George MacDonald is probably best known today for his influence on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. For that reason I decided to give this work a shot. Phantastes is a about a man who enters into fairy land (yes, with actual fairies that live in flowers and such) and the things that happened to him there. I was disappointed, but not entirely.
Right from the start I was reminded of Carrol's "Alice in Wonderland" because the plot was practically non-existent and dreamlike. Luckily, by the end of the book, most of the random elements found their place in the stories resolution. That helped, but, like Carrol, he seemed to exult in the inexplicable and random to the frustration of the reader. This might be partially explained away as an attempt at allegory, but the allegory was all too hidden for the casual reader like myself (and everyone else I found online who read the book) to explain what was happening. Where the allegory was clear the story shined, but this was all too infrequent.
MacDonad's style itself was a bit distressing at first because his sentences could easily go on for half a page. Early on I found myself often reading and rereading single sentences to remind myself of the subject. By about a third of the way through this was no longer necessary as I had happily adapted. I say happily because these elaborate sentences were full of description and beauty that greatly aided this tale. It was not difficult to be swept away by his imagery even when it was difficult to know what was happening or where the story was going.
The most impressive part of the book took place in a library where the hero was reading several books. In this portion of the book the hero retold stories he had just read, stories that only barely touched on the rest of the book as it progressed, if at all. (Random!!!) Nevertheless, the second story, which made up the longest chapter in the book, was perhaps the best short story I have ever read. It showed me that the author was well aware of elements like plot, characterization, subtlety, tension and resolution, even if he chose not to use them in the larger story. In some ways this mini-story foreshadowed the hero's journey to come, but it stood well on its own and could be removed from this book with no damage done.
This book was MacDonald's first attempt at fantasy writing, and I have been told that his book Lilith, written many years later, was the fruit to this seed. Perhaps I will give it a try before too long as I would sincerely like to appreciate this author who inspired so many I love.
I read this book on my ipod as well, and continue to love the experience.