nodos, a young man thrown into a mystical world of fairies, goblins, giants, and magic, spends most of his journey seeking something inside himself. The novel Phantastes by George MacDonald, follows the voyage of this young man as he moves through a bizarre world unlike anything ever imagined. Anodos appears to wander aimlessly, taking different paths as they appear before him, with no true goal in mind. Despite this, a greater purpose seems to loom overhead. Though the paths he chooses are random, he always ends up where he is supposed to be, appearing to be moving towards some greater though unknown purpose. During this journey, his shadow haunts him. It casts a dim light on everything and everyone he comes into contact with. It allows him to see what he briefly perceives as reality. This reality, truly a bitter doubt and skepticism, weighs heavily on his soul. The shadow represents man's many faults, including pride and vanity. It resembles the faults that are defined often by Christian doctrine. Though negative in nature, Anodos is inexplicably drawn to and repelled by this shadow. Only towards the end of the story does Anodos gain the self awareness, humbleness, and humility to cast away his dark follower.
But the most dreadful thing of all was, that I now began to feel something like satisfaction in the presence of the shadow. I began to be rather vain of my attendant, saying to myself, "In a land like this, with so many illusions everywhere, I need his aid to disenchant the things around me. He does away with all appearances, and shows me things in their true colour and form. And I am not one to be fooled with the vanities of the common crowd. I will not see beauty where there is none. I will dare to behold things as they are. And if I live in a waste instead of a paradise, I will live knowing where I live." But of this a certain exercise of his power which soon followed quite cured me, turning my feelings towards him once more into loathing and distrust.
In this passage, Anodos battles with an intense dislike for his shadow and an opposing satisfaction with its presence. This represents the allure of vanity, pride, and the many other faults that man must overcome on his Christian journey. The lure of such faults are so strong that they threaten to redefine reality for Anodos. Looking through the eyes of this shadow, he feels as though he can discern truth. Before he falls too deeply into this connection with his shadows, he pulls away, realizing that he should not trust such a tempting outlook.
Then first I knew the delight of being lowly; of saying to myself, "I am what I am, nothing more." "I have failed," I said, "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. In nothing was my ideal lowered, or dimmed, or grown less precious; I only saw it too plainly, to set myself for a moment beside it. Indeed, my ideal soon became my life; whereas, formerly, my life had consisted in a vain attempt to behold, if not my ideal in myself, at least myself in my ideal. Now, however, I took, at first, what perhaps was a mistaken pleasure, in despising and degrading myself. Another self seemed to arise, like a white spirit from a dead man, from the dumb and trampled self of the past. Doubtless, this self must again die and be buried, and again, from its tomb, spring a winged child; but of this my history as yet bears not the record.
Finally, nearing the end of his journey, Anodos strips himself of his shadow, discerning its true nature and realizing himself as a man working to rid himself of the faults that weigh him down. Without his shadow, he understands the follies of man, of pride, of vanity, and of the nature of his own ideals. MacDonald depicts the beauty and brilliance of rebirth towards the end of this passage. The endless process of rebirth into a stronger and wiser being has only just begun for Anodos. The difficulties that at first seemed pointless and random now come together representing a series of tasks designed to help Anodos become free of his shadow. Without it he can embrace a truer and more complete self, devoid of the faults the shadow represents.
1. Is the relationship that Anodos has with his own faults similar or different to the perspective seen in the poem "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning?
2 The latter passage describes the process of birth and death in terms of learning about one's self. MacDonald uses this idea globally in his work. What is the purpose of having an array of characters of different ages? Some were younger, some older, some older with young eyes, and others old with young faces and bodies. The concept of age seems distorted throughout the novel. What purpose does this serve?
3. What other religious connections to Christian doctrine are shown in Anodos's relationship with his shadow?
4. Throughout the story, MacDonald describes many creatures as having wings. In the passage above, a child has wings. In another chapter only women of a certain race of creatures had wings, while the entire novel consisted of fairies with wings. What is the significance of wings? Is it always representative of the same thing or does it change as the story progresses?
5. Anodos narrates the story looking back on his experiences. How does this style of writing enhance the major themes of the story?
MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Last modified 9 February 2004