George MacDonald’s Tale of Treasure

© by Dan Graves

For every person who longs for spiritual riches, there are thousands who covet material wealth.

author George MacDonald

George MacDonald

Not surprisingly, the lust for riches has often found its way into literature. Motifs of inheritance and treasure trove make a frequent appearance in the stories of all nations. Several famous Victorians wrote novels with such themes, not least among them Dickens, Stevenson, and Haggard. The Christian writer George MacDonald also penned such a novel.

MacDonald biographer, Joseph Johnson, says of Castle Warlock, “It is the beautiful story of how loss and poverty can bring heavenly riches and lasting blessing.”

There is a good deal of truth in that characterization. However, early in the novel, clues telegraph the reader that there is a hidden treasure somewhere in the castle. One of the plot lines propelling readers through the book is the expectation that this treasure will be found. To MacDonald’s credit, his Castle Warlock cautions often against the love of riches. Early on he warns that it is not just the rich who make Mammon their god, but also the poor. Later, he has the protagonist declare that there are “heaps of idols” among those who call themselves Christians, and those who gather silver are the worshipers of as ugly a god as the Philistines with their fish-tailed deity. There are other such warnings.

Indeed, MacDonald arranged his plot so that only after Cosmo, the young heir of Glenwarlock, yielded his cherished family castle to the Lord, willing to lose it if such was God’s will—only then did he stumble upon the means to save it.

As beautiful as the story is, with its portrait of the affectionate relationship between Cosmo and his godly father, and Cosmo’s submission to God’s will, I find it at odds with itself. All the while that MacDonald has his readers rooting for Cosmo to uncover the treasure, he is simultaneously cautioning against the desire for wealth with warnings such as this: “I know not how the born-rich, still less those who have given themselves with success to the making of money, can learn that God is the all in all of men, for this world’s needs as well as for the eternal needs.”

The point MacDonald is driving at in Castle Warlock is that God himself is the inheritance we should seek. Even if the novel doesn’t quite work, that is a lesson we all should learn.


  1. “George MacDonald.” Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Accessed August, 2009.
  2. Johnson, Joseph. George MacDonald; a biographical and critical appreciation. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1906. (Source of the image)
  3. MacDonald, George. Warlock of Glenwarlock (also issued under the title Castle Warlock and modernized as The Laird’s Inheritance.) ca. 1880.

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