In George MacDonald's Phantastes, Anodos, the protagonist, tells the reader his journey in the mysterious land called Fairy Land. In addition, Anodos shares with the reader stories and poems which he has read, one of which is a story of Cosmo, a young man who falls in love with a woman in a mirror. His love for her leads to a relentless search for the mirror after its disappearance. To achieve her freedom, Cosmo has to find the mirror and destroy it.
Full of distress, which he concealed as well as he could, he made many searches, but with no avail. Of course he could ask no questions; but he kept his ears awake for any remotest hint that might set him in a direction of search. He never went out without a short heavy hammer of steel about him, that he might shatter the mirror the moment he was made happy by the sight of his lost treasure, if ever that blessed moment should arrive. Whether he should see the lady again, was now a thought altogether secondary, and postponed to the achievement of her freedom. He wandered here and there, like an anxious ghost, pale and haggard; gnawed ever at the heart, by the thought of what she might be suffering — all from his fault.
One night, he mingled with a crowd that filled the rooms of one of the most distinguished mansions in the city; for he accepted every invitation, that he might lose no chance, however poor, of obtaining some information that might expedite his discovery. Here he wandered about, listening to every stray word that he could catch, in the hope of a revelation. As he approached some ladies who were talking quietly in a corner, one said to another: "Have you heard of the strange illness of the Princess von Hohenweiss?" [p. 101]
1. MacDonald does not reveal the identity of the woman in the mirror until later in the story, in the quoted passage. Why? What effect does MacDonald intend to create?
2. What does this passage tell the reader about Cosmo's love? Is there any connection between the characteristics of love presented in this story and the time when Phantastes was written?
3. Why do you think MacDonald include the story of Cosmo in Phantastes?
4. What could this passage tell the reader about MacDonald's idea of freedom and sacrifice?
5. Unlike in today's world where information can be obtained easily, in the story of Cosmo, the only way to obtain information, as implied in the passage, is by accepting every invitation to the "most distinguished mansions" in the city. How might this condition, or rather, restriction, affect Cosmo's state of mind? Also, considering Cosmo's socioeconomic status, is MacDonald making a political statement here?
MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Last modified 7 February 2004