Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women by George MacDonald is a rambling, episodic fantasy of a young man’s journey in Fairy Land.
The novel opens with Anodos who has just turned 21 years old. As he is going through his father’s old desk, he encounters a pint-sized woman who jumps out of the desk and expands to a normal height. She announces his trip to Fairy Land. Anodos wakes up the next day to find his room has transformed into Fairy Land, a plush natural environment with woods, a stream, and a path. It looks so welcoming that Anodos embraces the chance to enter. And so it begins.
We follow Anodos as he navigates through Fairy Land. He encounters a motley crew of characters, objects, and places: knights in not-so-shining amour; elderly ladies inhabiting cottages in the woods; an ash tree that tries to snarl him with its branches; goblins; a shadow that follows him; a lady trapped in marble whom he sings to life; a maiden in an Alder tree; a magic castle; and the list goes on.
Andodos’ journey is episodic in nature, lacking any sort of coherent structure even though there is a suggestion that some of the events mirror image each other. The journey has a dream-like quality, seemingly devoid of any logical connections. Our intrepid protagonist drifts from one event to another with no evidence of rhyme or reason. No sooner does an event seem to make sense than a nonsensical shift in time and place interrupts the flow.
The entrance into Fairy Land can, perhaps, be seen as an allegory of the soul’s journey into the spiritual world or the world of the imagination infused as it is with many lyrical passages, vivid imagery, and sensuous language. Unfortunately, MacDonald mars the effect by inserting lines of abysmal poetry which ooze with sugary sentimentality. He immerses the reader in a rambling, incomprehensible fairy world with its hints of symbolism and allegory, its dream-like qualities, and its fairy tale elements thrown in for good measure.
Recommended with reservations for readers willing to suspend disbelief to gain the experience of entering a dream-like, magical, fantasy world. But be forewarned: abandon all expectations of a logical sequence of events before opening its pages.