This is an enchanting work of high fantasy, lyrical in its composition, spiritual in its nature, and enlightening in its effect on the careful reader. As the subtitle says, Phantastes is a Faerie Romance For Men and Women. The Fairy Land in which Anodos, the narrator, ventures is not the fairy land of youth's innocent dreams; rather, it is an otherworldly plane full of great beauty and terrible ugliness, impish little fairies and horrible, teasing goblins, nurturing spirits and malevolent entities. Anodos' discovery of a fairy inside his deceased father's old desk leads to his unplanned journey into this world of wonder.
Throughout his adult life, CS Lewis repeatedly asserted that George MacDonald was his `master,' his mentor. Without MacDonald's works (and this one in particular), there may never have been a Lewis as we know him. Besides that, MacDonald has heavily influenced such other creators of fantasy as JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams, and GK Chesterton. Madeleine L'Engle calls MacDonald the `Grandfather' of all who attempt to understand life through fantasy. Indeed, he is a grandfather of modern fantasy.
Here was C.S. Lewis' own experience: "It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier. I had 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 that time further from my thoughts than Christianity and I therefore had no notion what this difference really was. I was only aware that if 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 to baptise my imagination. ... The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live. I should have been shocked in my 'teens if anyone had told me that what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness. But now that I know, I see there was no deception. The deception is all the other way round -- in that prosaic moralism which confines goodness to the region of Law and Duty, which never lets us feel in our face the sweet air blowing from 'the land of righteousness', never reveals that elusive Form which if once seen must inevitably be desired with all but sensuous desire -- the thing (in Sappho's phrase) 'more gold than gold'." An eloquent "review" from perhaps MacDonald's greatest admirer.
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