Classics Challenge #5- A children’s classic
At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald
Some time ago Focus on the Family aired one of their audio dramas: At the Back of the North Wind. It was beautifully done, as so many of these radio dramas are, and it made me eager to read the book.
“And she flashed like a dragonfly across the water, whose surface rippled and puckered as she passed. The next moment the man in the boat glanced about him, and bent to his oars. The boat flew over the rippling water. Man and boat and river were awake. The same instant almost, North Wind perched again upon the river wall. “How did you do that?” asked Diamond. “I blew in his face,” answered North Wind. “I don’t see how that could do it,” said Diamond. “I dare say not. And therefore you will say you don’t believe it could.” “No, no, dear North Wind. I know you too well not to believe you.”
Seeing as At the Back of the North Wind was written as a children’s book, I read it with my youngest brother. “Does it make sense to you?” I asked him. “It’s not nonsense, but it’s nonsense in a way that makes sense… does that make sense?” was his reply. Now and then he would chuckle at a few scenes, but later in the story he admitted he found it somewhat boring.
“But hadn’t you better get into my hair? Then you would not feel the wind; you will there.” “Ah, but, dear North Wind, you don’t know how nice it is to feel your arms about me. It is a thousand times better to have them and the wind together, than to have only your hair and the back of your neck and no wind at all.” “But surely more comfortable there?” “Well. Perhaps; but I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable.”
At the Back of the North Wind explores issues such as death, Heaven, struggle, influence, and God’s will. While these deep and difficult to grasp themes were dealt with lightly, I still didn’t feel as if I was reading a children’s book. I’m not too sure how to classify it. Within this book I found fantasy, philosophy, poetry, London life, dream scenes, a short inserted fairy-tale, and speculation on heaven.
Diamond’s father and mother were, notwithstanding, rather miserable, and Diamond began to feel a kind of darkness beginning to spread over his own mind. But the same moment he said to himself: ‘This will never do. I can’t give in to this. I’ve been to the back of the north wind. Things go right there, and so I must try to get things to go right here. I’ve got to fight the miserable things. They shan’t make me miserable if I can help it.’ I do not mean that he thought these very words. They are perhaps too grown-up for him to have thought, but they represent the kind of thing that was in his heart and his head. And when heart and head go together, nothing can stand before them.
Though not chaotic, the many themes and realms of At the Back of the North Wind seemed somewhat disconnected. While I think part of this may be excused as the whimsical writing style, it must be said that I was missing the North Wind. For much of the book the mysterious entity is oddly absent. While there are echoes of her presence here and there, those echoes, in my opinion, could have been stronger, and might have tied the story together a little better.