Andos' journey seems to be marked by random and unpredictable incidents. However, this chain of events is not so sporadic, in fact : their evolution correlates with the evolution of Andos' disposition. This phenomenon contributes to the story's dream-like, fantasy quality, as oftentimes dreams progress in strange twists and turns in accordance with the dreamer's state of mind. For the greater part of the novel, Andos is equally powerless over his emotions and his actions, and thereby unable to control the events that unfold as a result of them. In this way, Andos involuntarily finds himself at the ogre's house:
In the middle of this clearing stood a long, low hut, built with one end against a single tall cypress, which rose like a spire to the building. A vague misgiving crossed my mind when I saw it; but I must needs go closer, and look through a little half-open door, near the opposite end from the cypress. [...] An irresistible attraction caused me to enter. . . .[101-02]
In one corner was a door, apparently of a cupboard in the wall, but which might lead to a room beyond. Still the irresistible desire which had made me enter the building urged me: I must open that door, and see what was beyond it. I approached, and laid my hand on the rude latch. Then the woman spoke, but without lifting her head or looking at me: "You had better not open that door." [...] The prohibition, however, only increased my desire to see; and as she took no further notice, I gently opened the door to its full width, and looked in. . . . [102/103]
Then with a feeling that there was yet something behind me, I looked round over my shoulder; and there, on the ground, lay a black shadow, the size of a man. It was so dark, that I could see it in the dim light of the lamp, which shone full upon it, apparently without thinning at all the intensity of its hue.
"I told you," said the woman, "you had better not look into that closet."
"What is it?" I said, with a growing sense of horror.
"It is only your shadow that has found you," she replied. [105/106]
By portraying Andos as unable to control his actions, feelings, nor his situation, Macdonald's tale comes across as an illogical and fantastical dream-world. In particular, Andos' zombie-like movements at the ogre's house create the impression that Andos is watching himself in a dream, rather than experiencing the scene in real time any ability to alter its outcome.
1. How might Andos' exaggerated dream-like powerlessness actually harm the fantasy aspect of the novel? In other words, can the fantastic sometimes be too fantastic, and reduce a novel's value as a compelling literary work? What stylistic techniques does Macdonald employ to maintain some sense of believability?
2. When (if ever) is the sequence of events is uncharacteristically logical / realistic, and for what reason?
3. Do events in Phantastes mostly depend on Andos' disposition more than vice versa? Consider how Jane Eyre's attitude corresponds with her surroundings.
4. How might Andos' self-described lack of control over his fate be interpreted as a criticism of religious fanatics at the time of publication? Andos claims he has "irresistible" desires which lead him to give into temptation — is this analogous to Christians who make God responsible for their own wrongdoings?
MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Last modified 10 February 2004