was trippy.” It is hard to pin down what it is about the book, which has wordy 19th century prose I usually don’t like at all. He makes fairy land real is all I can come up with.
Among the Unspoken Sermons I favor “Justice,” “The Consuming Fire,” and “The Uttermost Farthing.” I think the last provides an imaginative description of how souls in hell could be redeemed by their free choice. I think it also dispels the notion that universalism is generally easy going or liberal or soft-hearted. The impression one gets is that for some or many they would absolutely choose annihilation if given the choice before redemption, but with a continued existence and the experience of complete loneliness and the outer darkness they finally see the folly of their trying to create a kingdom of selfdom to live in.
As the “River of Fire” vision of heaven and hell sort of faded for me as a vision with patristic grounding or one that is encompassing of the whole of scripture, I found a lot of those blanks filled in by MacDonald in a manner that I think meets those criteria. Many of the things he writes hit far closer to Orthodoxy than C.S. Lewis often did, and the man knew his scripture well enough that he wasn’t going to leave obvious objections open.
Probably the two best things I have learned from MacDonald, apart from the fact that a man can believe in universalism and achieve a serious holiness that simply can’t be denied by a discerning reader, is that if the Bible does in fact say something horrible about God (which he assets it doesn’t) then it would be better to throw it out than to accept that horrible teaching and think of God as less than a perfect and loving father as well as his very plain instruction that it is far more important to obey God than to have the right ideas about God.
Anyway, I don’t think MacDonald really gets his due, although he does enjoy brief rebirths in academia here and there. I have seen videos on youtube of evangelicals simply rejecting him outright (but they love Lewis and learned about MacDonald through his writings) because of his universalism, which I think is a monumental mistake on their part.