022 — George MacDonald had a, well, a forest. And in this forest he had weird shit

This’ll be a challenge this week, to keep everything straight. So if I mess something up, just let me know, but don’t scream, man. It’s not easy, kicking back of an afternoon and writing about books, man. Anyway, this week let’s talk about George MacDonald and Phantastes.

George MacDonald is a lot like William Morris. You remember Morris, right? Well, MacDonald was a direct influence on C. S Lewis and a slightly more indirect influence on Tolkien. He was a pastor for a while. Also, here’s a picture. I mean, look at that guy. Jeez. That’s a crazy dude.

He wrote a lot of “fairy stories,” influenced a great deal by German fairy stories and the German romantics. Trust me, that’s a weird combo. Grimm Brothers and Schiller. Wow. OK, so, lots of short stories, apparently for children, but you know, not really. But he wrote novels!

And then, Phantastes. This book is fucked up, man. The main character is named Anodos, and he just turned 21. he sleeps in a room where all the furniture and wallpaper and such are crafted to make it look like he’s in an orchard or a forest. He takes a nap. Then he wakes up in fairy land.

Of course he does. There are tiny fairies in flowers that have symbiotic relationships with the flora. There are two trees that want Onodos dead for reasons unknown. Onodos meets an old woman who is apparently an ancestor of his, so he’s part magic. He doesn’t have any special gifts, magic talismans, or anything, though. He’s just romantic. This is something we should be familiar with now, right? The person who is romantic and longing, wishing for something else and, in the fantasy narrative, finding it. Except, it gets weird.

Onodos finds a statue he names the Marble Lady, sings to her, and she wakes up, comes alive, and promptly flees. He chases her, thinks he finds her in a cave (hint: he hasn’t), then fails to be astonished that she fled from him and now is totally cool with banging him. Then they bang. (Hint: she hasn’t changed her mind, she’s a different lady.)

She disappears in a while, leaving Onodos sad. He is attacked by the spirit of that tree, and realizes – wait, when I got busy with that woman, she took off the protective belt my ancestor gave me. The lady he banged is, in fact, the spirit of the other tree that wants him dead. They are apparently working together. A knight, Percivale, wanders by and saves Onodos. At some point, in the past or the future, it’s hard to tell, he chops down the tree that attacked Onodos. Not really sure what happens to the one who bangs him.

Onodos meets some goblins, some nasty stuff happens, and then he finds a castle. The castle is awesome, and one of the doors has a little sign that says “Sir Onodos.” So he gets to live large. Food and drink shows up, music floats in from nowhere, there’s a great library and magical grounds with amazing gardens. There’s one door he’s not supposed to go in, and eventually he does, because if you haven’t figured this out by now, Onodos is kind of an ass. Scott Pilgrim level of ass, so I like him somewhat, but still. Ass.

He finds a bunch of statues that look like they were dancing just before he comes in. Music stops as he brushes aside the curtain. He leaves, the music starts. He comes in, the music stops, the statues are in different positions. Sherlock here finally figures out what’s going on, and tricks the statues by hiding behind a curtain next to the door-curtain. He sees them, they rush to their pedestals, and he realizes one is empty. He decides, because, uh, because, that the empty pedestal is for his original Marble Lady (not the skanky tree lady). But he tries to touch her and she says he done fucked up. Then she leaves and I guess he gets really depressed and feels like he has to leave.

So he ends up dealing with a bunch of terrible shit, and ends up on an island. The island has a house with four doors, and an old woman with mystical powers. She sends him through each door in turn, and behind each door he has a vision. One vision shows him Percivale is married to the Marble lady, and he’s basicially been pursuing a married woman. He shouts at her anyway, despite being in Scrooge-ghost-territory, and disappears. He has more weirder visions, and that’s it. The old laddy sends him off – the island is only an island sometimes, and right now it’s not, but it will be soon, so he has to hurry off. Then he meets two dudes who want to kill a giant, and he helps them forge swords and armor. Then the two brothers die, but they all succeed in their fight.

It turned out the two guys were princes, and the giants were threatening their kingdom. He tells the king about what happened, is offered the kingdom, but leaves. He travels with Percivale again, who shows up, becomes his squire, and they adventure a bunch. Anodos dies stopping a human sacrifice ritual that Percivale doesn’t pay attention to, despite them both accidentally attending, but feels good, man, because he’s noble and shit now. Oh, and he wakes up, back at home, and stumbles back to the house. His sisters tell him he’s been gone 21 days. He says it was like 21 years, and I guess he goes on to live happily or something, whatever?

Look, it’s weird. Weird as balls. I have no idea why things happen half the time, and the other half it’s really just puberty, but in a 21 year old. It’s supposed to be about Anodos giving up his preconceptions about beauty and virtue, and finding true virtue, but it has one of those weird “giving up the fantasy world for reality” thing you probably know from The Phantom Tollbooth and lots of kids’ fantasy movies. By novel’s end Anodos is sick of fairy land, despite it being fucking awesome, and where he’s from, and never getting new interests to replace his old one. Remember, being in love with forests?

Hm. I guess that makes his banging a tree ok. Or, at least, less freaky.

Wait, no it doesn’t.

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