Sunday, February 14, 2021

Fortnightly Book, February 14

Es lassen sich Erzählungen ohne Zusammenhang, jedoch mit Association, wie Träume, denken; Gedichte, die bloss wohlklingend und voll schöner Worte sind, aber auch ohne allen Sinn und Zusammenhang, höchstens einzelne Strophen verständlich, wie Bruchstücke aus den verschiedenartigsten Dingen.

George MacDonald's first prose work is perhaps his most influential. It was published in 1858 under the title, Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women. It was one of the earliest works in the nineteenth-century Arthurian revival, and has had considerable influence on writers of the fantastic ever since, including, of course, C. S. Lewis, who was particularly moved by it. And it is the next fortnightly book.

The work itself, an attempt to write a fairy tale for adults, is heavily influenced by Romanticism, particularly that of Novalis, whose comment above is part of a number of quotations at the beginning of the book. The part quoted above is given the following translation in my edition:
One can imagine stories without rational cohesion and yet filled with associations, like dreams; and poems that are merely lovely sounding, full of beautiful words, but also without rational sense and connections--with, at the most, individual verses which are intelligible, like fragments of the most varied things.

Dream-like it certainly is. Anodos (whose name means 'path upward' or 'ascent', but is also could be read, by a play on words, as 'pathless') after his twenty-first birthday finds himself in Faerie, where he seeks his ideal woman, the Marble Lady. He will have to unlearn his ideals in order to find what is really worth having. He is, like many Victorian gentlemen, inspired by a conception of chivalry, but he finds that this conception does not actually make him fit for genuine chivalry and knighthood. We forget that the word 'knight' literally just means 'servant'; the heart of it is the nobility not of birth but of service.


George MacDonald, Phantastes, Wm. B. Eerdmans Company (Grand Rapids, MI: 1997).