Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, Dreams, Hyperspace & Victorian Fantasy: Informing the Inklings
I am very excited to announce the publication of a wonderful collection of essays entitled Informing the Inklings: George MacDonald and the Victorian Roots of Modern Fantasy, edited by Michael Partridge and Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson (Winged Lion Press, 2018). Based on ground-breaking research presented at the George MacDonald Society Conference at The University of Oxford, 2014, which you can read about here, this collection of essays represents new directions not only in George MacDonald studies but also studies in Victorian fantasy, imagination, philosophy, science and more besides. Each of the twelve essays explores how MacDonald and fellow literary figures such as S. T. Coleridge, Lewis Carroll, Charles Kingsley, and Andrew Lang paved the way for the group of twentieth-century fantasy authors known as “the Inklings,” including C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. With contributions from major critics in the field such as Stephen Prickett, Malcolm Guite, Jean Webb and Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, as well as newer voices from a range of international scholars, this book treads new territory while returning us to the roots of modern fantasy literature.
My chapter, ‘Dreaming into Hyperspace: The Victorian Spatial Imagination and the Origins of Modern Fantasy in MacDonald and Carroll’ (pp. 129-147) was born out of my PhD research into the evolution and intersections of dreams, the sciences of the mind, space and the supernatural in nineteenth-century fantastic literature. Of course, two of the most important authors in my study were George MacDonald and Lewis Carroll, both good friends, literary influences upon one another, and authors of some of the most well-known Victorian fantasy (George MacDonald’s Phantastes and Lilith are my focuses in this chapter, along with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass).
In my chapter, I explore the origins of the modern fantasy genre in the Victorian correlation between the space of dreams and the supernatural world, and their exploration of both through the new development of non-Euclidean geometry and its related notions of higher-dimensional space, or hyperspace. Using historicised literary analysis, this chapter identifies crucial turning points in the literary exploration of these ideas in Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald’s novels. Through their exploration of these new kinds of spaces, I argue, Carroll’s and MacDonald’s texts mark the emergence of the secondary worlds associated with the modern fantasy genre. I compare these works to fascinating nineteenth-century writing on both dreams and hyperspace, and argue that fantasy literature emerged as an imaginative medium through which to explore the nature and conditions of the supernatural world, using first the dream, and then the overlapping concept of higher-dimensional space, to enter realms which emerged as some of fantasy’s first secondary worlds. Most importantly, this chapter calls for a reconsideration of the dream as a literary framing device, proposing that it should be seen at this point in the Victorian era not merely as a figment that signals the illusory nature of its contained world, but rather as a legitimate cognitive means by which to access spaces that were considered just as “real” as the everyday.
To give you an idea of what the rest of the book offers, here is the table of contents:
‘Preface‘ – Stephen Prickett
‘Informing the Inklings: C. S. Lewis’s Debt to George MacDonald’ – Stephen Prickett
‘“Needles of Eternal Light”: How Coleridge Roused MacDonald and Lewis’ – Malcolm Guite
‘Rooted Deep: Relational Inklings of the Mythopoeic Maker, George MacDonald’ – Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson
‘Materiality, Metaphore, and Mystery: Imagination and Humanity in George MacDonald’ – Trevor Hart
‘Organsied Innocence: MacDonald, Lewis, and Literature “For the Childlike”‘ – Daniel Gabelman
‘Fantasy, Fear and Reality: Tracing Pathways between Kingsley, Carroll, and MacDonald Leading to the Inklings’ – Jean Webb
‘“The Leaven Hid in the Meal”: George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, and the Practice of Literary Criticism’ – Bethany Bear Hebbard
‘Dreaming into Hyperspace: The Victorian Spatial Imagination and the Origins of Modern Fantasy in MacDonald and Carroll’ – Kirstin A. Mills
‘Genre Problems: Andrew Lang and J. R. R. Tolkien on (Fairy) Stories and (Literary) Belief’ – Sharin Schroeder
‘St. George and Jack the Giant Killer: As “Wise as Women Are”? Gender, Science, and Religious Faith in George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold, Curate and C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength‘ – Monika B. Hilder
‘“A Living House”: Everyday Life and Living and Sacramental Poetics in George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis’ – Rebekah Ann Lamb
‘Interpretations of Faerie: A Reading of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as informed by George MacDonald’ – István Szabadi
Some of the reviews this book has received:
“This marvelous collection of essays appeals to both the intellect and the imagination, drawing us to consider stories from a past generation as doorways for meaning and transformation today. The connection between George MacDonald and his circle to C. S. Lewis and his circle has never been made so clear.”
– Bruce R. Johnson, General Editor of Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal
“Unlike many books about the Inklings, which primarily just rehash what has already been published before, Informing the Inklings offers original and important insights over and over again.”
– Timothy Larsen, Wheaton College, author of George McDonald in the Age of Miracles
“The scope of these well-arranged and very accessible pieces is extraordinary, bringing out a central purpose in the Inklings – the making of myth – with its debt to nineteenth-century fantasy.”
– Colin Duriez, author of The Oxford Inklings
“I was once told that “If you don’t know George, you don’t know Jack.” Having read this fine collection, I know more about both Jack and George (and a good many other writers besides), and I ‘m grateful.”
– Michael Ward, University of Oxford, co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis.
It is a beautifully produced book with a stunning cover design melding artistic influences from the history of fantasy, including Art Nouveau illustrations of MacDonald’s stories and fonts designed by William Morris, another prominent Victorian fantasist and contemporary of George MacDonald’s (who even bought MacDonald’s house from him). With its soft, velvety smooth cover, this volume is even more beautiful in person – a true delight for any one interested in George MacDonald or the history of fantasy literature! I am honoured to have my words included among its pages.
This volume is available for purchase at: