John Ruskin's "The King of the Golden River" is a short, to-the-point fairy tale, with the unsubtle message that those who care for others prosper, and those who care only for themselves do not. In contrast, George MacDonald's Phantastes tells the tale of Anados, a young man who, upon turning twenty-one, is confronted by his fairy-blooded grandmother, who tells him of his own fairy blood. He sets upon a journey into Fairy Land, and there must deal with his own conceptions of love and reality, in both cases needing to learn how to see outside of himself.

In the morning I awoke refreshed, after a profound and dreamless sleep. The sun was high, when I looked out of the window, shining over a wide, undulating, cultivated country. Various garden-vegetables were growing beneath my window. Everything was radiant with clear sunlight. The dew-drops were sparkling their busiest; the cows in a near-by field were eating as if they had not been at it all day yesterday; the maids were singing at their work as they passed to and fro between the out-houses: I did not believe in Fairy Land. I went down, and found the family already at breakfast. But before I entered the room where they sat, the little girl came to me, and looked up in my face, as though she wanted to say something to me. I stooped towards her; she put her arms round my neck, and her mouth to my ear, and whispered —

"A white lady has been flitting about the house all night." [53]

1. Why does Anados repeatedly either stop believing in Fairy Land, or fail to heed warnings? Why does he fall in love with those he has been warned against — first with the Alder, about whom he has been warned numerous times, then with the marble lady, even after remembering the story of Pygmalion? Why does he fall in love so quickly with the beech tree, and then forget her as soon as he sees the marble lady?

2. What is the effect of introducing chapters with epigraphs which aren't directly related to the story itself? What is the effect of having some in Middle English, or in German with English translation?

3. Compare these three quotations:

But it is no use trying to account for things in Fairy Land; and one who travels there soon learns to forget the very idea of doing so, and takes everything as it comes; like a child, who, being in a chronic condition of wonder, is surprised at nothing. [24]

Great bats began to flit about with their own noiseless flight, seemingly purposeless, because its objects are unseen. [42]

The birds were singing; but not for me. All the creatures spoke a language of their own, with which I had nothing to do, and to which I cared not to find the key any more. [47-48]

How is Anados's understanding of Fairy Land beginning to evolve? Does he accept that man is not the primary being of importance in Fairy Land, or does his disinterest show a disregard for the other creatures, reflecting Henry Sutton's conjecture that "all that interests a man, is man" (Henry Sutton, p. 11)?

4. How is Anados's waking of the marble lady a G-dlike act? Why is it important that he must sing, and not merely speak, in order to wake her?

5. In John Ruskin's "King of the Golden River," what is the significance of naming the brothers after their attributes? ("Schwartz" is German for "black," and "Glück" is German for "happiness" or "luck.")


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

Last modified 7 February 2004