A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old times, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains. But then somehow they had not come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them—and what people hate they must fear. Now that we have learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel quite awe enough of them. To me they are beautiful terrors.
I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight—that is what it is.
Now think: out of that cauldron, where all the bubbles would be as big as the Alps if it could get room for its boiling, certain bubbles have bubbled out and escaped—up and away, and there they stand in the cool, cold sky—mountains. Think of the change, and you will no more wonder that there should be something awful about the very look of a mountain: from the darkness—for where the light has nothing to shine upon, much the same as darkness—from the heat, from the endless tumult of boiling unrest—up, with a sudden heavenward shoot, into the wind, and the cold, and the starshine, and a cloak of snow that lies like ermine above the blue-green mail of the glaciers; and the great sun, their grandfather, up there in the sky; and their little old cold aunt, the moon, that comes wandering about the house at night; and everlasting stillness, except for the wind that turns the rocks and caverns into a roaring organ for the young archangels that are studying how to let out the pent-up praises of their hearts, and the molten music of the streams, rushing ever from the bosoms of the glaciers fresh born.
Think, too, of the change in their own substance—no longer molten and soft, heaving and glowing, but hard and shining and cold. Think of the creatures scampering over and burrowing in it, and the birds building their nests upon it, and the trees growing out of its sides, like hair to clothe it, and the lovely grass in the valleys, and the gracious flowers even at the very edge of its armour of ice, like the rich embroidery of the garment below, and the rivers galloping down the valleys in a tumult of white and green! And along with all these, think of the terrible precipices down which the traveller may fall and be lost, and the frightful gulfs of blue air cracked in the glaciers, and the dark profound lakes, covered like little arctic oceans with floating lumps of ice.
All this outside the mountain! But the inside, who shall tell what lies there? Caverns of awfullest solitude, their walls miles thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or iron, tin or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones—perhaps a brook, with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaselessly, cold and babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes, or over a gravel of which some of the stones arc rubies and emeralds, perhaps diamonds and sapphires—who can tell?—and whoever can’t tell is free to think—all waiting to flash, waiting for millions of ages—ever since the earth flew off from the sun, a great blot of fire, and began to cool.
Then there are caverns full of water, numbingly cold, fiercely hot—hotter than any boiling water. From some of these the water cannot get out, and from others it runs in channels as the blood in the body: little veins bring it down from the ice above into the great caverns of the mountain’s heart, whence the arteries let it out again, gushing in pipes and clefts and ducts of all shapes and kinds, through and through its bulk, until it springs newborn to the light, and rushes down the Mountainside in torrents, and down the valleys in rivers—down, down, rejoicing, to the mighty lungs of the world, that is the sea, where it is tossed in storms and cyclones, heaved up in billows, twisted in waterspouts, dashed to mist upon rocks, beaten by millions of tails, and breathed by millions of gills, whence at last, melted into vapour by the sun, it is lifted up pure into the air, and borne by the servant winds back to the mountaintops and the snow, the solid ice, and the molten stream.
Well, when the heart of the earth has thus come rushing up among her children, bringing with it gifts of all that she possesses, then straightway into it rush her children to see what they can find there. With pickaxe and spade and crowbar, with boring chisel and blasting powder, they force their way back: is it to search for what toys they may have left in their long-forgotten nurseries? Hence the mountains that lift their heads into the clear air, and are dotted over with the dwellings of men, are tunnelled and bored in the darkness of their bosoms by the dwellers in the houses which they hold up to the sun and air.The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald, CH 1
The list of writer who admired MacDonald is nearly coextensive with the (non-sci fi) writers of English since 1900 that I admire. The Oracle Wikipedia lists, among others, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Robert E. Howard, L. Frank Baum, T.H. White, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L’Engle. Who am I to argue with that?
Yes, I’m still among the living. Both a nasty flu and the Coof have blown through my family and circle of friends over the last three weeks – some of the sicker people testing negativo on the Kung Flu, and, of course, once anyone tests positive they stop looking for anything else, so who knows? One, the other, or both, or something else? Nevertheless, while almost everybody was over whatever it was inside a week, a couple of the older or less healthy people did get hit pretty hard. So we’ve been busy, and doing the only thing among all the demanded steps and measures that makes any sense: staying away from other people when you’re not feeling well. We’re mostly OK, but it lingers.
And I’m supposed to be packing up to move. Sheesh.
Did take this opportunity to read few books. Will review as time permits.
6 thoughts on “Now For Something Completely Different”
I am a huge fan of MacDonald– have loved his stories ever since I first read At the Back of the North Wind when I was… eleven? Though in addition to the stuff everybody’s read, he was a working writer with a tremendous output, and also had some ho-hum romance novels written in a pretty thick scots dialect. Some of them have been “translated” into regular English to be understandable to the modern reader, but… eh. Seems like kind of a wasted effort. It’s not like there was a shortage of good MacDonald books.
We all had the crud over Christmas. Everybody else got over it before I did– I get bronchitis if the wind blows sideways at me. This thing tried very hard to turn into bronchitis once the acute phase passed, but I held it off by taking cetirizine for about three weeks. Wish I’d known that trick before! Hope your crew is all well soon.
I’ve never heard of him. Why were many 20th century literary giants his admirers.
I can’t speak for 20th-century literary giants. I like him because he wrote profoundly beautiful (though very Victorian) literary fairy tales with religious and philosophical undercurrents. You can easily pick up a copy of “The Princess and the Goblin” or “The Light Princess” (a standalone fairytale excerpted from one of his novels– maybe At the Back of the North Wind?), or The Day Boy and the Night Girl from Project Gutenberg (pretty sure everything he wrote is public domain now), and see for yourself.
In his story The Golden Key, he sketches out a vision of “the land from whence the shadows fall” that sort of lays out Plato’s cave allegory on an imaginative level accessible to children and adults alike, and which I could swear was the model for the way C.S. Lewis portrayed the afterlife in Narnia’s The Last Battle.
Because he wrote really good stories. Even through the old style writing, it’s *nice*.
Yes, I’m still among the living. Both a nasty flu and the Coof have blown through my family and circle of friends over the last three weeks – some of the sicker people testing negativo on the Kung Flu, and, of course, once anyone tests positive they stop looking for anything else, so who knows?
Oh, ick, my e-group has the cold from hades going around– the households are taking a month or longer to fully recover, with relapses if they push too hard.
I hope you all continue to improve. My aged relations got Schroedinger’s omicron, and while we had a few bad moments for a while, they seem, God be thanked, to be improving.