Friday, May 22, 2020

Phantastes by George MacDonald (novel #149)

I learned that it is better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, that to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence. ~ Anodos

The title and subtitle A Faerie Romance is the synopsis: it is an adult fantasy, fairytale, romance. I’ve wanted to read MacDonald, since learning how he influenced two of my favorite authors: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Lewis called MacDonald his master. There is a very good documentary on the three of them called: The Fantasy Makers. I highly recommend it.

This short novel seemed more of a children’s fairytale than one for adults. Admittedly, the distinction is imprecise. Phantastes holds many marvelous, magical scenes, beneficent beauties, and malevolent monsters – all of which would capture the wonder and imagination of a child. But for me, it lacked a coherent theme. There is a theme I think, selfless love of ideal beauty. The hero, Anodos is pulled into the magical faerie realm where he discovers and pursues his ideal woman; but in totality the story lacked cohesion. It seemed to be a series of fantastic events, with little interdependence, concluding with the transformation of the hero.
Thus I, who set out to find my ideal, came back rejoicing that I had lost my Shadow. ~ Anados

There is no explanation of the term Phantastes. 

MacDonald is considered the father of the adult fantasy genre, and Phantastes is considered the first adult fantasy novel, and for that I give him credit. Overall, I was disappointed. Perhaps he does better with subsequent works.

My rating: 2 1/2 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies square G-1, Classic Sci-Fi or fantasy in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge, and A Genre Classic: Fantasy in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020.


They who believe in the influences of the stars over the fates of men, are, in feeling at least, nearer the truth than they who regard the heavenly bodies as related to them merely by a common obedience to an external law.

…there is plenty of room for meeting in the universe.

Cosmo himself could not have described what he felt. His emotions were of a kind that destroyed consciousness, and could never be clearly recalled.

Silence rolled like a spiritual thunder through the grand space.

I walked listlessly along. What distressed me most – more even than my own folly – was the perplexing question, How can beauty and ugliness dwell so near?



  1. Have you read Lud-in-the-mist by Hope Mirrlees? You must.

  2. maybe you'll recall a few months back you did a post on Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym and i wrote you about a sequel by Jules Verne? well, i found another one by Charles Dake, written 1877, that i thought was pretty good... it was on gutenberg

    i read Phantastes and thought it was okay... i liked other things by MacDonald better, tho...

  3. Oh, I just got a whole collection by MacDonald! I heard about him because of his inspiration of Lewis and Tolkien as well (both of which I love). I'm excited to watch the documentary you suggested in the review! I haven't read anything yet, but I'll keep an open mind despite your review. I think I had a similar perspective of Lud-in-the-Midst when I read it last year.

    1. I read Phantastes first, because it was MacDonald's first in the genre, but I've heard it is not his best. I am still open to MacDonald, and definitely wouldn't recommend against him. Yes....The Fantasy Makers documentary is a MUST see for Tolkien and Lewis fans.


Comments are always welcome. In fact, they make my day. You needn't sign in to leave a comment. Just enter your comment, then on the "Comment as:" drop down menu, select "anonymous".