Friday, November 20, 2020

Phantastes by George MacDonald, Chapters 1 - 9

PhantastesPhantastes: A Faerie Romance For Men and Women.  George MacDonald (1858). Genre: Fantasy, Classic.

I am reading Phantastes along with The Literary Life Podcast.  They are reading four or five chapters a week and then discussing it on their podcast.  I thought that I would cover just a few chapters at a time as well.

I have read other works by George MacDonald, but have never read Phantastes.  

Summary:  It begins the morning after Anodos turned twenty-one.  As he awakens, he begins to recall the strange events of the previous night.  For his birthday he was given the keys to an old secretary in which his father had kept private papers.  The room containing the secretary has not been used in many years. Anodos begins imagining what he might find among his father's papers.  Finally, he decides to use the key and open the secretary.  It is full of pigeon holes and right in the middle is a small door.  He manages to open the door and is mulling over what he sees inside when suddenly a tiny woman appears and begins speaking to Anodos.  When she jumps to the floor, she becomes a full size woman.  Anodos is overwhelmed by her beauty.  She is quick to tell him he is foolish, because she is his grandmother and tomorrow he will find his way into Fairy Land.

And so the next day he does find himself in Fairy Land.  He wakes up in a bedroom that is not his own.  As he steps out from under the tree that he slept under, he notices a faint footpath and imagines this must be the path to Fairy Land.  So he follows it for a time until it leads him into the wood.

"Here I left it, without any good reason: with a vague feeling that I ought to have followed its course, I took a more southerly direction."

Here we all want to scream, "Don't leave the path!".  Things never go well when one leaves the right path. The first woman he encounters is murmuring warnings about certain trees.  She does not necessarily acknowledge that Anodos is there, but she seems to be warning him.

"I could not conjecture what she meant, but satisfied myself with thinking that it would be time enough to find out her meaning when there was need to make use of her warning, and that the occasion would reveal the admonition."

As Anodos journeys on he meets several more beings, some good and others not good.  Along the way he also unleashes his shadow, by not heeding a warning.  Now it won't leave him.  Near the end of chapter nine, he has come upon a village whose inhabitants appear to be human.  They seem to be avoiding him.  He notices that when he gets close to one of them, the appearance of the person changes.

"The nature of the change was grotesque, following no fixed rule.  The nearest resemblance to it that I know, is the distortion produced in your countenance when you look at it as reflected in a concave or convex surface - say, either side of a bright spoon."

My thoughts:  Fantasy is not a genre that I read very often.  However, I am really enjoying Phantastes.  George MacDonald had a large influence on the writing of C.S. Lewis and also J. R. R. Tolkien.  I see echos of both of their works in this story.  I also am reminded of The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.

This is the story of a journey.  A physical journey in a land not like ours, but also a spiritual journey.  While the land is not like ours, there are so many comparisons that can be made to our lives.  

I am really enjoying following along with The Literary Life Podcast and their discussions.  I am learning a lot.  

If you are interested in listening to the podcast, here are the links:

Episode 71:  Phantastes, Ch. 1-4

Episode 72: Phantastes, Ch. 5-9

The next episode will cover chapters 10-14.


  1. Wow! I read this book a long time ago and I do still own it. I might read it again as I don't remember much about it. Enjoy! 🙂

    1. I was surprised how much I am enjoying it. I read At the Back of the North Wind many years ago and remember not liking that at first. It takes a bit of a mind shift for me to get into this type of fantasy.