I really enjoyed the library search activity we did last week. It is interesting how much children's literature has changed since I was a child. Yet some books are timeless and have endured. One of my favorite books from my childhood was one that was read to my father when he was a boy and in turn was read to me. The book is called, "At the Back of the Northwind"by George MacDonald and was first published in 1871.
It is the magical story of a poor stable boy named Diamond who lives in a hayloft in Victorian London. One night he is visited by a beautiful, etheral woman known as the Northwind through his window. Every night she would magically whisk him away on incredible journeys teaching him about herself. Later she would take him to the beautiful, serene country that lies on the back of the Northwind.
I remember lying in bed listening to my Dad read this book to me every night and imagining flying to strange and distant lands. It wasn't until I read this book again years later in a first year children's literature class in university that I realized what it was really about. The book deals with child death in a way that avoids somberness. George MacDonald was a church minister and the book is clearly has religious overtones. Through the eyes of an innocent child MacDonald moved me by his account of dying as a process of learning and death as a journey to a better place. A conversation l near the end of the book when Diamond falls ill and agrees to go to the land at the back of the Northwind still sticks with me whenever I hear horrible stories of children dying on the news,
"Well, please, Northwind, you are so beautiful, I am quite ready to go with you."
To which she replies, "You must not be so ready to go with everything beautiful all at once, Diamond
"But what's beautiful can't be bad. You're not bad Northwind?"
"No, I'm not bad. But sometimes beautiful things grow bad by doing bad, and it takes some time to spoil thier beauty. So little boys may be mistaken if they go after things because they are beautiful".
"Well, I will go with you because you are beautiful and good too".
"Ah, but there's another thing Diamond. What if I should look ugly without being bad-- look ugly myself because I am making ugly things beautiful? What then?"
"I don't quite understand you, North Wind. You tell me what then."
"Well, I will tell you. If you see me with my face all black, don't be frightened. If you see me flapping wings like a bat's, as big as the whole sky, don't be frightened. If you hear me raging ten times worse than Mrs Bill, the blacksmith's wife--you must believe that I am doing my work. Nay, Diamond, if I change into a serpent or a tiger, you must not let go your hold on me, for my hand will never change in yours if you keep a good hold. If you keep a hold, you will know who I am all the time, even when you look at me and can't see me the least like the North Wind. I may look something awful. Do you understand?"
"Quite well," said little Diamond.
"Come along, then," said North Wind, and disappeared behind the mountain of hay.
Diamond crept out of bed and followed her.