At the Back of the North Wind
  • Publication Date: October 14, 2011
  • ISBN: 9781554810307 / 1554810302
  • 406 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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At the Back of the North Wind

  • Publication Date: October 14, 2011
  • ISBN: 9781554810307 / 1554810302
  • 406 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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

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

  1. Mark Knight, Introduction: Good Words for the Young
  2. Cover of Good Words for the Young (1869)
  3. Norman Macleod, Editor’s Address (1869)
  4. Cover of Good Words for the Young (1870)
  5. George MacDonald, Editor’s Greeting (1 December 1870)
  6. “The Mother’s Prayer” (1869)
  7. Two Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1 July
    1. “The Rags”
    2. “What the Whole Family Said”
  8. “Up in Heaven” (1870)
  9. Arthur Hughes, Illustration for Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood (1871)
  10. Arthur Hughes, Illustration for The Princess and the Goblin (1872)

Appendix B: Children’s Literature and the Victorian Consciousness

  1. Review of At the Back of the North Wind, The Athenaeum (March 1871)
  2. Mark Twain and George MacDonald
    1. Letter from Twain to MacDonald (19 September 1882)
    2. Letter from Twain to W.D. Howells (1899)
  3. From Poems in Two Volumes, by William Wordsworth (1807)
    1. “My heart leaps up” (written in 1802)
    2. From “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (written in 1802-04)
  4. George MacDonald, “The Child in the Midst” (1867)
  5. Cartoon of MacDonald as “Goody Goody” (2 November 1872)
  6. George Cattermole, Illustration from Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)
  7. Hammatt Billings, Illustration from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)

Appendix C: Literary and Cultural Connections

  1. From Aesop, “The North Wind and the Sun”
  2. From Charles Kingsley, The Water-Babies (1863)
  3. From Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  4. Henry Mayhew, “Crossing-Sweepers,” from London Labour and the London Poor (1852)

Appendix D: Victorian Fairy-Tale Debate

  1. Charles Dickens, “Frauds on the Fairies” (1 October 1853)
  2. From George Cruikshank, Cinderella and the Glass Slipper (1854)
  3. John Ruskin, “Fairy Stories” (1868)
  4. George Cruikshank, Illustration of “Rumple-Stilts-Kin” (1823)
  5. George Cruikshank, Illustration of “The Elves and the Shoemaker” (1823)
  6. George MacDonald, “The Fantastic Imagination” (1893)

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

  1. Jan Susina, Introduction: “The Brotherhood between George MacDonald and Arthur Hughes”: Hughes’s Illustrations to
    MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind
  2. Robert Trexler, Five Early Illustrators of At the Back of the North Wind

Appendix F: Maps and Other Illustrative Images

  1. Sandford Map of Central London, 1862
  2. Sandford Map of Central London, 1862 (detail)
  3. Maps of Hyperborean Region
  4. Parts of a Horse
  5. Parts of a Hansom Cab
  6. Currency in Victorian England

Works Cited

Select Bibliography

Roderick McGillis is Professor of English at the University of Calgary.

John Pennington is Professor of English at St. Norbert College, Wisconsin.