A strange dreamlike
novel by George MacDonald
, about the wanderings of a young man through Fairyland
. There is no plot that lasts all the way through; the episodes, though forming a continuous journey, are often unrelated. Some recurring figures loom large, as much psychological symbols as traditional fairy
It was published in 1858, just after first his brother then his father had died. Their loss, and the quest for a mother, haunt the imagery. It was subtitled "A Faerie Romance for Men and Women"; and was one of MacDonald's earliest successes at novel-writing, though his later ones were mostly not fantastic. C.S. Lewis said reading it changed his life.
Anodos is the hero: his name is Greek for pathless. He is, however, despite the weariness of his soul, a mere twenty-one, and on his birthday he takes possession of his estate and opens a strange old secretary (secretaire or writing-desk), to find inside a little fairy. To accommodate his foolish prejudices she expands to human size before telling him she will grant him a wish, and he will visit Fairyland. The following morning when he awakes he finds his flowery carpet has turned into a real flowery mead, with a stream running through it; and this he begins to follow.
I could now recite any of the events in any order. It is not so dreamlike as to make no sense, but one episode blends into another. Some of the imagery is powerful. He, of course, makes some wrong choices. Being forbidden, he opens a door, sees a long corridor, and up it towards him rushes his shadow. This tormentor dulls the beauty of things where it falls, disenchants the enchanted, and in the bournes of Faerie that is a sorrowful thing.
In a cave there is a block of alabaster, and within it the statue or image of a beautiful woman. This woman obsesses him, and many of the recurring events are to do with his search for her. An evil figure is the gnarled Ash, whose scraping fingers seek him out; but the good Beech is a comforting mother. He comes to cottages where kindly old women offer him food, advice, shelter; he reads stories in old books; he sings (bad Victorian poetry, which should be skipped after the first reading). He tries to see invisible dancers in a fairy palace.
One story concerns one Cosmo, a student in Prague of olden times, who buys a magic mirror in which he sees a beautiful imprisoned lady pining for him. This is an independent short story such as might appear in MacDonald's other collections.
In another episode Anodos is accepted as a third brother by two who are seeking to overthrow some giants in the neighbourhood. He becomes a swordsman and a hero but it ends in grief. His own sufferings are contrasted with that of a miserable knight he meets, whose tarnished armour is being gradually made clean by the buffets of honourable adventures. The lady Anodos seeks is, he learns, the knight's lady. In the end Anodos passes through death and returns to his own home.