Monday, July 25, 2005

Wherein He Discovers Phantastes

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA letter from C.S. Lewis to his best friend, Arthur Greeves written when he was seventeen:

I have had a great literary experience this week. I have discovered yet another author to add to our circle--our very own set: never since I first read 'The well at the world's end' have I enjoyed a book so much--and indeed I think my new 'find' is quite as good as Malory or Morris himself. The book, to get to the point, is George Macdonald's 'Faerie Romance', Phantastes which I picked up by hazard in a rather tired Everyman copy [...]. At any rate, whatever the book you are reading now, you simply MUST get this at once: and it is quite worth getting in a superior Everyman binding too.

Of course it is hopeless for me to try and describe it, but when you have followed the hero Anodos along that little stream to the faery wood, have heard about the terrible ash tree and how the shadow of this gnarled, knotted hand falls upon the book the hero is reading, when you have read about the faery palace--just like that picture in the Dulac book--and heard the episode of Cosmo, I know that you will quite agree with me. You must not be disappointed at the first chapter which is rather conventional faery tale style, and after it you won't be able to stop until you have finished. There are one or two poems in the tale--as in the Morris tales you know--which, with one or two exceptions are shockingly bad, so don't TRY to appreciate them: it is just a sign, isn't it of how some geniuses can't work in metrical forms--another example being the Brontes.

I quite agree with what you say about buying books, and love all the planning and scheming beforehand, and if they come by post, finding the neat little parcel waiting for you on the hall table and rushing upstairs to open it in the privacy of your own room. Some people--my father for instance--laugh at us for being so serious over our pleasures, but I think a thing can't be properly enjoyed unless you take it in earnest, don't you? What I can't understand about you though is how you can get a nice new book and still go on stolidly with the one you are at: I always like to be able to start the new one on the day I get it, and for that reason wait to buy it until the old one is done. But then of course you have so much more money to throw about than I.

Talking about finishing books, I have at last come to the end of the Faerie Queene: and though I say 'at last', I almost wish he had lived to write six books more as he hoped to do--so much have I enjoyed it.
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume I, Letter of 7 March 1916

1 Comment(s):

At Tue Aug 02, 09:35:00 AM EST, Blogger Sandicomm said...

I adore Phantastes. I think that, At the Back of the North Wind, and The Golden Key are MacDonald's best work. I didn't like Lilith too much: it was really weird, even for fantasy, and had none of the delicacy of Phantastes. I've also heard that The Well at the World's End--which I would love to read--is old-fashioned and boring, but I don't think anyone could ever say that about the beautiful Phantastes.

(Now THERE'S a movie Miyazaki should make!)


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