By Pierce Taylor Hibbs
08.04.2023 | Min Read

I always have high expectations for a Rabbit Room book. So, I opened the package containing the newly adapted and illustrated version of George MacDonald’s classic with anticipation. The Golden Key is the sort of tale that makes it obvious why MacDonald was such a potent influence on C. S. Lewis. There’s a mystical and yet clear relationship between biblical truth and fantasy portrayal—something that grips your attention and makes you marvel at the same time. And now readers have a version with illustrations by Stephen Hesselman in a graphic novel adaptation. It was easy to plop down on the couch with my two daughters and start reading.

MacDonald introduces two central characters in this fable: a ruddy boy named Mossy and a girl named Tangle. A mysterious golden key, found at the feet of a transcendent rainbow, leads them forward in a journey to discover “the country from which the shadows fall”—a mountain-hugged plain with dancing shadows of every sort playing on the surface. But it’s at this point that Mossy and Tangle lose each other and grow strangely old. Tangle travels far and wide, searching for a way to get back to this shadow country and find Mossy again. Will they ever find each other and get back? And what of that transcendent rainbow that seems to hold the most beautiful forms and figures in its light waves?

The power of MacDonald’s tale is the specter of eternity that drifts behind the text, calling readers not just into the story but beyond it. The shadows, our intuition tells us, must be cast by something, and so that “country from which the shadows fall” isn’t the pinnacle of life; it’s right beneath that pinnacle, catching the shapes of the glorious figures that play inside the rainbow. By the end of the story, we’re left wondering about the transcendent meaning of our own lives.

Woven with images of flying fish diving into cauldrons, dancing chairs, ancient faerie maidens, and men of the sea and of fire—The Golden Key will enchant imaginations as much as it will cast a spell on the soul, for children and parents alike.

Lastly, the craftsmanship of the book is what I’ve come to love from Rabbit Room books in this series (see also The Light Princess and The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad). The deep green leather cover, gilded with golden text and embossed with iridescent fish, combine to make the book a work of art—something sure to catch eyes and encourage hands to pull it down off the shelf again and again. That’s what our family plans to do with it, and I think yours will, too.