25 – The Adventures of Ranald Bannerman

Published in 1991 as Introduction to  The Adventures of Ranald Bannerman, the Bethany House young reader’s edition of George MacDonald’s Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood


            George MacDonald’s most famous and best-selling book was released to the public in 1871. It was, of course, At the Back of the North Wind, which you may already have read as part of this Bethany House Series of George MacDonald’s books.

            But the very fame and popularity and attention received by North Wind kept many of George MacDonald’s readers at the time from noticing another book that he wrote the same year. In fact, MacDonald wrote only those two books in 1871: one his most well-known title; the other, one of his least. That isn’t to say both weren’t good, maybe even equally good. But with all the attention focused on Diamond’s story, there just wasn’t much left to go around for the story of the other boy MacDonald wrote about that year.

            The 1871 companion release to At the Back of the North Wind is the book you are holding in your hand, which was first called Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood.

            As an author, George MacDonald often wrote about himself, though he disguised his own thoughts and feelings and experiences by putting them into the lives of his fictional characters. Then he mixed in all sorts of made-up incidents in order to create a story, so you can hardly tell what actually happened to MacDonald and which things are pure fiction. This is an especially good example of what we might call “autobiographical fiction.” Right from the first page MacDonald tells Ranald Bannerman’s story through the voice of Ranald himself–in the first person. This adds to the sense the reader has throughout that the events recorded here are real.

            During this particular period of George MacDonald’s life, when he was in his mid-forties and most of his eleven children were between five and nineteen years old, he did some of his finest writing for young people. I’m sure that’s not by accident, for he was often thinking of his own sons and daughters, as well as his own boyhood, when telling stories on paper.

            Therefore, we can conclude that many of the incidents in this book, The Adventures of Ranald Bannerman, are things that probably happened. Not everything, of course–but much of it–because this is, after all, a story MacDonald told. And realizing this makes Ranald all the more a personal friend. Because in a way, he’s a picture of young George MacDonald.

Michael Phillips