Fairy land is a mirror of the real world. The view in the mirror, though seemingly the same, presents new fantastic aspects of the world, making the most common objects poetic and beautiful. The mirrors represent the alternate universe, and MacDonald makes his point about mirrors quite clear: The transportation from real to fantasy describes the world seen through the mirrors as more poetic and fantastic than that which we look upon every day. Through the mirror the world seems somehow more wonderful.

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality? — not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, 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 . . . 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 [66].

This passage directly parallels the one that tells of the desire to live in the mirror world:

What a strange thing a mirror is! and what a wondrous affinity exists between it and a man's imagination! For this room of mine, as I behold it in the glass, is the same, and yet not the same. It is not the mere representation of the room I live in, but it looks just as if I were reading about it in a story I like. All its commonness has disappeared. The mirror has lifted it out of the region of fact into the realm of art; and the very representing of it to me has clothed with interest that which was otherwise hard and bare; just as one sees with delight upon the stage the representation of a character from which one would escape in life as from something unendurably wearisome . . . I should like to live in that room if I could only get into it. [89/90]

Though indirectly, the reference to "a man beside myself" can be interpreted as a man and the face in the mirror. The fact that he wishes to banish himself from the mirror and be set free is an important theme. The grass isn't always greener on the other side:

I might here find the magic word of power to banish the demon and set me free, so that I should no longer be a man beside myself. [72]

Questions

1. The world of the fantastic is described through the looking glass. Is the reading of this fantasy an attempt to go through the mirror into the fantastic world? Why did MacDonald choose this approach to writing his Phantastes?

2. MacDonald describes the concept of a fantasy within his Phantastes: "All its commonness has disappeared. The mirror has lifted it out of the region of fact into the realm of art; and the very representing of it to me has clothed with interest that which was otherwise hard and bare" (89). "In a genuine fairy story everything must be miraculous" (3). How does this concept of fantasy emerge in his techniques and style of writing?

3. What is the reasoning behind MacDonald's use of questions in the passage on page 66? The rest of the novel contains few questions, causing these statements to stand out.

4. Why does MacDonald paint us a picture through the mirror of Anodos crying: "On the inside of this door was an oval convex mirror. Looking in it for some time, we at length saw reflected the place where we stood, and the old dame seated in her chair. Our forms were not reflected. But at the feet of the dame lay a young man, yourself, weeping?" (149) The rest of the novel doesn't seem to share this theme, why is it there now?

References

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


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Last modified 7 February 2004