Friday, May 3, 2013

Phantastes by George MacDonald

Phantastes: A Faerie Romance by George MacDonald with an introduction by C. S. Lewis. Eerdmans, 2000.

I have read and enjoyed the writings of C.S. Lewis for over thirty years. In some sense he is my spiritual father and guide. In reading Lewis I have come upon George MacDonald and how he influenced Lewis. He actually says that Phantastes baptized his imagination. MacDonald is even Lewis' guide in the Great Divorce. Lewis also wrote an anthology of George MacDonald. I have read The Golden Key and the Curdie books which I have read aloud to my family and enjoyed. The Curdie books are my favorite. I have not read Phantastes until the past few weeks.

Lewis in the introduction writes about Phantastes:

"It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought . . . the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew I had crossed a great frontier. I has already been waist deep in Romanticism; and likely enough, at any moment to flounder into its darker and more evil forms, slithering down the steep descent that leads from the love of strangeness to that of eccentricity and thence to that of perversity. Now Phantastes was romantic enough in all conscience; but there was a difference. Nothing was at the time further from my thoughts than Christianity and I therefore had no notion what the difference really was. I was only aware that if this 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, a certain quality of Death, good Death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even baptize my imagination" (xi).

I can see what Lewis meant after reading the book. I read it aloud to my family and I believe this enhanced the enjoyment of it. It was like entering a strange world. It is about a young man at twenty one years of age enters fairyland and has many adventures in the place. He seems to wander "aimlessly" through it ever heading "eastward." He encounter many fairytale characters in this land, tree spirits, fairies, a knight errant, ogres, a white lady and many more. One can make better sense of the book when one comes to the end. The book seems to be full of symbolism. For example, the man is followed by his shadow. This seems to indicate his fallen nature. There seems to be a sacramental understanding of the world in this work.

Georhe MacDonald has influenced many fantasy writers of our own time. Madeeine L'Engle observed, "Surely, George MacDonald is the grandfather of us all --- all of us who struggle to come to terms with truth through fantasy."

George MacDonald was born in 1824 and he died in 1905. Other works to read by MacDonald are the Curdie books, The Golden Key, The Wise Woman, The Light Princess and Lilith. It is probably best to read his short stories first.

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