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At the Back of the North Wind (Everyman's Library Children's Classics Series) Hardcover – October 16, 2001
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At the centre of the story is a small boy named Diamond, son of a poor coachman – who also has a horse with the same name. The boy Diamond sleeps in the loft over the stable (right over the stall of Diamond the horse); and in the wall by his bed there is a knothole, through which the North Wind blows. In Diamond’s dreams (or is it more than just dreams?), the North Wind takes the shape of a beautiful woman with long hair – sometimes small like a fairy, sometimes huge and awe-inspiring like a mighty storm – sweeping Diamond away on nightly adventures, both in his own town and to a distant land, “at the back of the north wind”.
Diamond is at the same time a mystery and a joy to the people around him. Kind and helpful and trusting, and making friends whereever he goes - but also going his own ways, showing both practical initiative, and surprising people by fanciful ideas, rhymes and dreams. He’s naive in some ways, and yet also wise and philosphical far beyond his age. Some think he’s not quite right in his head; but he never takes offense.
It is not a book easy to categorize. Take the basic setting (including poor little boy) from a novel by Charles Dickens; put it down a rabbit hole (as in Alice in Wonderland - 1865); add a good portion of classic fairy tale and fable; mix in some serious theodicy questions and answers; and serve with a sprinkle of nursery rhymes on top. It’s very much up to the reader’s taste to decide what to make of it!
I read it the first time about 25 years ago in Swedish translation, and reread it now because I found had forgotten most of it, and also wanted to read it in the original language. The story also makes a lot of deviations like long nursery rhymes and whole fairy tales told within the story. Some of the details deserve more attention than one might think at first, as there are plenty of parallells between the ‘reality’ vs. stories and dreams within the book (much like the roots of our dreams can often be found in our daytime life).
It’s not a book I’d recommend as a must-read for everyone. My guess is that some will stll love it while other modern readers may find it strange and too old-fashioned in style. But if you are interested in classic children’s literature and fantasy, I think you will probably recognise themes and ideas also used by many other authors within those genres.
The main narrative follows the life of a young boy named Diamond and his family as they experience, misery, poverty, joy, and good fortune. The story also includes a super natural element where the North Wind appears to be a beautiful lady that speaks to Diamond teaching him things about her nature and purpose and ushering him to the land that lies at the back of the north wind.
Two days after finishing the book, I'm still reflecting on the meaning and the indirect lessons the author wove into the narrative. I really enjoyed the simple nature of the story, the good-natured Diamond, and the overall moral about not fearing the North Wind if you are a good person. I felt the author got his point across in a way that wasn't overly preachy, and I think this would be a good story for families to read together.
Top international reviews
I had a vague recollection of reading this book many many years ago when I was a child. George MacDonald was/is of course the father of fantasy, having influenced Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and probably George R.R. Martin as well. When I put this on my kindle. I had some vague notion of reading it to my grandchildren, but I've finished it and now I don't think so.
Where do I start? The story is of an odd, saintly child who encounters the North Wind AKA Death, very early on. Or does he?The story follows on with descriptions of Victorian poverty, hardship, dancing babies and many other things. It is liberally interspersed with songs and poetry a la Tolkien which can be tiresome, depending on your point of view. There is a very strong Christian influence; The little hero, Diamond, is Christ like.
I can't honestly say whether I liked it or not. It is a strange tale and one which is not so easily understood in this day and age. I must admit to shedding a tear at the end and I am not one to cry over a book but I do not think I would read it to a modern child as it is more of a Victorian curiosity. I have to say that most children would prefer Harry Potter. If you have read Victorian children's books, particularly Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies, you will know what I mean. It has none of the verve of E. Nesbit for instance, although she wrote at a slightly later time.
Still worth a read.
It tells the story of a young boy’s journeying with the North Wind, a wild, beautiful woman that visits him in his room above the stables where his father’s horse, old Diamond, is kept. He sees ships on the ocean, rivers flowing to the sea, and the busy streets and dark alleys of London.