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Literature / At the Back of the North Wind

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At the Back of the North Wind is a fantasy novel for children by George MacDonald. It was serialized in the magazine Good Words for the Young in 1868 and first published in book form in 1871.

The central character is a boy named Diamond, from a poor working-class family, who has a series of adventures with the North Wind, personified as a beautiful woman. (They meet after she comes blowing through a hole in his bedroom wall.) One of the adventures involves a visit to the Land at the Back of the North Wind, where it is never cold and nobody is ever sad or hungry.

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The novel uses allegory to explore several spiritual themes, including theodicy (the question of why a loving God would allow bad things to happen). The North Wind speaks of being an agent of a higher power, implicitly the Christian God, and although she is always gentle with Diamond she is sometimes called on to do apparently terrible things that turn out to have good outcomes. There are hints that she is a psychopomp and that the Land at the Back of the North Wind is Heaven.


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This novel contains examples of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: At the end of the story, Diamond goes to live forever in the Land at the Back of the North Wind, leaving behind his mourning parents who believe he has died and don't know where he's gone.
  • Direct Line to the Author: MacDonald includes himself as a character in the last few chapters, meeting and befriending Diamond, who subsequently tells him of the events recounted in the earlier part of the novel.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: The North Wind is implied to be an angel of Death, and always treats Diamond with the greatest gentleness.
  • Heaven: The Back of the North Wind may or may not be the actual Heaven as such, but it is described as a paradisal state that is only accessible by death or a near-death experience.
  • Ill Boy: Diamond has poor health throughout the story, with shades of Victorian Novel Disease. This necessitates a restorative trip to the seaside at one point when he falls into a coma; from his viewpoint he went to the Back of the North Wind. Eventually his family moves him to the countryside for health reasons.
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  • Story Within a Story: "Little Daylight" in the original version of the story, which has been pulled out as an independent work, or separately added to other collections of MacDonald's fairy tales.
  • The Old North Wind: The North Wind is a major character. In contrast to the usual depiction — male and hostile — she's depicted as female and sympathetic, but still capable of doing terrible things like sinking ships.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Diamond is kind and loving and beloved, and dies at the end of the novel while still a child.
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": Diamond was named after his father's horse.

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