Throughout the course of the novel Phantastes, the subjects of beauty and sincerity often arise as Anodos meanders through Fairy Land. Many times the protagonist of our story is led astray and deceived by what appears to be an genuine beauty and is left dazed and disillusioned. In the following passage, Anodos comments specifically on the first time he encounters one such people that transform into hideous creatures as he approaches them:

I came within a certain distance of any one of them, which distance, however, varied with different individuals, the whole appearance of the person began to change; and this change increased in degree as I approached. When I receded to the former distance, the former appearance was restored. The nature of the change was grotesque, following no fixed rule. The nearest resemblance to it that I know is the distortion produced in your countenance when you look at it as reflected in a concave or convex surface — say, either side of a bright spoon . . . . My host's daughter was a very pleasant pretty girl, who made herself more agreeable to me than most of those about me. For some days my companion-shadow had been less obtrusive than usual; and such was the reaction of spirits occasioned by the simple mitigation of torment, that, although I had cause enough besides to be gloomy, I felt light and comparatively happy. My impression is, that she was quite aware of the law of appearances that existed between the people of the place and myself, and had resolved to amuse herself at my expense; for one evening, after some jesting and raillery, she, somehow or other, provoked me to attempt to kiss her. But she was well defended from any assault of the kind. Her countenance became, of a sudden, absurdly hideous; the pretty mouth was elongated and otherwise amplified sufficiently to have allowed of six simultaneous kisses. I started back in bewildered dismay; she burst into the merriest fit of laughter, and ran from the room. I soon found that the same undefinable law of change operated between me and all the other villagers; and that, to feel I was in pleasant company, it was absolutely necessary for me to discover and observe the right focal distance between myself and each one with whom I had to do. [63]

Discussion Questions — Matters of Phantastic Technique and Character

1. What do you think MacDonald is trying to say by having people become distorted as Anodos approaches them?

2. How does MacDonald manage to make this fantastic act of distortion something real and relatable?

3. Anodos seems preoccupied with the physical. Does this having anything to do with his being "just a child," having just turned 21? What does this preoccupation implicate about his own character?

4. What does the host's daughter's actions imply about those who may have preceded Anodos?


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

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Last modified 9 February 2004