It is easy to trace the roots of Phantastes (subtitled A Faerie Romance for Men and Women) in the Romantic movement. It draws a map for William Blake’s trip through innocence and experience to “organized innocence,” for George MacDonald dramatizes the truth that the kind of wisdom Anodos gains places him firmly back in the real world but with a new vision. William Wordsworth’s The Prelude: Or, Growth of a Poet’s Mind (1850) is clearly an antecedent. Phantastes tells of the growth of heart-knowledge, the wisdom that teaches how an insistence on clinging to the desires of the self fails to lead to full living. It is as though MacDonald has rewritten Wordsworth’s poetry, presenting the spiritual journey within a specific, though imaginative, landscape. Wordsworth’s epithets for nature are dramatized in Phantastes: Nature is frequently a literal nurse, guide, and guardian.
Other traces of Wordsworth and the other Romantics are at the heart of this “faerie romance.” Anodos longs for the Ideal, and this longing becomes more mature and more focused as he proceeds on his journey. In the beginning it manifests itself as a primitive yearning for safety and nurturing. The beech tree becomes a mother-figure, wrapping him in protection and sustaining his spirit. The longing is then transformed into a yearning for the archetype of womanly beauty as the tale of the mirror draws Anodos into its hero’s...
(The entire section is 596 words.)