Like Jane Eyre and the Alice books, Phantastes appears to address issues pertaining to growth and maturation; all of these works are buildingsromans of sorts. As with Through the Looking Glass, mirrors are an important, perhaps obvious motif throughout Phantastes. Although mirrors clearly allegorize the “reflection” and self-discovery characteristic to the buildingsroman, MacDonald seems to reach further in the implications attached to his looking glasses.
The following passages present Anodos’ encounters with mirrors and his moments of “reflection.”
In Fairy Land, the “distortion produced in your countenance when you look at it as reflected in a [116/117] concave or convex surface—say, either side of a bright spoon” (ch 9).
“Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?... the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass. (And this reminds me, while I write, of a strange story which I read in the fairy palace, and of which I will try to make a feeble memorial in its place.) In whatever way it may be accounted for, of one thing we may be sure, that this feeling is no cheat; for there is no cheating in nature and the simple unsought feelings of the soul. There must be a truth involved in it, though we may but in part [123/124] lay hold of the meaning. Even the memories of past pain are beautiful; and past delights, though beheld only through clefts in the grey clouds of sorrow, are lovely as Fairy Land. But how have I wandered into the deeper fairyland of the soul, while as yet I only! float towards the fairy palace of Fairy Land! The moon, which is the lovelier memory or reflex of the down-gone sun, the joyous day seen in the faint mirror of the brooding night, had rapt me away” (ch 10).
While narrating his story about Cosmo, Anodos asks, “How many who love never come nearer than to behold each other as in a mirror; seem to know and yet never know the inward life, never enter the other soul…?” (ch 13)
1. How are the three passages relevant to each other?
2. By drawing a comparison between mirrors and his retelling of Cosmo’s story, what kind of commentary is Anodos making in regards to “reflection”—what does he mean by the term?
3. Do the mirrors in Phantastes further or hinder one’s “inward” journey?
4. What are the implications of the mirrors’ “spoon” and elliptical shapes? Do these passages somehow relate to the moment when Anodos breaks the glass globe of the little maiden?
5. How do the mirrors in these passages differ from the looking glass of Alice?
Last modified 3 February 2003