n Phantastes George MacDonald intermingles his characters and settings to the extent that the two are often one in the same, or else are so closely linked that they cannot survive alone. This extreme use of a technique of characterization used by Dickens and other novelists works in MacDonald's fantastic fiction because in fantasy, the rules of reality can be bent so that people and scenery are physically (not just symbolically) connected.
When Anodos enters Fairyland, he almost immediately encounters a group of fairies. These creatures live in flowers, look like flowers, and depend on their flowers for existence:
"Do they live in the flowers?" I said. "I cannot tell," she replied. "There is something in it I do not understand. Sometimes they disappear altogether, even from me, though I know they are near. They seem always to die with the flowers they resemble, and by whose names they are called; but whether they return to life with the fresh flowers, or, whether it be new flowers, new fairies, I cannot tell" (17).
In addition to giving the fairies a magical and mysterious existence, MacDonald conveys a great deal of characterization through this simple connection between fairies and flowers. The reader can imagine immediately that Snowdrop and Primrose are beautiful creatures, the former with a fair complexion and white ornaments and the latter perky and bright. The image of a flower can easily be transferred to a person-like creature and this connection sparks instant depth of character without any lengthy description.
There exists a connection between the beech tree and a female character in Phantastes. Anodos encounters this creature on a scary night as he runs from goblins: "The first thing I remember is the sound of a voice above me, full and low, and strangely reminding me of the sound of a gentle wind amidst the leaves of a great tree. It murmured over and over again: "I may love him, I may love him, for he is a man, and I am only a beech-tree." I found I was seated on the ground, leaning against a human form, and supported still by the arms around me, which I knew to be those of a woman who must be rather above the human size" (29).
Does Anodos lean against a tree or a woman? Theambiguous creature seems undoubtedly friendly, protective, and comforting. MacDonald does not need to describe the female voice in much detail, since every reader has heard the wind amidst leaves and can easily imagine the soft, whispering, soothing tones that blowing leaves would create if they were part of a human voice. In the later passages of this scene, although the tree remains in its human form, the reader gets an overwhelming sense of the tree smell in her hair, the wind in her voice, the protectiveness of her stature (as a large tree shelters in a storm) and her unmistakable link to nature.
The technique of linking this women-form to a tree does not only serve to enhance the human aspect of her character, but also drives the reader to feel compassion for the tree when it does not resemble the shape of a beautiful woman. When Anodos wakes up to leave the next morning, he bends over to kiss the trunk of the motionless tree, "a trembling went through the leaves, a few of the last drops of the night's rain fell from off them at my feet, and as I walked slowly away, I seemed to hear in a whisper once more the words, ĆI may love him, I may love him, for he is a man and I am only a beech tree'" (32).
Last modified 1988