Monday, July 19, 2010

Deep Within, There's Something

Every bit of George MacDonald's works that I've ever read always have some deep truth in them somewhere. But I can't ever seem to ferret it out into words.

MacDonald's fantasies (Phantastes, Lilith, At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, and The Princess and Curdie, along with his fantasy short stories The Grey Wolf, The Golden Key and The Wise Woman) are the hardest to dig into. Every time I read his books, I'm left with an indescribable longing for something better than our world. It's not a specific place, like Lewis' Narnia Chronicles make me wish to go to Narnia. It's just--somewhere.

Phantastes is without a doubt the hardest one to delve into. It's almost purely narrative, accounting a man's (Anodos) adventures in Fairyland. It moves at a leisurely pace most of the time. And though I once read that it portrays a "profound sadness and a poignant longing for death" I really don't think it's quite that morbid.

Several things suggest themselves to me. Based on encounter with the White Woman Anodos' voice sets free from a marble casket (singing counts for a lot in Fairyland, apparently), his subsequent deceiving by the Alder-woman, and his search for the White Woman who he imagines is his love, only to find that her love is held by another's, I'd say that it is in one way a quest for true love. Certainly Anodos wants and pursues love, and makes several blunders along the way just like a typical person.

Also, in one point he looks into a dark closet owned by an ogre. When he leaves the ogre's house, he has a dark shadow trailing him that. Afterwards, his ability to see and hear the higher orders of fairies and elves disappears. When the shadow touches plants, the grass and flowers wither. One fairy-boy Anodos sees, the shadow turns into a plain, ordinary little boy.

His shadow constantly dogs him throughout the book, until he arrives at the fairy palace--and even then, after trying to win the White Woman's love, the shadow returns. I think the shadow probably represents sin, which can dull our own world.

And at the end, Anodos meets with two brothers, princes, who are determined to fight against three giants. Anodos becomes their "brother" and assists them against the giants. They kill the giants, but the two princes die while doing so. Their father grants Anodos knighthood, then while leaving Anodos is set upon by a rogue knight and made prisoner. Anodos realizes that he is unfit to be a knight, and after being rescued (by a girl, no less), he offers to be the squire of a man I've dubbed the Red Knight (when we first meet the knight, his armor is rusty from misuse and only "by the blows of knightly encounter" can the armor again be shiny). While traveling with the Red Knight, they come to city where Anodos recognizes evil, and defeats it in the form of a wolf, dying in the process. This might be an example of heroic self-sacrifice.

Then he awakes to find it only a dream.

That's all I can pull out of it. George MacDonald's writings definitely take a deeper thinker than me to understand them. 

Has anyone else read Phantastes? What did you think of it? 

2 responses:

Galadriel said...

Agh! If only I could access those!

Anonymous said...

Phantastes, Phantastes... I tried to read it. I truly did. Twice, actually, because C.S.Lewis loved MacDonald's writings so much, and I thought that whatever I he liked to read must at least be good. But, to be honest, it bored the life out of me. There's a reason that Lewis is the better known of the two. I did like The Princess and the Goblin (I'm not sure if it was shortened or not, but it was pretty long even if it was, and had really nice illustrations). So, anyways, I'm also kind of leery about MacDonald because of his beliefs. He had some kind of wacked out doctrines, and was, I believe, kicked out of his pulpit for being too radical (in the wrong way). I also liked The Light Princess, which is a light hearted fairy tale until near the end, where it gets serious. He did have some really good insights, I thought especially so in The Princess and the Goblin, but this is turning out really long so I'll leave it there. I also tried to read Lilith, and I didn't even get as far into that as I did into Phantastes. I can't say that MacDonald had a way with words like Lewis or Tolkien did, that's for sure, and his writing is very clunky and dry a lot of times.


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