Spencer Einbund: From the moment the speaker of George Macdonald's Phantastes, Anodos, finds his shadow in the ogre's closet in Chapter 8 it haunts him, never leaving his side and permanently casting a dismal glance over that on which it falls:
Everything, henceforward, existed for me in its relation to my attendant. What influence he exercised upon everything into contact with which I was brought, may be understood from a few detached instances. To begin with this very day on which he first joined me: after I had walked heartlessly along for two or three hours, I was very weary, and lay down to rest in a most delightful part of the forest, carpeted with wild flowers. I lay for half an hour in dull repose, and then got up to pursue my way. The flowers on the spot where I had lain were crushed to the earth: but I saw that they would soon lift their heads and rejoice again in the sun and air. Not so those on which my shadow had lain. The very outline of it could be traced in the withered lifeless grass, and the scorched and shrivelled flowers which stood there, dead, and hopeless of any resurrection. I shuddered, and hastened away with sad forebodings.
ndeed, from this moment forth Anodos fears this shadow and its capacity to remove all beauty and magic from this fantastical world of the Faerie. This shadow, that leave's all in its path "dead, and hopeless of any resurrection" is not the everyday shadow of the real world; however, this shadow represents Anodos' desires and wants. In the same way the shadow appears when Anodos, who previously had been wandering the forrest merely for curiosity's sake, explicitly disobeys the old woman's (the ogre) advice and opens the door, seeking to gain that which he yearns for most: knowledge. For the continuation of the tale his shadow wanes in and out of being, varying directly with the speaker's wants. In Chapter 11, when Anodos arrives at the Fairy Palace, his satisfaction is nearly complete and subsequently his shadow almost gone: For this whole morning I never thought of my demon shadow; and not till the weariness which supervened on delight brought it again to my memory, did I look round to see if it was behind me: it was scarcely discernible." While his shadow continues to strengthen and diminish, it is not until he has lost all sense of self, and thus of worldly claims and desires, that his shadow disappears forever:
"I have lost myself — would it had been my shadow." I looked round: the shadow was nowhere to be seen. Ere long, I learned that it was not myself, but only my shadow, that I had lost. I learned that it is better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence. I learned that he that will be a hero, will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work, is sure of his manhood. [Chapter 22]
Like the epigraph from Dekker beginning Chapter 24 ("We are ne'er like angels till our passions die"), so too must the vain, wanting side of Anodos die in Fairy World before he may return to his earthly domain and experience happiness. Ultimately, Anodos' final act of selflessness, sacrificing his own life to stop the ceremony of the cloaked priests, that frees him from the ties of Fairy World and allows him to return to his own home.
Jason Beckman: In response to your discussion of the meaning of the shadow, I thought I would go back and take a closer look at how Macdonald makes its presence known to see what that passage has to say about the shadow's possible meaning and relevance.
When Anodos encounters the ogre's hut, his curiosity leads him to ignore the kind woman's advice and enter into the ogre's domain. Without pausing to consider the ramifications of his actions, he then eagerly disobeys the ogre's warning by peering into her closet; it is as Anodos gazes into the seemingly endless void of the closet that the shadow emerges from its depths and fastens itself to him. When a puzzled Anodos inquires what it is that approached him from within the closet, the ogre cryptically responds:
"It is only your shadow that has found you," she replied. Everybody's shadow is ranging up and down looking for him. I believe you call it by a different name in your world: yours has found you, as every person's is almost certain to do who looks into that closet, especially after meeting one in the forest, whom I dare say you have met."
Macdonald at once conveys the revelation of the shadow's existence and leaves the lingering question of its true identity. The ogre makes a point to distinguish the entity that emerged from her closet from a "shadow" in the traditional sense, adding a mysterious depth to a familiar concept. She also specifies that "your shadow...has found you" (106), citing the action and will of the shadow (rather than of Anodos) as the motivator of their meeting. This emphasis grants the shadow a certain degree of independent power, which forces Anodos to actively change his attitude and way of thinking in order to control the shadow's presence.
Until Anodos stares into the depths of the ogre's closet he is entirely ignorant of his own "shadow," but once they are acquainted it continues to follow him throughout the remainder of his adventure. Macdonald fastens Anodos to his negative characteristics which, although are manifested as his shadow, do not fade when confronted with light or changes in the time of day.
What does it mean that Anodos does not realize the existence of his shadow until it dashes towards him and "come[s] into the sphere of [him]self"? Up until this point, is Anodos entirely ignorant of the flaws and vices that seem to give his shadow its form? Can this experience be generalized to describe how we as humans meet with our own "shadows" at certain points in our lives?
Although it is the shadow that actively seeks and finds Anodos in the ogre's hut, are the two ever truly separate entities? Even before they "meet," are the two not irrevocably linked?
What is it about staring into the depths of the closet that causes the shadow to emerge? Is the closet itself significant as a symbol, or is it more the disobedient act of looking into it that draws out the shadow? Would Anodos have encountered his shadow if he had not entered the ogre's cabin?
Were any of Macdonald's contemporaries (or predecessors) known for using the dichotomy of light and dark in any works relevant to Macdonald or his readers? What stories would come to mind as one of Macdonald's readers confronted the light and darkness of Phantastes?
- Anados's Shadow: an Example of Symbolism in Phantastes
- Bright Light and Shadow
- Shadows and Darkness: Learning to Triumph over Human Weakness
MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Last modified 22 February 2010