Today on Project Gutenberg #1

Well, would you look at that. We’re coming up on the 1-year anniversary of this little blog here. I’m pleased with what’s been accomplished so far, but I know I could be doing a lot better. Coming up on Year 2, I’ve been thinking of ways to add more content to HH. Something quick and easy to keep things active while I work on longer pieces, but also something that’s funny and gets people’s attention. And just a couple weeks ago, I hit on what I think is the perfect idea for a new series.

We now turn to the vast digital library that is Project Gutenberg, where thousands of public domain books both famous and obscure can be found. What strange gems lurk in the corners of such a vast database? The website lacks an option to bring up a random eBook at the touch of a button, but with a little searching, I find a page that lists all the books available in a randomized list.

And today on Project Gutenberg we have…

What’s Mine’s Mine: Volume 2 by George MacDonald

MacDonald, if you didn’t know, was the author of The Princess and the Goblin and other fantasy novels of the late nineteenth century. He was a contemporary of and mentor to Lewis Carroll, and his work would inspired twentieth-century authors like C.S. Lewis and W.H. Auden. What’s Mine’s Mine is not a fantasy story, but a domestic drama. Published in 1886 and set in the author’s native Scotland, it follows the lives of two families as they deal with the modernization of the country and the gradual decline of the clan system’s dominance. It’s quite maudlin in tone, painting an idealized and romanticized image of the Scottish highlands and its inhabitants. And not only that, but everyone’s got a lot to say about Jesus. MacDonald was a minister in the Congregational Church, and this theology plays a big role in most of his non-fantasy works. There are many conversations about what it means to be a good Christian, wondering what God wants with humanity, allowing yourself to open up and understand His message…it’s actually somewhat fascinating, although dense as hell. My research on this title has indicated that it’s one of the author’s less preachy works. Considering how uneven the plot-to-religion ratio in this book seems to be, I can’t imagine what some of the others might be like.

Let me share some excerpts with you. This passage is about a minor character, called Rob of the Angels because he’s so perfect:

To the eyes of those who knew him, Rob seemed just the sort of person with whom the angels might be well pleased to hold converse: was he not simplicity itself, truth, generosity, helpfulness? Did he not, when a child, all but lose his life in the rescue of an idiot from the swollen burn? Did he not, when a boy, fight a great golden eagle on its nest, thinking to deliver the lamb it had carried away? Knowing his father in want of a new bonnet, did not Rob with his bare hands seize an otter at the mouth of its hole, and carry it home, laughing merrily over the wounds it had given him?

And here we are a bit later when one of the protagonists, Ian, gives his opinion on Rob’s attitude towards God:

The truth in the parables is what they mean, not what they say; and so it is, I think, with Rob of the Angels’ stories. He believes all that can be believed of them. At the same time, to a mind so simple, the spirit of God must have freer entrance than to ours—perhaps even teaches the man by what we call THE MAN’S OWN WORDS. His words may go before his ideas—his higher ideas at least—his ideas follow after his words. As the half-thoughts pass through his mind—who can say how much generated by himself, how much directly suggested by the eternal thought in which his spirit lives and breathes!—he drinks and is refreshed.

Volume 2, Chapter 2

I’m not sure how many modern readers would be interested in venturing through this whole story, religious or not. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a plot or complex characters. But if you’re aware of MacDonald’s more famous work and want to see what else he did, then this might be worth looking at.

And that’s what we’ve found today on Project Gutenberg. Next time I’ll bring up the random list again and give another run-down on what I find. You should expect to see these going up pretty frequently, along with the regular essays, reviews and short stories. Until next time!

— Dana

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