alking through the enchanted forest in its darkest hour, the speaker encounters the hateful ash tree, who tries to murder him. A loving beach tree disguised as a woman rescues the speaker. With an outpouring of love, the beach tree comforts the speaker. At the same time, she expresses her hopes and fears at the idea of becoming human. Her worries illuminate what she believes is the most important human capability
Recovering from his brush with the ash tree, the speaker reclines in the beach tree's embrace and asks her questions about herself.
"Why do you call yourself a beech-tree?" I said.
"Because I am one," she replied, in the same low, musical, murmuring voice.
"You are a woman," I returned.
"Do you think so? Am I very like a woman then?"
"You are a very beautiful woman. Is it possible you should not know it?"
"I am very glad you think so. I fancy I feel like a woman sometimes. I do so to-night — and always when the rain drips from my hair. For there is an old prophecy in our woods that one day we shall all be men and women like you. Do you know anything about it in your region? Shall I be very happy when I am a woman? I fear not, for it is always in nights like these that I feel like one. But I long to be a woman for all that." [Ch. 4, 56-57]
The beach tree wants to become a woman because she craves the ability to love. In her present state as a beach tree, she only experiences love in times of terror. She assumes that humans have the power to love at all times, but she does not know if that is because the human life is a terrible thing, or if love is just a human privilege that stays through the good times and the bad. Still, she believes that any sacrifice would be worth the power to have love all the time.
1. Why does the beach tree say that she feels especially like a woman when the rain drips from her hair? What are thematic and poetic reasons why MacDonald had the tree make this comment?
2. The speaker describes the beach tree's voice as "musical and murmuring." How does MacDonald make this come across in her language?
3. Why does the beach tree love the speaker?
4. Is the beach tree more powerful than the ash tree? Why does the ash tree abandon his pursuit of the speaker when the beach tree comes to the rescue?
5. In this episode, Macdonald harps show that love is most potent after an experience of pain. This theme also echoes through Tennyson's In Memoriam. Is the idea that love is inextricably tied to pain an especially Victorian concept?
MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Last modified 10 February 2004