Into the Book


The book Phantastes, by George MacDonald, is suggested by many to have been one of C.S. Lewis’ greatest inspirations. Having been greatly influenced by Lewis’ work in my own journey as a writer, I thought it would be interesting to read some of what inspired Lewis himself. But upon reading the book, I am so disappointed that I have almost given up on MacDonald as an author.

The worst part of this book would definitely be the plot. Or lack thereof. While the entire story loosely takes place in “Fairy-land” (A name which leaves me unsure of MacDonald’s creativity) and concerns the journey of a young man, Anodos, the individual chapters seem to be only loosely connected and contribute little to the total development of Anodos’ character arc. The worst of it was that much of the stories seemed to be there for no reason. I had trouble figuring out what was going on and even had trouble caring. I didn’t even remember the protagonist’s name throughout the novel. It doesn’t help that MacDonald is fond of inserting shorter stories within his larger story for no apparent reason. In short, I found the plot a mess and that was my first hindrance to understanding the book.

Second, I had trouble even getting involved in the book at all. It failed to hold my attention, not describing much the various wonders of fairy-land. MacDonald seemed to stress over minutiae without ever really giving me a real birds-eye view of what was going on. The lack of story, mentioned above, contributed to this problem. I felt like I was reading random words strung together.

Overall, I left my short foray into MacDonald’s writings extremely disappointed. I’d rate this book at two of five stars. It’s not a terrible read, writing-wise, but your interest is so much better served elsewhere that I recommend you not even waste your time. Still, I’m not giving up on MacDonald as a whole. Others have recommended that I try out The Princess and the Goblin, so perhaps I will read that in the near future.

~ Andrew J.

Published on 6 September, 2011. Last updated on


  1. Man O' Clay

    I believe the comment from Lewis was, “[Phantastes] will baptize your imagination.” I’ve found it to do the same for me.

    This is the problem I find with much modern writing: most of it is too plot driven. There’s seemingly no room for the appreciation of the beautiful and the poetic. Phantastes is very much a beautiful book that parallels a spiritual journey – the climax being Anodos battling himself deep in the forest. And didn’t you find the descriptions of the fairy palace enchanting?

    As for the stories within the story, they add to the way our lives are lived – that is, mini-plots in the one True plot. I find them beautiful as well, just as Anodos did. They also served as a way for him to escape the evil of his shadow – an escape that revealed the creativity of good that always conquers darkness.

    I’m disappointed that you couldn’t get into it; I find myself going back to it often when my imagination is deflated. You should also try some of MacDonald’s short stories, especially The Golden Key, and The Wise Woman.

    Don’t give up on him – he’s a master.

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