16 – The Peasant Girl’s Dream

Published in 1989 as Introduction to The Peasant Girl’s Dream, the Bethany House edition of George MacDonald’s Heather and Snow

            The fourth from the last book written by George MacDonald in his long career was entitled Heather and Snow. It was published in 1893 and is not particularly distinguished among MacDonald’s lengthy list of more notable titles, except for the fact that in Heather and Snow, MacDonald returned once again to that setting he always loved so well–the Scottish highlands near his place of birth, the country cottage, the large-hearted peasantry, the fierce highland weather, and the bonds of simple relationships. Heather and Snow, here retitled The Peasant Girl’s Dream for the Bethany House reprint series, becomes then something of a composite of those peculiarly “Scottish” features MacDonald loved to bring into his books whenever he had the opportunity. For MacDonald was indeed Scotland’s storyteller.

            The mere mention of a peat fire carries one’s imagination beyond the town into the little crofting cottages of thatched roof and dirt floor, from which could be seen the friendly curl of smoke rising slowly into the sky, yielding the sweet aroma of the burning peat within….

            Much in George MacDonald’s writings recalls to mind the simple ways of these unpretentious people and their agrarian lifestyle. To understand the man we must also know the world of George MacDonald’s nurture and growth–for the land was always feeding him, influencing him. In his novels, his poetry, and his fairy tales, we see themes constantly repeated that hearken back to his own boyhood in Huntly–castles, noble families, cobblestone village streets, warm summers, icy rivers, golden-brown burns and rivers, fields of ripening grain, heather moors, poverty and wealth, peat fires, and homely meals of boiled potatoes and oatcakes. His boyhood imagination saw beyond the surface appearance of these influences and gave birth to a romantic vision of a time now past…. A good deal from his writings and much of what he was as a man sprang from this source.

            C. Edward Troup, George MacDonald’s cousin, wrote: “I do not know of any other writer the scenes of whose boyhood were so deeply impressed on him and are so closely associated with his best work. In his English novels he wrote, of course, of English country scenes, but never, I think, with the same love as of Scotland; and when he writes of Scotland, one almost always feels it is Aberdeenshire.”1

            Heather and Snow depicts the low highlands of the Grampian Mountains west of Aberdeen at its most vivid, set in the same region as Salted with Fire (The Minister’s Restoration in the Bethany House series) and tells a humble story of the enduring quality of love–between a man and his friend, between parents and children, between brother and sister, between man and woman, and between a simple-minded boy and his God. What you read here may not turn your world upside-down with startling revelations. This is a quiet story, to be savored as its influences and relationships and perspectives soak gently into your spirit.

            In the editing of A Peasant Girl’s Dream, I have left approximately a quarter of the Scot’s dialect. If it is difficult for you at first, stick with it. You will quickly grow accustomed to its flavor; and when you do, you will find your experience enriched as a result.

            May the Lord bless you as you enjoy this thoroughly Scottish tale that follows.

            Michael Phillips