he resplendent image of water flows throughout Phantastes, unifying the story by conveying a dreamlike state where one scene flows seamlessly into the next. Images of water permeate the novel from the very first chapter to the very last. At several points in the protagonist's journey, water is a comforting presence as well as a benevolent agent of change. For example, in Chapter I, Anodos encounters in his father's office a fairy who commands him to look into her eyes. These otherworldly eyes envelop Anodos in a sea of warmth and deliver him into Fairy Land:
[Her eyes] filled me with an unknown longing. I remembered somehow that my mother died when I was a baby. I looked deeper and deeper, till they spread around me like seas, and I sank in their waters. I forgot all the rest, till I found myself at the window, whose gloomy curtains were withdrawn, and where I stood gazing on a whole heaven of stars, small and sparkling in the moonlight. Below lay a sea, still as death and hoary in the moon, sweeping into bays and around capes and islands, away, away, I knew not whither. Alas! it was no sea, but a low bog burnished by the moon.
In Chapter X, Anodos comes upon a lone boat floating at the edge of a river. The boat is an inviting cradle, and the body of water is yet again a maternal presence. Anodos allows himself to be carried away by the river, with neither thought nor worry.
At length, in a nook of the river, gloomy with the weight of overhanging foliage, and still and deep as a soul in which the torrent eddies of pain have hollowed a great gulf, and then, subsiding in violence, have left it full of a motionless, fathomless sorrow — I saw a little boat lying. So still was the water here, that the boat needed no fastening . . . I forced my way to the brink, stepped into the boat, pushed it, with the help of the tree-branches, out into the stream, lay down in the bottom, and let my boat and me float whither the stream would carry us. I seemed to lose myself in the great flow of sky above me unbroken in its infinitude, except when now and then, coming nearer the shore at a bend in the river, a tree would sweep its mighty head silently above mine, and glide away back into the past, never more to fling its shadow over me. I fell asleep in this cradle, in which mother Nature was rocking her weary child; and while I slept, the sun slept not, but went round his arched way. When I awoke, he slept in the waters, and I went on my silent path beneath a round silvery moon. And a pale moon looked up from the floor of the great blue cave that lay in the abysmal silence beneath.
The river eventually takes him to the fairy queen's castle, where he finds the marble lady. After a leaving the castle in fruitless pursuit of the marble lady, Anodos finds himself surrounded by grey and stormy seas. At first, the waters appear forbidding, but as soon as Anodos jumps in, he is soothed again by the motherly waters. He drifts along until he encounters another empty boat, which — in parallel to the first boat that Anodos finds — takes him to greener shores.
I stood one moment and gazed into the heaving abyss beneath me; then plunged headlong into the mounting wave below. A blessing, like the kiss of a mother, seemed to alight on my soul; a calm, deeper than that which accompanies a hope deferred, bathed my spirit. I sank far into the waters, and sought not to return. I felt as if once more the great arms of the beech-tree were around me, soothing me after the miseries I had passed through, and telling me, like a little sick child, that I should be better to-morrow. The waters of themselves lifted me, as with loving arms, to the surface. I breathed again, but did not unclose my eyes. I would not look on the wintry sea, and the pitiless gray sky. Thus I floated, till something gently touched me. It was a little boat floating beside me. How it came there I could not tell; but it rose and sank on the waters, and kept touching me in its fall, as if with a human will to let me know that help was by me.
The boat lands upon a verdant island where Anodos finds a small cottage inhabited by a kind, wise woman. By taking care of the physically and spiritually lost Anodos, and by directing him along his journey, she becomes a human embodiment of the waters throughout the novel.
1. Phantastes is a story of a journey. In this regard, what affect does the ubiquitous presence of water have upon the story? In what ways is Anodos's journey parallel the mythical seafaring epics of Greece and Rome? In what ways are they different?
2. How does George MacDonald use imagery, simile, and metaphor to convey the waters' benevolence?
3. In each of the passages above, what sort of tone develops? Does the tone rely on descriptions of the environment, or does it rely on descriptions of the narrator's internal state? Are these descriptions even separable from each other?
4. As the first passage reveals, the narrator's mother died shortly after he was born. In Jane Eyre, the narrator's mother also died in the same manner. What perceptible affect does the lack of a primary maternal figure have upon these characters, if at all? Both Anodos and Jane find substitute mother figures. Who are they, and how are they similar? How do they impact the narrators' lives?
Last modified 10 February 2004