In his introduction to the 1970 Ballantine paperback edition of Phantastes (which introduced me to George MacDonald) Lin Carter places his works within the history of modern fantasy fiction:
Strictly speaking, the fantasy novel of quest and adventure in worlds created from the author's own imagination began as a literary movement with the pioneering work of William Morris. His first novel in this genre, The Wood Beyond the World, was published in 1895.
But the fantasy novel of imagined worlds has its forerunners long before William Morris. Perhaps the most important of these were the two extraordinary "dream-romances," — Lilith and Phantastes — written by a brilliant, unusual Scot named George MacDondald. [v] . . . . Phantastes was MacDondald's very first novel; it was published in 1858, when he was 34, thirty-seven years before the first printing of William Morris's The Wood Beyond the World, which I have called the "first" imaginary world novel. The differences between Morris and MacDondald are obvious; Morris's world is real, adventures therein are serious and perils met along the way are deadly; but the world of Phantastes is an imagined state of being and we are not meant to accept it as a real place. The adventures met by MacDondald's character Anados are symbolic, and the adventures he faces are allegorical. [vii]
According to Carter, who here agrees with W. H. Auden, Phantastes attempts to describe the world of dreams and produces a kind of "dream realism" (viii). Do you agree that "we are not meant to accept" MacDondald's fictional world "as a real place"? Although many events and transitions between parts of the plot certainly have the eeriness or magical feel of dreams, Anados makes clear at the very end of the story that he has in fact been away from home for a number of days. In other words, the fantasy doesn't end with the cliché, "And then I woke up." Does this statement by Anados contradict either Auden's "dream realism" or Carter's rather different assertion that we do not take the world of Phantastes "as a real place"?
Carter, Lin. "Beyond the Gates of Dream" in George MacDonald. Phantastes. New York, Ballantine, 1970.
Last modified 7 February 2004