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[Phantastes] Phantastes
by George MacDonald
Smith, Elder, 1858 (Reissued by William B. Eerdmans, 1981)
Amazon.co.uk: paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Amazon.com: paperback, audiobook
Recommended by: Ross Pavlac

Other Comments:

"I have never concealed the fact that I regarded MacDonald as my master, indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him." – C.S. Lewis.

Also, Madeleine L'Engle quotes from and refers to him in her Wrinkle In Time, etc., group. Only Charles Williams comes close in this manifestation of an awesome – Hal D. May

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis talks about buying a book in a railway station:

The glorious week-end of reading was before me. Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George Macdonald.... That night my imagination was, in a sense, baptised; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes. (pp. 144, 146.)

Later on, Lewis comments:

In reading Chesterton, as in reading Macdonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. (p. 154.)

In other words, the writings of George Macdonald, who died 100 years ago on September 18th, 1905, were instrumental in leading to the conversion of one of the most effective apologists of the 20th century.

At first glance, it might be hard to see why Lewis would be so affected. Anodos, the protagonist of the story, whose name means "no road", seems to live up to his name, wandering, apparently pointlessly, through Fairy Land, taking the food and lodging which is granted to him without doing anything in return, and, to his shame, falling prey to every danger he is warned against.

But slowly, almost unnoticeably, Anodos comes to realise that his life is misspent, and that, far from seeking out pleasures, he should be serving others, and making the world a better place. He comes to realise the truth in the words spoken by another character to whom he had, at first, failed to listen sufficiently attentively:

"Somehow or other," said he, "notwithstanding the beauty of this country of Faerie, in which we are, there is much that is wrong in it. If there are great splendours, there are corresponding horrors; heights and depths, beautiful women and awful fiends, noble men and weaklings. All a man has to do, is to better what he can." (p. 295.)

This, I believe, resonates deeply with a need in all of our hearts: the need to make the world a better place. Through his deceptively aimless story, MacDonald awakes in the reader a desire to live beyond self-gratification, in service to others. There is, of course, far more to Christianity than that, but this simple theme of MacDonald's is so at variance with the self-serving of these times that it is not at all difficult to understand why he has gone from being one of the most respected writers of the 19th century to his present obscurity. Frankly, he doesn't fit in anymore, and the world is the poorer for that sad fact. – Greg Slade (August, 2005)

The Eerdmans reissue has an introduction by C.S. Lewis.


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