This new edition of George MacDonald's 1879 classic is updated and introduced as Volume 22 in The Cullen Collection by Michael Phillips.

One of the true high marks in George MacDonald's literary career was reached with the publication in 1879 of Sir Gibbie, the captivating story of a mute orphan with an angel's heart set in the highlands of Scotland. Every MacDonald reader has his or her favorite, but it is safe to say that Sir Gibbie is near the top of the list for lovers of fairy tale, poetry, and novels alike. The character of “wee Sir Gibbie” mysteriously embodies hints from the land of “faerie,” and his soul is poetry personified. MacDonald's storytelling genius here rises to heights as soaring as the mountain of Glashgar where Gibbie roams barefoot with the sheep, amid earthquake and flood.

It was this book that captured author Elizabeth Yates’ imagination and prompted her 1963 edition of Sir Gibbie, which in turn led to Michael Phillips’s lifetime work bringing MacDonald’s spiritual and literary significance back into prominence for new generations of readers.

Always at the top of recommended lists, if one could choose but one MacDonald novel to read, many would say it should be Sir Gibbie.

Sir Gibbie is included in the Scottish Masterworks set of the Cullen Collection.

377 pages

Synopsis

First-time MacDonald readers cannot go wrong with the magical tale of wee Sir Gibbie. Powerful of plot, Sir Gibbie is infused with what is almost the mythical nature of the homeless waif who is its central character and the source of its enduring power. I know of no other character in fiction exactly like Gibbie, which explains why his story has been a lifetime favorite among all MacDonald’s books for so many.

The hues of Christlikeness that provide the tapestry backdrop for all MacDonald’s novels shine out with special radiance in Sir Gibbie and its sequel Donal Grant. Orphan Gibbie without a father discovers his true Father, while his best friend Donal, a young man growing up with MacDonald’s prototypical image of wonderful parents, discovers with Gibbie the essence of true childship. The journeys of growth of both young men, so different of outward circumstance, lead to the same childship-obedience in the end.

To say more about Gibbie and his story might too easily spoil the reading experience awaiting those who have yet to discover it. We will only add this from Michael Phillips' introduction to the Cullen Collection edition:

“Is Sir Gibbie ‘myth’ ...Is it poetry? Is it fantasy? Is it music?

“Or does Gibbie’s magic spring from MacDonald’s having simultaneously captured the essence of all four? The story tugs at us, the myth calls forth eternity in our spirits, the poetry moves us, the fantasy delights our imaginations, while all along the music makes our hearts sing.

“Sir Gibbie is all this and more.

“Through the title character of wee Gibbie, we do not merely meet a mythical, musical, poetical child of God—we meet MacDonald himself, and, through Gibbie, see through MacDonald’s eyes into the essence of spirituality.”
 

Historic Release Highlights

1879 UK Glasgow Weekly Mail
Serialized
1879 UK Hurst & Blackett
3 vols
1879 US Lippincott
2 vols
1880 UK Hurst & Blackett

1880 GER Tauchnitz
2 vols
1914 UK Dent's Everyman Library
1927 UK Hurst & Blackett
1963
US Shocken Edited by Elizabeth Yates
1983
US Bethany - The Baronet's Song
Edited by Michael Phillips
1990
US Bethany - Wee Sir Gibbie of the Highlands
Edited for young readers by Michael Phillips
1988 US Sunrise
1992 US Johannesen
2018 US Sunrise (The Cullen Collection)
Edited by Michael Phillips
2018 US Works Of MacDonald Dialog translated by David Jack

 

Historic Covers

 

Editing Notes

Michael Phillips is the undisputed authority in the important and somewhat controversial field of George MacDonald editing. We want to provide a few notes on the topic here in Sir Gibbie, the most often edited of all MacDonald's novels.

First, here is a statistical comparison of several edited versions of MacDonald over the years:


1879
Original

1963
Yates
(Shoken)
1983
Phillips
(Bethany)
2018
Phillips
(Sunrise)
2018
Jack
(WOM)
Pages 407 267 208 339 513
Word Count 183,671 123,000 est 115,000 est 126,917 195,000 est
Length 100%
67% 63% 69%
106%
Reading Grade Level 12.2

8.4

 


Next, a list of the typical reasons for editing any older work are listed, indicated the known, or assumed, goals of each of these works:


1879
Original

1963
Yates
(Shoken)
1983
Phillips
(Bethany)
2018
Phillips
(Sunrise)
2018
Jack
(WOM)
Modernize wording
N/A
✔︎ ✔︎ ✔︎ ✔︎
Shorten for publication N/A
✔︎

Address verbosity
N/A ✔︎ ✔︎ ✔︎
Clarify message N/A
✔︎ ✔︎
Improve story structure N/A ✔︎


Maintain Scottish "feel" N/A

✔︎
 

Next, we present to you one of the famous dialog passages to show how each of these approaches plays out.

Original

    "Haith, cratur!"  he said, "ye're mair o' a man nor ye'll luik this saven year!  What garred ye rin upo' the deevil's verra horns that gait?"
    Gibbie stood smiling.
    "Gien't hadna been for my club we wad baith be owre the mune 'gain this time.  What ca' they ye, man?"
    Still Gibbie only smiled.
    "Whaur come ye frae?—Wha's yer fowk?—Whaur div ye bide?—Haena ye a tongue i' yer heid, ye rascal?"

1963 Edition by Elizabeth Yates

Note the complete translation of dialog into English, and the clarification of a few words and phrases ("more of a man than you look" instead of "more of a man than you'll look in seven years", and "run down" instead of "run upon").

    "Ho, creature!" he said, "you're more of a man than you look! What made you run down the devil's very horns that way?"
    Gibbie stood smiling.
    "If it hadn't been for my club we would both have been over the moon. What's your name, man?"
    Sitll Gibbie only smiled.
    "Where do you come from? Who's your folk? Where do you live? Haven't you a tongue in your head, you rascal?"

1988 Edition by Michael Phillips (Bethany)

Note the similarity with the previous translation, and the further clarifying of some of the dialog ("stick" instead of "club" which is what we would call what a shepherd would likely have today, and "knocked over the moon" instead of "been over the moon" which has a very different meaning today.)

    "Haith, creature!" he exclaimed. "You're more of a man than you look! What made you run into the devil's very horns that way?"
    Gibbie stood smiling.
    "If it hadn't been for my stick, we'd both been knocked over the moon by this time. What's your name, man?"
    Still Gibbie only smiled.
    "Where do you come from? Where's your folk? Where do you live?-Haven't you a tongue in your head, you rascal?"

2018 Edition by David Jack

Note the very literal translation, completely removing the Scottish flavor, while retaining the older phrasing and idioms. (This edition is actually not an "edited" version, but rather maintains the original side-by-side with the English translation.)

    "Faith, creature!" he said, "you're more of a man than you'll look for seven years! What made you run upon the devil's very horns like that?"
    Gibbie stood smiling.
    "If it hadn't been for my club we would both be over the moon by now. What do they call you, man?"
    Still Gibbie only smiled.
    "Where do you come from?—Who are your family?—Where do you live?—Haven't you a tongue in your head, you rascal?"

2018 Edition by Michael Phillips (The Cullen Collection)

Note the rendition of English with a semi-Scottish mix of words, while at the same time updating the idioms. The result is an easily understandable yet tantalizingly exotic text, often used in foreign movies. Read it aloud for the full effect.

    “Haith, creature!” he exclaimed. “Ye’re more of a man than ye look! What made ye run into the devil’s very horns that way?”
    Gibbie stood smiling.
    “If it hadna been for my stick, we’d both been knocked over the moon by this time. What’s yer name, man?”
    Still Gibbie only smiled.
    “Whaur do ye come frae? Whaur’s yer folk? Whaur do ye live?—Haena ye a tongue in yer head, ye rascal?”

 


 

Finally, let's look at the more controversial and often misunderstood topic of editing for content. In this new edited version for The Cullen Collection, Michael Phillips had the freedom that is seldom provided editors. He was not instructed at any point to make the book shorter (unless it makes the story better) or to remove any of MacDonald's message, regardless of how it might go against popular dogmas in Christianity today.  Instead, Phillips was able to clarify, shorten when appropriate to help with MacDonald's verbose propensity, and make the message more accessible for today's readers. 

In this example, MacDonald discusses the sins society sees as bad, and those that are acceptable, and offers hope to the worst of sinners in the end.

Original

    Alas for the human soul inhabiting a drink-fouled brain!  It is a human soul still, and wretched in the midst of all that whisky can do for it.  From the pit of hell it cries out.  So long as there is that which can sin, it is a man.  And the prayer of misery carries its own justification, when the sober petitions of the self-righteous and the unkind are rejected.  He who forgives not is not forgiven, and the prayer of the Pharisee is as the weary beating of the surf of hell, while the cry of a soul out of its fire sets the heart-strings of love trembling.  There are sins which men must leave behind them, and sins which they must carry with them. Society scouts the drunkard because he is loathsome, and it matters nothing whether society be right or wrong, while it cherishes in its very bosom vices which are, to the God-born thing we call the soul, yet worse poisons.  Drunkards and sinners, hard as it may be for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven, must yet be easier to save than the man whose position, reputation, money, engross his heart and his care, who seeks the praise of men and not the praise of God. When I am more of a Christian, I shall have learnt to be sorrier for the man whose end is money or social standing than for the drunkard. But now my heart, recoiling from the one, is sore for the other--for the agony, the helplessness, the degradation, the nightmare struggle, the wrongs and cruelties committed, the duties neglected, the sickening ruin of mind and heart.  So often, too, the drunkard is originally a style of man immeasurably nobler than the money-maker!  Compare a Coleridge, Samuel Taylor or Hartley, with--no; that man has not yet passed to his account. God has in his universe furnaces for the refining of gold, as well as for the burning of chaff and tares and fruitless branches; and, however they may have offended, it is the elder brother who is the judge of all the younger ones.

 

1963 Edition by Elizabeth Yates

[ completely removed section ]

 

1988 Edition by Michael Phillips (Bethany)

[ completely removed section ]

 

2018 Edition by Michael Phillips (The Cullen Collection)

Michael Phillips keeps the paragraph's original message, while greatly shortening it and improving the clarity.  The message, now pruned of several rabbit-trails, comes out in increased clarity:

    Alas for the human soul inhabiting a drink-fouled brain! It is a human soul still, and wretched in the midst of all that whisky can do for it. From the pit of hell it cries out. So long as there is that which can sin, it is a man. There are sins which men must leave behind them, and sins which they must carry with them. Society condemns the drunkard because he is loathsome, and it matters nothing whether society be right or wrong, while it cherishes in its very bosom vices which are, to the God-born thing we call the soul, yet worse poisons. Drunkards and sinners, hard as it may be for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven, must yet be easier to save than the man whose position, reputation, money, engross his heart and his care, who seeks the praise of men and not the praise of God. God has in his universe furnaces for the refining of gold, as well as for the burning of chaff and tares and fruitless branches. And, however they may have offended, it is the elder brother who is the judge of all the younger ones.

Important Characters and Locations

Angus Mac Pholp The gamekeeper for Thomas Galbraith
Donal Grant Gibbie's friend and the protagonist of the followup story
Fergus Duff John Duff's second son, and Donal's friend
George Galbraith Gibbie's father
Gibbie Galbraith The protagonist of the story
Ginevra Galbraith Thomas Galbraith's daughter
Glashgar Steep, 3,000 ft mountain loved by Gibbie
Gormgarnet The region of the story
Hornie Donal's ornery cow
Janet Grant Donal's mother and Robert's wife
Jean Mavor John Duff's half-sister
John Duff Fergus' father and the Master of the Mains
Joseph Thomas Gailbraith's old butler
Mains of Glashruach The Lair's Estate
Mistress Mac Farlane Thomas Galbraith's servant
Mrs. Benjie Croale Bar owner
Mysie The baker's daughter
Nicie Grant Donal's sister
Oscar The Grant family dog
Rev. Clement Sclater The Glashruach parish minister
River Daur The river up which Gibbie ventured
Robert Grant Sheepherder, Donal's father and Janet's husband
Sambo Gibbie's African sailor friend and protector
Thomas Galbraith The Laird of Glashruach
William Fuller Withrop Rich businessman


Selected Quotes from Sir Gibbie

“No man can order his life, for it comes flowing over him from behind. But if it lay before us, and we could watch its current approaching from a long distance, what could we do with it before it had reached the now? In like wise a man thinks foolishly who imagines he could have done this and that with his own character and development, if he had but known this and that in time.”

“Now Gibbie had been honoured with the acquaintance of many dogs, and the friendship of most of them, for a lover of humanity can hardly fail to be a lover of caninity.”

“... he would perhaps have known that to try too hard to make people good, is one way to make them worse; that the only way to make them good is to be good -- remembering well the beam and the mote; that the time for speaking comes rarely, the time for being never departs.”

“Of all teachings that which presents a far distant God is the nearest to absurdity. Either there is none, or he is nearer to every one of us than our nearest consciousness of self. An unapproachable divinity is the veriest of monsters, the most horrible of human imaginations.”

“Even in the matter of stealing we must think of our own beam before our neighbour's mote. It is not easy to be honest. There is many a thief who is less of a thief than many a respectable member of society.”

“... she had now no inclination to trouble Gibbie's heart with what men call the plan of salvation. It was enough to her to find that he followed her Master. Being in the light she understood the light, and had no need of system, either true or false, to explain it to her.”

 

 

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