Phantastes

Phantastes

by George MacDonald
Publisher: Eerdmans
Trade Paperback, 197 pages
List Price: $12.00 Sale Price: $10.20

What drew C.S. Lewis to the fantasy of George MacDonald was the Scot's ability to plumb the mysteries of life in a fairy tale setting. Good fantasy, after all, is about truth and reality, not the fantastical elements themselves—it is instructive rather than simply escapist. Phantastes is one of the earliest examples of fantasy for adults in Western literature, and remains one of the finest. It follows the adventures of Anodos (ascent in Greek) in Fairy Land on the evening of his 21st birthday. What he finds is by turns terrifying and transcendent, and reveals not only the mysteries of Fairy Land but the mysteries of his own soul.

Phantastes was influenced as much by Christian mysticism as by Greek myth and Western fairy tales. Anodos is chased by evil tree spirits, discovers fairies living in flowers, and lives for a time in the fairy queen's castle—all adventures reminiscent of Christian spiritual experience, albeit highly metaphorical and symbolic. Yet unlike many similar works, MacDonald's book is not overtly didactic, nor does the author supply obvious real-world corollaries to the mythic images he creates. What distinguishes this narrative is its clear depiction true goodness and true evil. If this sounds cliché or overdone, bear in mind that MacDonald was one of the first to cast good vs. evil in a fantasy framework. Even by today's standards, however, the adventures of Anodos remain unique and compelling.

MacDonald's main power as a writer lay in his powerful evocations of a dreamlike state. Anodos wanders surreal landscapes and encounters bizarre entities and the reader accepts this, the same way anyone who has waked up from a strange dream accepts it as a real dream that is still distinct from reality. Not the master craftsman many of his admirers were (Chesterton and Auden among them), MacDonald nevertheless effortlessly leads us into Fairy Land with the assurance of one who has himself been there.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Frightening elements
Summary: A man wanders fairyland and discovers the nature of Christian discipleship through a series of allegorical and metaphorical adventures.

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