At the Back of the North Wind when I was young but didn't get more than a few chapters into it. Since Lewis and Tolkien atribute so much of their inspiration to George MacDonald, I wanted to give it a second try.
This time around I was a bit more inspired, but it was still slow going getting through it. Then, as is the case with so many older books, I began to really enjoy it once I got past the first two thirds or so. In the end it was quite poignant and sweet.
The writing style (naturally) is rather clunky and old-fashioned. The plot and action is understated while descriptions seem to go on for pages. However, it manages to be whimsical and fantastic while at the same time real and moralistic without providing the answers for any of it. Does the North Wind really visit Diamond and carry him in her arms through the night? Where do dreams come from? Does suffering hardships make good times more lovely? Within the pages of this book, even if life is perplexing, it is beautiful, good and worth living. I liked that instead of moralizing in this story (as is so common in many Victorian novels), George MacDonald would subtly and sagaciously slip in values or little moral messages that were actually pretty profound.
I would not recommend this for young readers unless they have been raised to appreciate slow-paced and subtle literature. I will consider reading it aloud to my kids in a few years, but not until they've learned to sit through longer descriptive passages.