A Long Lovely Sentence from George MacDonald
George MacDonald is probably my third favorite author behind Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I don’t believe anyone was a greater master of the fairy tale than he. He wrote a treasure trove of wonderful stories, all of them infinitely readable, accessible to any audience, young or old, past or present.
Of all his work, The Wise Woman or the Lost Princess: A Double Story is my favorite. I wrote a little bit about it when I reviewed his Collected Fairy Tales. But there is a sentence very near the beginning of this story which I would nominate for one of the most ambitious, lovely, and masterful sentences in all the English language. And so, without further ado, here it is:
In strict accordance with the peculiar nature of this country of uncertainties, it came to pass one day that, in the midst of a shower of rain that might well be called golden, seeing the sun, shining as it fell, turned all its drops into molten topazes, and every drop was good for a grain of golden corn, or a yellow cowslip, or a buttercup, or a dandelion at least,—while this splendid rain was falling, I say, with a musical patter upon the great leaves of the horse-chestnuts, which hung like Vandyke collars about the necks of the creamy, red-spotted blossoms, and on the leaves of the sycamores, looking as if they had blood in their veins, and on a multitude of flowers, of which some stood up and boldly held out their cups to catch their share, while others cowered down laughing under the soft patting blows of the heavy warm drops;—while this lovely rain was washing all the air clean from the motes, and the bad odours, and the poisonseeds that had escaped from their prisons during the long drought-while it fell, splashing, and sparkling, with a hum, and a rush, and a soft clashing—but stop—I am stealing, I find, and not that only, but with clumsy hands spoiling what I steal:—
“O Rain, with your dull two-fold sound,
The clash hard-by, and the murmur all round;”
—there! take it, Mr. Coleridge;—while, as I was saying, the lovely little rivers whose fountains are the clouds, and which cut their own channels through the air, and make sweet noises rubbing against their banks as they hurry down and down, until at length they are pulled up on a sudden, with a musical plash, in the very heart of an odorous flower, that first gasps and then sighs up a blissful scent, or on the bald head of a stone that never says thank you;—while the very sheep felt it blessing them, though it could never reach their skins through the depth of their long wool, and the veriest hedgehog—I mean the one with the longest spikes—came and spiked himself out to impale as many of the drops as he could,—while the rain was thus falling, and the leaves, and the flowers, and the sheep, and the cattle, and the hedgehog, were all busily receiving the golden rain, something happened.
Okay, you may now take a breath. Four hundred and four words! All that to tell us that “something happened.” But, oh what a something it is! You would have to read on, but I assure you that the story only gets better from there.
I don’t know about you, but after reading something like that I feel like taking a walk outdoors, preferably somewhere in rural England. Ah…would it were possible. But since it’s not, I’ll just have to keep MacDonald’s books on my shelf as the next best thing.
And might I recommend that you do the same? I hope so.
And so for now I take my leave. I’ll see you on the other side of golden rain showers and fields of flowers.