I wanted so badly to enjoy this book. George MacDonald is my wife’s favorite author (although, she’s not into his fantasy, which this is). Also, one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis (who wrote the foreword to this book) says he crossed a frontier upon reading this book. It was so important in his life that he called MacDonald his master and said everything he wrote could be traced to him. I just couldn’t get into the book, didn’t understand most of what happened at a deeper level than just basics, and really don’t like reading fantasy books. I feel like I owe an apology to the universe.
The best part of the book for me was the intro by C.S. Lewis. I write all over my books and after that intro, I simply wrote “Good God!” So, for my thoughts about this book, I’m going to focus mostly on this intro instead of Phantastes. Here are a few things that stood out to me in Lewis’ introduction:
- MacDonald intellectually separated himself from the Calvanist theology held by his family. However, unlike most people who also separated themselves physically and emotionally from their families if they had a similar intellectual separation, MacDonald stayed close to his family.
- In 1842, MacDonald spent some time in the north of Scotland cataloging the library of a large house. This seems to have made a tremendous impact on his life.
- Lewis says that what MacDonald does best “is fantasy – fantasy that hovers between the allegorical and the mythopoeic… he does this better than any man.” note – mythopoeic – the creating of myths
- Another great quote by Lewis – “Most myths were made in prehistoric times, and, I suppose, not consciously made by individuals at all. But every now and then there occurs in the modern world a genius – a Kafka or a Novalis – who can make such a story. MacDonald is the greatest genius of this kind whom I know.“
- After beginning to read Phantastes, Lewis says “A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.” “What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptize (that was where the Death came in) my imagination.“
And finally, this is my favorite section of the introduction:
It (MacDonald’s genius) is in some ways more akin to music than to poetry or at least to most poetry. It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and ‘possessed joys not promised to our birth.’ It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are re-opened, and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives.”
Lewis talked about MacDonald’s work elevating him. I loved that description and could sense that in Phantastes.
I plan to continue reading at least one George MacDonald book a year, but I may focus on his non-fantasy fiction for the time being, until as Lewis once said – “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.“