an independent academic publisher since 1985

book details

Bookmark and Share
At the Back of the North Wind 

At the Back of the North Wind

Written by: George MacDonald
Edited by: Roderick McGillis & John Pennington, Preface by Stephen Prickett

Series: Broadview Editions
1st Edition

Publication Date: October 14, 2011
406pp • Paperback / PDF / ePub
ISBN: 9781554810307 / 1554810302

Broadview's ebooks run on the industry-standard Adobe Digital Editions platform. Learn more about ebooks here. If you don't already have Adobe, we caution you that it may take some time to set up. Please note that most Broadview books are also available through other platforms—such as Google Play—that do not rely on the same software.

Buy Now

View Table of Contents

The unique blend of fairy tale atmosphere and social realism in this novel laid the groundwork for modern fantasy literature. In the novel, Little Diamond, a kind and precocious boy living in poverty, is befriended by the mysterious North Wind, who takes him on her nightly adventures. Written in intensely poetic language, At the Back of the North Wind transcends the genres of children's book or fairy tale.

Appendices include essays on childhood by contemporaries such as John Ruskin and Charles Dickens, as well as contextualizing selections from Victorian fantasy and fairy tales.


"This is a remarkable edition, situating a fascinating text in a number of provocative contexts. The annotations provide informative social and historical background while also following textual traces to other MacDonald texts, and to the varied sources used by this highly eclectic Victorian author. The edition pays particular attention to Arthur Hughes's marvellous illustrations, which are not only reproduced but fully contextualized by original essays appended to the edition. The full apparatus gives us the text but also its worlds, from the streets of London to the imaginary vistas of myth and fairy tale. As an added treat, the eminent literary critic Stephen Prickett has furnished a rich and densely suggestive Preface." - Doug Thorpe, University of Saskatchewan

"Broadview Editions' new edition of George MacDonald's 1871 fairy tale is an excellent and enlightening look at this significant event in children's literature. With an abundance of supporting material, this volume is veritably a course in the Victorian fairy tale, setting the story in context with nineteenth-century Britain, anticipating the reader's questions, and addressing the controversies. There is much to be learned from this work." - George Bodmer, Indiana University Northwest

"This eagerly awaited edition of a major children's classic of the Victorian era wonderfully fulfills its ambitious aims. Not only do McGillis and Pennington validate the cultural importance once held by At the Back of the North Wind, but also manage to highlight this hybrid fantasy-book's appeal to readers in the Age of Harry Potter. Appendices that place the book into different kinds of contexts; the careful textual annotations; and, above all, the attention paid to visual matters—Arthur Hughes's illustrations, as well as other cartoons, maps, and anatomies—make this a truly indispensable item." - Ulrich Knoepflmacher, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University

Roderick McGillis is Professor of English at the University of Calgary. John Pennington is Professor of English at St. Norbert College, Wisconsin. 

Table of Contents: [Back to Top]


Preface, Stephen Prickett


George MacDonald: A Brief Chronology

A Note on the Text and Illustrations

At the Back of the North Wind

Appendix A: Good Words for the Young and the Serial Publication of At the Back of the North Wind

Mark Knight, Introduction: Good Words for the Young  

Cover of Good Words for the Young (1869)

Norman Macleod, Editor's Address (1869)    

Cover of Good Words for the Young (1870)

George MacDonald, Editor's Greeting (1 December 1870)  

"The Mother's Prayer" (1869)            

Two Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen(1 July 1870)   

     "The Rags"

     "What the Whole Family Said"

"Up in Heaven" (1870)

Arthur Hughes, Illustration for Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood (1871)

Arthur Hughes, Illustration for The Princess and the Goblin (1872)

Appendix B: Children's Literature and the Victorian Consciousness

Review of At the Back of the North Wind, The Athenaeum (March 1871)        

Mark Twain and George MacDonald        

     Letter from Twain to MacDonald (19 September 1882)

     Letter from Twain to W.D. Howells (1899) 

From Poems in Two Volumes, by William Wordsworth (1807)   

     "My heart leaps up" (written in 1802)    

     From "Ode: Intimations of Immorality from Recollections of Early Childhood" (written 1802-04)               

George MacDonald, "The Child in the Midst" (1867)            

Cartoon of MacDonald as "Goody Goody" (2 November 1872)

George Catermole, Illustration from Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)

Hammatt Billings, Illustration from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)

Appendix C: Literary and Cultural Connections

From Aesop, "The North Wind and the Sun"                

From Charles Kingsley, The Water-Babies (1863)                

From Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)        

Henry Mayhew, "Crossing-Sweepers," London Labour and the London Poor (1852)

Appendix D: Victorian Fairy-Tale Debate

Charles Dickens, "Frauds on the Fairies" (1 October 1853)                

From George Cruikshank, Cinderella and the Glass Slipper (1854)    

John Ruskin, "Fairy Stories" (1868)                    

George Cruikshank, Illustration of "Rumple-Stilts-Kin" (1823)

George Cruikshank, Illustration of "The Elves and the Shoemaker" (1823)

George MacDonald, "The Fantastic Imagination" (1893)

Appendix E: Illustrations of At the Back of the North Wind

Jan Susina, Introduction: "The Brotherhood between George MacDonald and Arthur Hughes": Hughes's Illustrations to MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind                 

Robert Trexler, Five Early Illustrators of At the Back of the North Wind

Appendix F: Maps and Other Illustrative Images

Sandford Map of Central London, 1862

Sandford Map of Central London, 1862 (detail)

Maps of Hyperborean Region

Parts of a Horse

Parts of a Hansom Cab

Currency in Victorian England   

Works Cited

Select Bibliography

Academics teaching relevant courses may request examination copies of titles to consider for text adoption. We ask that you limit your examination copy requests to three or fewer at a time; if you are not confident that you will adopt the book, please help us keep costs down by ordering it instead. If in the future you do decide to assign as a course text a book you have previously ordered personally, Broadview Press will be happy to refund your money.

At the Back of the North Wind

2011 • 406pp • Paperback • 9781554810307 / 1554810302

Instructors – Planning your syllabi? Consider this book for course use.

Request Exam Copy


Broadview Press acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, and also acknowledges the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation. Freehand Books, an imprint of Broadview, acknowledges the support of the Canadian Council of the Arts.