Study Guide

Phantastes

by George MacDonald

Phantastes Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The tale begins as youthful Anodos, searching his father’s old desk, encounters a little creature who identifies herself as his fairy grandmother and informs him that he will visit Fairy-land. Anodos goes to sleep and, when he awakens, finds himself in an enchanted forest. He wanders east through various realms of Fairy-land in search of adventure, knowledge, and identity, yet he remains in a dream. Wandering in this dream state becomes the novel’s structural pattern: Anodos constantly wonders at his surroundings yet reports his experiences realistically. It has been noted that the protagonist’s name may come from a Greek word meaning “pathless.” Beyond the fragmented plot, however, lies the unifying factor of Anodos’s subtle moral development.

This entrance into Fairy-land and its various realms introduces the theme of entering new worlds. The new worlds symbolize mental states. The theme of yearning so pervasive in the book stems from a consciousness of other worlds. At one point a beech maiden protects, soothes, and instructs Anodos. She is a tree who longs to be a woman, and Anodos notes that, as he had longed for Fairy-land, she now yearns for the world of men. The longing to be something new stems from a consciousness of a lack and a reality beyond. As Anodos enters new worlds, in typical quest romance fashion, he encounters unexpected trials, temptations, and helps. His early encounter with the knight Percival, who saves him from a deadly foe, provides him with an ideal of manly action. Anodos’s meeting an enchanted woman provides him with an ideal of beauty and a longing that motivates all his travels. His desire for love and beauty drives him ever onward.

The dreamlike, imaginative world of Fairy-land plays against the idea of the waking world. Anodos observes that the fairy world sometimes invades the world of men, and men are astonished at its variant causality. Late in the tale, Anodos muses about whether he can transform the experiences of his journey in Fairy-land into his common life. This hope to translate and bridge is as much of a quest as any he encounters, though subtler. At one point Anodos addresses...

(The entire section is 882 words.)