Sometimes, one cannot connect to reality without first immersing oneself in fantasy. The Faerie world of George Macdonald's Phantastes provides an appropriate forum for the protagonist, Anodos, to break free from his naivete and hubris. With the help of numerous sensationalized characters and events, Anodos learns to appreciate the "souls of his passions" and the satisfaction that lies within "still contemplation and spiritual consciousness." Anodos' death in the fantastical Faerie land generates the rebirth of his character in the real world.
The hot fever of life had gone by, and I breathed the clear mountain-air of the land of Death. I had never dreamed of such blessedness. It was not that I had in any way ceased to be what I had been. The very fact that anything can die, implies the existence of something that cannot die; which must either take to itself another form, as when the seed that is sown dies, and arises again; or, in conscious existence, may, perhaps, continue to lead a purely spiritual life. If my passions were dead, the souls of the passions, those essential mysteries of the spirit which had imbodied themselves in the passions, and had given to them all their glory and wonderment, yet lived, yet glowed, with a pure, undying fire. They rose above their vanishing earthly garments, and disclosed themselves angels of light. But oh, how beautiful beyond the old form! I lay thus for a time, and lived as it were an unradiating existence; my soul a motionless lake, that received all things and gave nothing back; satisfied in still contemplation, and spiritual consciousness.
nodos' narrative comes, literally, from the grave. He remarks on the clarity of mind he realizes in "death" and views this period of dormancy as valuable time to reflect on his existence. "If my passions were dead," contemplates Anodos, "the souls of my passions... yet lived, yet glowed, with a pure, undying fire." These souls of passions he considers "angels of light," much more "beautiful beyond their old form!" Anodos' passions have evolved and been redirected; they focus more, now, on improving the purpose of his existence by improving the lives of those around him - a pure purpose, no doubt.
Until Anodos' return to the mortal world from whence he came, he remains content to lay as a "motionless lake that receives all things," ready and willing to learn from the world around him. Thus, Macdonald's protagonist has proven himself capable of evolving into a mature, conscious individual.
1. A bildungsroman is a "coming-of-age" novel focusing mainly on the formation of the protagonist's character and/or spiritual education. Despite the relatively older age of Macdonald's protagonist, could Phantastes be considered a bildungsroman? Why or why not?
2. Anodos claims the "souls of his passions" to be "angels of light" and more "beautiful beyond their old forms." How, then, would you describe Anodos' passions prior to entering Faerie land?
3. Anodos talks of death as a blessedness he had never dreamed of. Why do you think Anodos shines such a positive light on what is generally considered a dark topic/event?
4. Describe the similarities between Charlotte Brontë's protagonist, Jane Eyre, and George Macdonald's protagonist, Anodos. The maturation of both characters is a result of several life-altering incidences that force them to alter their views of the world. How do the "new" characters (those which the reader becomes familiar with by the novel's close) compare?
MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Last modified 22 February 2010