Friday, March 19, 2010

Phantastes


I have decided that this Saturday’s post (ooooh…doesn’t that sound official?) will be about the most wonderful book in the world. It never ceases to amaze me how few people have read it.
Well, at least I think it’s the most wonderful book in the world. It is a tough call, though. :)
The Title? Phantastes.
The Author? George Macdonald. For those of you who are familiar with George Macdonald, the mere fact that he is its author should automatically endear this book to you. Those of you have the great misfortune of never reading any of his works, you have only to talk to someone who has and watch them swoon at the mention of his name.
First, a quote. “It must have been more than thirty years ago that I bought – almost unwillingly, for I had looked at the volume on that bookstall and rejected it on a dozen previous occasions – the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier. I had already been waist deep in Romanticism; and likely enough, at any moment, to flounder into its darker and more evil forms. Now Phantastes was romantic enough in all conscience; but there was a difference. Nothing was at that time further form my mind than Christianity and I therefore I had no notion what this difference really was. I was only aware that if this new world was strange, it was also homely and humble; that if this was a dream, it was a dream in which one at least felt strangely vigilant; that the whole book had about it a sort of cool, morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakably, Death, good death. What it actually did was to convert, even baptize, my imagination.” -C.S. Lewis
When I first read Phanastes many years ago, I couldn’t have told you the main plot or what the point of the story was. At first glance, the story is about a young man named Anodos who gets lost in Fairyland, and wanders through many bizarre and random adventures trying to get un-lost. The nature of the story leaves one confused, befuddled, not knowing what the point to Anodos’ seemingly random wanderings is or where the author is going with this story. The whole tale has a quality of unearthly, bizarre beauty that initially can be mind-twisting if you’re not used to that sort of writing. But as I’ve read it over and over again, the point becomes increasingly clear. While Anodos has many seemingly unconnected adventures, two themes and two people run through the whole thing.
The first real mishap Anodos has in Fairyland is the acquiring of his Shadow. He finds his Shadow as a result of ignoring some wise advice, and the Shadow fallows his wherever he goes. The influence of the Shadow makes him moody, and makes him suspicious and distrustful. If his Shadow falls on flowers, they wither. If his Shadow happens to fall on a Fairy-child, the child becomes a plain and vulgar farm boy. In short, Anodos’ Shadow is a symbol of his Sin, and the process of disposing of his shadow a symbol of his search for redemption.
The other two people who run through the whole story are the White Lady, and the Knight. Anodos frees the White Lady from her marble tomb through his singing, though she runs away from him. Throughout the story, he is driven by his love for her and a desire to see her once more. Anodos also meets the Knight, who symbolizes the kind of man Anodos desperately, wishes to be. The Knight flits in and out of the story, and near the end Anodos comes to love the Knight as a master. Through the course of searching for the White Lady, however, Anodos learns that his White Lady loves the Knight, and that she is meant for him and cannot love Anodos in the way Anodos has been wanting her to. Anodos at first struggles with this, but later accepts it through realizing that the Knight, his master, is more worthy of the White Lady than he is. Anodos displays his unconditional love for both of them by sacrificing himself for their sakes. The ‘revelation’ is that Anodos has been searching for the wrong love and loving the wrong way; he eventually realizes “that it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one comes closest to the soul of another”.
Related to both the love theme and the sin theme is the Alder Maid, who Anodos mistakes for the White Lady, but who is in truth wicked and a snare for men’s souls. Her part in the story reminds me very much the Proverb’s Strange Woman.
In short, Anodos’ journey through Fairyland is a quest (the knight theme is very prevalent in this story) for both Redemption and a search for the right kind of love. It all gets resolved at the end, which is quite moving, and I won’t give it away. :) Phantastes can strike one as being odd or bizarre, but it is also intensely beautiful. It’s an unearthly, unreal kind of beauty that will leave you in a daze when you get up from finishing it. I highly recommend it- I read it every year to get my priorities straight:-P. If its weirdness puts you off at first, give it a chance. Underneath its seeming random and odd narrative, it’s truly the most beautiful story I’ve ever read.



5 comments:

Aisha said...

I need to read it again!
I read it once at your request, and found it enchanting, but far beyond me. I've actually been thinking about it lately. Now you've just given me the nudge I need to take it up again. :)
Thanks for this post.

Miss Jane said...

After having the desire to read it for many years I finally was able to last month, it was beautiful, and is now on my list of absolute favorites. What an amazing allegory!
It took a bit to convince my family to get it for me as a gift though, they couldn't understand why I wanted it so much.

Miss Pickwickian said...

Sounds very cool.

I've read at least four George MacDonald books and really enjoyed them. Would you be willing to let me borrow this one?
Sounds like I would like it.

Have you read any other George MacDonald books?

Miss Pickwickian

Esmeralda Gatsby said...

Aw thanks! I know Miss Jane... my family thinks it's weird too lol!
Hey sure! I'll bring it Sunday for you!Oh yeah, I'm a HUGE fan of Macdonald Fairy Tales...I need to get his last Fairybook, the Grey wolf... but yeah :) What books of his have you read? ONce you read Phantastes, I would also recomend his other very similar story Lilith; the story line is more followable, but I think Phantastes is the superior. :-P

Miss Pickwickian said...

I haven't read any of his fantasy (I'm really not in to fantasy, but good books, fantasy or not, should be enjoyed).

I've read Alec Forbes/The Maiden's Bequest and the Marquis' Secret trilogy. I enjoyed them all, but mostly the Maiden's Bequest. (Polka Dot read that one too and liked it.)

Anyways, thanks for bringing the book. :-)