‘The Fantastic Imagination’, by George MacDonald

From A Dish of Orts: Chiefly papers on the imagination, and on Shakespere (Enlarged edition), 1895.


That we have in English no word corresponding to the German Mährchen, drives us to use the word Fairytale, regardless of the fact that the tale may have nothing to do with any sort of fairy. The old use of the word Fairy, by Spenser at least, might, however, well be adduced, were justification or excuse necessary where need must.

Were I asked, what is a fairytale? I should reply, Read Undine: that is a fairytale; then read this and that as well, and you will see what is a fairytale. Were I further begged to describe the fairytale, or define what it is, I would make answer, that I should as soon think of describing the abstract human face, or stating what must go to constitute a human being. A fairytale is just a fairytale, as a face is just a face; and of all fairytales I know, I think Undine the most beautiful.

Many a man, however, who would not attempt to define a man, might venture to say something as to what a man ought to be: even so much I will not in this place venture with regard to the fairytale, for my long past work in that kind might but poorly instance or illustrate my now more matured judgment. I will but say some things helpful to the reading, in right-minded fashion, of such fairytales as I would wish to write, or care to read. [Read more…]

John Cleese on creativity

It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking; and it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.

—John Cleese

Cleese on creativity, 1991:

[Read more…]

Nadia Lee: Why Simon & Schuster’s Archway Publishing Is Bad for Authors

From Nadia Lee, a response to the latest publishing news, and a handy comparison chart, reproduced below.

A few months ago, Penguin Books, realizing that their vanity-press venture was selling like coldcakes, bought the world’s leading experts on vanity press scams: Author Solutions, Inc. Now Simon & Schuster has announced a ‘premium’ vanity imprint, to be called Archway, run in ‘partnership’ with Author Solutions: which means that S&S will funnel slush writers to Archway, and AS will do the grunt work of separating them from their money. The so-called service is ‘premium’ because the ripoff is steeper than with most vanity presses: it starts with $1,599 for a simple children’s book and ranges up to $25,000 for the full-service screwing.

Withal, here is Ms. Lee’s comparison chart, so you can judge for yourself: [Read more…]

‘Cold Iron’, by Rudyard Kipling

‘Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid —
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.’
‘Good!’ said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
‘But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.’

So he made rebellion ’gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
‘Nay!’ said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
‘But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!’ [Read more…]

‘Advice to a Young Actor’, by Mark Twain

YOUNG ACTOR. — This gentleman writes as follows: “I am desperate. Will you tell me how I can possibly please the newspaper critics? I have labored conscientiously to achieve this, ever since I made my début upon the stage, and I have never yet entirely succeeded in a single instance. [Read more…]

‘Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences’, by Mark Twain

Originally published in the North American Review, July, 1895.


“The Pathfinder” and “The Deerslayer” stand at the head of Cooper’s novels as artistic creations. There are others of his works which contain parts as perfect as are to be found in these, and scenes even more thrilling. Not one can be compared with either of them as a finished whole. The defects in both of these tales are comparatively slight. They were pure works of art. —Professor Lounsbury

The five tales reveal an extraordinary fullness of invention. . . . One of the very greatest characters in fiction, Natty Bumppo. . . The craft of the woodsman, the tricks of the trapper, all the delicate art of the forest were familiar to Cooper from his youth up. —Professor Matthews

Cooper is the greatest artist in the domain of romantic fiction in America. —Wilkie Collins

It seems to me that it was far from right for the Professor of English Literature at Yale, the Professor of English Literature in Columbia, and Wilkie Collins to deliver opinions on Cooper’s literature without having read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read Cooper.

Cooper’s art has some defects. In one place in “Deerslayer,” and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction—some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer,” Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require: [Read more…]

G. K. C.: ‘On Mr. Thomas Gray’ (excerpt)

Collected in All I Survey (1933).


A newspaper appeared with the news, which it seemed to regard as exciting and even alarming news, that Gray did not write the ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’ in the churchyard of Stoke Poges, but in some other country churchyard of the same sort in the same country. What effect the news will have on the particular type of American tourist who has chipped pieces off trees and tombstones, when he finds that the chips come from the wrong trees, or the wrong tombstones, I do not feel impelled to inquire. Nor, indeed, do I know whether the new theory is proved or not. Nor do I care whether the new theory is proved or not. What is most certainly proved, if it needed any proving, is the complete lack of imagination, in many journalists and archæologists, about how any poet writes any poem. [Read more…]