Saturday, December 21, 2013

Phantastes

If the touch of an unseen hand were to wake you this morning, while the rest of the house slumbered and your only visible companion, a tortoise-shell cat, arched her back near your pillow in anticipating of being stroked, what would you do? And what if the hand grasped yours insistently, leading you knew not where, and other strange tappings ensued, and what if during your nights and days you began laughing involuntarily, if you were seized with alternating sensations of dread and bliss? What if you had been borne by some exhilarating wind-current into a self or selves that you did not know, although no visible sign betrayed your inner turmoil? 
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If you found yourself in such a predicament, you might discover, in the character of George Macdonald's Anodos, a sympathetic soul. Although tending to consider myself a bear of very little brain, now and then the sleeping neurons are jarred to life. On this solstice morning, while the snow borrowed its glow from the moonlight and the city lights, which borrow their glow from the secret recesses of the earth, I remembered Phantastes, a book I first read as a teen, and was even prompted to search for a copy of it, and to skitter through its pages, like a blind woman feeling her way through a forest, wondering what it was that I was seeking. Ah, Anados, why are you this singular predilection my mind is craving? George Macdonald subtitled his first prose novel (some consider it his best), A Faerie
Romance for Men and Women; I happen to qualify in at least one of those categories. Gratitude to generous souls who post illustrations for my edification (or, being in a goofy mood, I might say, eddyfication, as I drift upon the mystifying Stream of consciousness.) From the novel:

I saw the strangest figure; vague, shadowy,
almost transparent, in the central parts, and gradually deepening in substance towards the outside, until it ended in extremities capable of casting such a shadow as fell from the hand, through the awful fingers of which I now saw the moon. The hand was uplifted in the attitude of a paw about to strike its prey.
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Overcome with the mingling of terror and joy, I lay for some time almost insensible. The first thing I remember is the sound of a voice above me, full and low, and strangely reminding me of the sound of a gentle wind amidst the leaves of a great tree.It murmured over and over again: "I may love him, I may love him; for he is a man, and I am only a beech tree.” I found I was seated on the ground, leaning against a human form, and supported still by the arms around me, which I knew to be those of a woman............

Why are all reflections lovelier than what we call the reality?—not so grand or so strong, it may be, but always lovelier? Fair as is the gliding sloop on the shining sea, the wavering, trembling, unresting sail below is fairer still. Yea, the reflecting ocean itself, reflected in the mirror, has a wondrousness about its waters that somewhat vanishes when I turn towards itself. All mirrors are magic mirrors. The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass.

In whatever way it may be accounted for, of one thing we may be sure, that this feeling is
no cheat; for there is no cheating in nature and the simple unsought feelings of the soul. There must be a truth involved in it, though we may but in part lay hold of the meaning. Even the memories of past pain are beautiful; and past delights, though beheld only through clefts
in the grey clouds of sorrow, are lovely as Fairy Land............

What prompted Macdonald's musings, why did he cause Anodos to blunder through the enchantments of the Faerie realm, a Pygmalion in search of a fleeting, ephemeral Galatea "the Marble Lady"? Methinks he had been plundering the libraries of Aberdeen and London, turning page after page in search of a kindred spirit.

Macdonald often quotes Novalis in his writings. I am unable to read German, but a few glances at certain of the works of Novalis suggest a connection.


(Illustrations: John Bell ~ 1894; Phantastes: A Faerie Romance by George MacDonald)

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