The Raven’s Trail: Roses




a painted engraving of a rose by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, 1824

A standard rose will have been ‘grafted’. That is the flowers of a rose bush (a more sprawling and unmanageable branch of the rose family) will be tied to and eventually fuse with a smaller, more manageable upright stem. As one of the most popular garden plants, Roses are often referred to as ‘The Queen of the Garden’. Roses generally have a long flowering period so are a good choice for gardens.


Roses as Symbols


Beauty and the Beast by Jean-Marie LePrince de Beaumont (1711-1780) with illustrations by Edmund Dulac.

Roses have long been a popular flower to gift to another. In the nineteenth century elaborate messages and meanings could be conveyed through the number, color and positioning of flowers in an arrangement. This language of flowers is known as ‘floriography.’ Many floral dictionaries were published during the Victorian era to help budding florists.

Although red roses are traditionally associated with love, other colors are attached to different meanings. For example a pink rose means thank you and a yellow rose friendship. Yellow roses with red tipped petals signify falling in love, or friendship.

Roses in George MacDonald’s Fantasy

Curdie and fire

Illustration by Charles Folkard 1947 for The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald.

Rose petals, rather than rosebushes, often appear in George MacDonald’s work. These instances are often at moment of change or revelation of the magical. In Phantastes the hero  Anodos’ encounters a tiny woman in dried rose petals, hidden in a bureau, who tells him he will go to fairyland. Both The Princess and The Goblin and The Princess and Curdie feature a fire made of red and white rose petals. Owned by the great great grandmother of the princess Irene:

 “On a huge hearth a great fire was burning, and the fire was a huge heap of roses, and yet it was fire. The smell of the roses filled the air, and the heat of the flames of them glowed upon his face. He turned an inquiring look upon the lady, and saw that she was now seated in an ancient chair, the legs of which were crusted with gems, but the upper part like a nest of daisies and moss and green grass.”

The fire has magical properties to transform those who come into contact with it. Curdie places his hands in the fire and gains the ability to feel the animal self of the people he shakes hands with. The monster Lina enters the fire and is transformed towards the end of The Princess and Curdie.

” There burned the fire – a huge heap of red and white roses. Before the hearth stood the princess, an old grey-haired woman, with Lina a little behind her, slowly wagging her tail, and looking like a beast of prey that can hardly so long restrain itself from springing as to be sure of its victim. The queen was casting roses, more and more roses, upon the fire. At last she turned and said, ‘Now Lina!’ – and Lina dashed burrowing into the fire. There went up a black smoke and a dust, and Lina was never more seen in the palace.”

This trail has been developed by Rebecca Langworthy with editorial assistance from Derek Stewart, Mark Patterson and Oliver Langworthy.

Further Information and Resources

For more about Roses see the RHS Guide

A full list of rose colours and meanings can be found here

The Princess and The Goblin is available to download here princessgoblin00macd

The Princess and Curdie is available to download here princesscurdiemacd

Phantastes is available to download here 1894phantastes

An audio book of The Princess and The Goblin is available here

An audio book of The Princess and Curdie is available here

An audio book of Phantastes is available here

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George MacDonald’s Scotland is Supported by The Research Institute of Scottish and Irish Studies   The University of Aberdeen the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS):