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Daniel Gabelman. George MacDonald: Divine Carelessness and Fairytale Levity. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013.Pp. x + 261. ISBN 978-1-60258-782-3. This text, part of the series The Making of the Christian Imagination, explores the significance of George MacDonald’s ‘‘lighthearted modalities’’: specifically, his fairytales for children. MacDonald, once a congregational minister who was expelled from his first and only pulpit, used his literary work as a substitute venue for promulgating his Christian beliefs; this purpose was, to him, of ultimate significance. So why did he indulge in such a playful and ‘‘inconsequential’’ genre? Gabelman contends that lighthearted literary modes are central to serious theological thought, and that MacDonald understood this well. In the first part of the book, ‘‘Modalities of Levity,’’ Gabelman presents the fundamental concepts that he will, in the second part, apply to MacDonald’s fairytales . These concepts are ‘‘The Levity of Saints and Angels’’ (chapter 1); ‘‘Ecstasy and Folly’’ (chapter 2); ‘‘Vanity and Play’’ (chapter 3); and ‘‘Carnival and Sabbath’’ (chapter 4). In this section of the book, the author elaborates his claim that in the premodern world, ‘‘levity’’ connoted a freedom from the weight of the world and of sin which enabled one to rise toward God. Some saints were believed to levitate, and, of course, angels were pictured as winged. Gravity, levity’s opposite , connoted attraction to the earth and to earthly (as opposed to heavenly) objects and values. Levity was thus related to the ‘‘holy folly’’ of kenosis, the self-emptying that Paul links to Jesus’ incarnation. Levity is the ability to take oneself lightly. In elaborating these identifications, Gabelman draws on the writings of Plato and the Neo-Platonics, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Dante, as well as the Gospels. In an interesting twist on the usual view of Ecclesiastes as a pessimistic, even nihilistic, text, Gabelman argues that Qoheleth employs his observation that human existence is mere breath or vapor (KJV ‘‘vanity’’) to recommend a life of ‘‘simple enjoyment’’: ‘‘There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil’’ (Ecc. 2:24; Gabelman 40). Knowing the world as transitory, says Gabelman, also frees people to transform themselves. Christians are liberated to, as C. S. Lewis puts it, ‘‘dress up as’’ and thus eventually become ‘‘conformed to’’ Christ. Letting go of everyday seriousness, as one does during Carnival, allows people to perceive and perhaps to abandon their everyday faults. In his discussion of the festival as holy or enchanted time, Gabelman draws on Shakespeare (specifically A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Bakhtin, Barth, and Moltmann, among others. In the second part of the book, ‘‘MacDonald’s Fairytale Levity,’’ Gabelman explores the application of these ideas in MacDonald’s fairytales. Chapter 5, ‘‘Never so Real as When They Are Solemn,’’ observes that, while most Victorians viewed imaginative or humorous literature as mere escapism, MacDonald believed that ‘‘light’’ literature could address ‘‘serious’’ concerns. Chapter 6, ‘‘Fairyland’s Festive Sabbath,’’ asserts that MacDonald’s fairytales Book Reviews 221 help readers to free themselves from their mundane perspectives. Chapter 7, ‘‘Space: Fairyland’s Ecstatic Cosmology,’’ characterizes MacDonald’s fairytales as quest-narratives. Chapter 8, ‘‘Transformation: Shall Not the Possible Become the Real?,’’ examines the fairytales as agents of personal change. In this second section, Gabelman asserts that the tone of lightness MacDonald adopts in many of his fairytales is calculated to elicit a ‘‘light’’ approach to life—the holy approach to life—in his readers. MacDonald valued the fairytale for precisely the reason many of his fellow Victorians distrusted it: its failure to produce a clear ‘‘moral’’ and its liability to many different interpretations. MacDonald saw the fairytale’s ‘‘frivolous’’ indeterminacy as a virtue because he believed that a reader’s ‘‘playing’’ with many different meanings would stretch him or her toward the ‘‘region of the uncomprehended’’ (98). The ‘‘once upon a time’’ of Fairyland is a liminal time, like festival time or twilight, that allows readers to slip outside of their habitual selves and concerns and even, as in Carnival, to invert them, as Jesus’ teachings (the last will be first) inverted many...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 221-224
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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