Phantastes: A Faerie Romance – George MacDonald

“But Love is such a Mystery

I cannot find it out:

For when I think I’m best resolv’d,

I then am in most doubt.”

(Sir John Suckling)

I have just finished Phantastes and was immediately compelled to put my thoughts to paper. What attracted me to the book was, beside the title, the blurb at the back which said the story is a “fairy tale for adults” and I needed no more persuasion.

The book relates the story of Anodos, a young wealthy man who, on his 21st birthday receives the keys to a mysterious secretary which belonged to his father. He opens it and so begins his journey into adulthood. It is really the story of his coming of age through challenges he has to overcome, of joy and love and sadness and despair, for he must go through all of that. His journey takes him to a fantastic land – he meets a birch-tree that is not really a tree, statues that are not really statues, giants and knights and kind old ladies. He is imprisoned but escapes, he fights for a noble cause and wins, he meets all sorts of creatures, good and evil, all meant to make him understand and learn life’s lessons. Learn that sometimes we do harm and are forgiven by those whom we have hurt, that love can be of many ways, that beauty does not equal purity of soul, and friendship has wonderful rewards. Each adventure is meant to teach him something and he comes out of this experience an adult.

Although the language was not very easy to read (the book was, after all, published in the mid 1850’s) and I found myself going back to re-read certain passages, the story had a melody which made me want to keep going. Imbued with wonderful bits of poetry and very vividly described scenes, it took me to another world where everything was possible and nothing was left to chance, to a land where beauty goes hand in hand with ugliness and where weeping is the companion of laughter. In other words, life.

“Fight on, my men, Sir Andrew sayes,

A little Ime hurt, but yett not slaine;

Yle but lye downe and bleede awhile,

And then Ile rise and fight againe.”

(Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton)


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