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George MacDonald lived from 10 December 1824 to 18 September 1905. He was a church minister who became an early author of fantasy fiction. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
George MacDonald was born in Huntly. His father was a farmer who could, it is said, trace his roots back to the MacDonalds of Glen Coe at the time of the 1692 massacre. After an education in Huntly, MacDonald gained a degree at the University of Aberdeen in 1844 and then moved to London, studying at Highbury College to become a minister in the Congregational Church. In 1850 he was appointed pastor of Trinity Congregational Church in Arundel. MacDonald was not a success as a church minister and in 1853 he was asked to resign. He later took up a church post in Manchester, but resigned from that on grounds of ill health.
MacDonald first made his name with a religious poem published in 1855: Within and Without. Much more important was the publication of Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women published in 1858. Other books that would later be described as fantasy were The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, and Lilith. He also wrote a number of fairy tales for children. As the market for the fantasy genre at the time was not large, MacDonald also supplemented his income by writing over 20 more "mainstream" novels, many of which have a Scottish setting and are among the earliest "realistic" Scottish novels.
Many authors have been strongly influenced by MacDonald's work, from C. S. Lewis (who featured him as a character in one of his books) and Lewis Carroll (who knew MacDonald) to J. R. R. Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle, W. H. Auden and John Ruskin. He died at Ashtead in Surrey in 1905. The growth of a following for fantasy writing in the 1900s led to greater interest in MacDonald's fantasy titles, though the most enduringly popular of his books are the fairy tales for children.