Upon Anodos' arrival at the Fairy Palace in George MacDonald's Phantastes, the protagonist undergoes yet again another quest in his novel-long journey; however, in this case, MacDonald takes the opportunity to consolidate the entire journey into one scene. Anodos begins his stay in the palace by regularly walking through rooms, up staircases, and past hallways in order to discover the secrets of the building. Paralleling the strange wonders of the entire fairy world in Phantastes, a series of corridors sparks his interest as he sings to himself for company. Even more so than the physical splendor of the halls, Anodos notes another mystical element:

I seemed to hear something like the distant sound of multitudes of dancers, and felt as if it was the unheard music, moving their rhythmic motion, that within me blossomed in verse and song.I felt, too, that could I but see the dance, I should, from the harmony of complicated movements, not of the dancers in relation to each other merely, but of each dancer individually in the manifested plastic power that moved the consenting harmonious form, understand the whole of the music on the billows of which they floated and sung. [116]

The mysterious sounds come from behind heavy crimson drapes, and once he brushes them to the side, Anodos discovers a veritable fairyland microcosm — twelve similar halls filled with beautiful marble statues linked by one circular corridor. His short stay in the Fairy Palace begins to mimic other adventures he has experienced in the past for he notices the pedestal belonging to a marble statue curiously similar to the elusive White Lady.

Yet despite his desire to watch the still figures (and his lady love) in motion, Anodos realizes that this fantastic world often lies outside his control and operates under different rules. Anodos can only see the statues in motion by distracting his mind with other thoughts and waiting for a moment of inspiration to draw the curtain, showing the fantasy world's consistent trouncing of reality. In this world, humans must learn to place their loci of control outside reason and place their trust in intuition and chance. More importantly, as the dancers suspend their movement upon having an audience, MacDonald notes the fact that at times, beauty lies behind a veil (or a curtain), and once that curtain is lifted and the beauty is bared, the mystique and the aura may simply fail to exist.

This ephemeral aspect of beauty has a literal component when Anodos finally succeeeds in watching the statues dance. As he eagerly roams the hall to find the White Lady, he finds her pedestal empty. "S[itting] down and w[eeping], for there was no help," Anodos feels an even deeper sense of loss.even though only moments ago, his greatest desire was to see his beloved dancers (128). An even harsher future lies yet in the novel, when Anodos' lady love reveals herself to be a cold-hearted, figurative woman of stone, not much worse than the "missing demon" of a shadow he abhors in the scene (128). So easily do desires fail to satisfy, when the mystery is lifted.

To MacDonald, Anodos fails in this instance by failing to preserve his sense of wonder, and MacDonald uses this scene as a lighthearted defense of the fantasy genre itself, cautioning against stripping away the whimsy of fairytales.

References

MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.


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Last modified 10 February 2004