Fairies might seem to have little in common with the unattractive Beast-People of the preceding chapters, but no matter how different their appearance, they perform something of a similar role. ‘I[f] fairy tales, are about anything, they are about transformation’, writes a biographer of George MacDonald (1824–1905), the subject of the present chapter. According to one study of the genre, fairy tales not only symbolise ‘transformation and its borders’ and take a myriad forms, but they ‘can represent cultural as well as personal transitions’.
MacDonald transformed the fairy tale, taking the traditional form and restructuring it, ‘giving it a moral vision, without killing it’. Even the very existence of his fairy tales constitutes a type of transformation since he turned to them after writing verse, and ‘the themes which throbbed through its lines were to take other forms, notably in fairy tales and romances’. There were further transformations, moreover, for MacDonald ‘never seemed happy with his books in any form and they changed radically from edition to edition’.
Money was a determinant in MacDonald's writing, also, for he ‘turned from writing verse to prose through economic necessity’. William Raeper quotes him saying in 1893 that: ‘I had to write for money, and prose pays the best; and I have had to write hard, too. I have always two novels on the stocks at once – I used to manage three.’ At MacDonald's peak, Raeper records, he was paid between 800 and 1,000 pounds per novel. Creative imagination and money – the latter ‘the great corrupter’ in his writings – rub together productively, but also in tension. ‘Riches indubitably favour stupidity … poverty, mental and moral development’, MacDonald wrote. Like a number of his contemporaries (including the pre-Raphaelites), MacDonald turned to a former age for values he thought wanting in his own:
MacDonald was a vigorous adherent of the nineteenth-century cult of medievalism, a protest against the materialism of his day. He saw enshrined in medievalism all the virtues which he felt necessary to build a Christian society … It is easy to see how repulsed MacDonald had been by the laissez-faire ethics of selfishness and material gain.