Academic journal article Mythlore

Phantastical Regress: The Return of Desire and Deed in Phantastes and the Pilgrim's Regress

Academic journal article Mythlore

Phantastical Regress: The Return of Desire and Deed in Phantastes and the Pilgrim's Regress

Article excerpt

NEARLY ALL OF THE STUDIES THAT EXAMINE the intellectual connection between George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis quote Lewis's assertion, found in the introduction to his MacDonald anthology, that reading Phantastes "convert[ed], even [...] baptize[d][...] my imagination" (21). Critics proceed from Lewis's statement to trace common themes between these authors, but no one has yet analyzed the striking similarities between MacDonald's baptizing book and the first book Lewis published as a Christian, The Pilgrim's Regress, in which he allegorizes his own journey to faith. (1) Colin Manlove notes both these works deal with "the continual misidentification of a longing," but after sketching their similarities in a few sentences, he suggests other possible influences on The Pilgrim's Regress ("Parent" 231). (2) Comparisons to Lewis's later Surprised by Joy, where he explicitly writes about Phantastes's influence on him, or to The Great Divorce, where MacDonald appears as Lewis's guide, are much more common, but these books are written in a completely different genre than Phantastes and borrow none of its imagery or structure. In The Pilgrim's Regress, however, Lewis describes a pilgrimage that, although more philosophical, follows a remarkably similar trajectory to Anodos's. Perhaps this connection seems so obvious that critics have not bothered to look more closely at these two works, but in fact, the way that John's journey in The Pilgrim's Regress parallels Anodos's in Phantastes suggests that Lewis perceived an allegorical, spiritual structure in MacDonald's romance that baptized the quotidian world of his experience in beauty and wonder. Phantastes accomplished this for Lewis, I argue, because Anodos's pilgrimage unites romantic desire with charitable deeds in a uniquely Christian romanticism.

Although MacDonald's warnings against allegory lead many critics to avoid allegorical readings of his fantasies, Lewis had no such compunctions. As Stephen Prickett notes regarding Lewis's reading of Lilith: "though Lewis is well aware of MacDonald's own strictures against allegory 'as everywhere a weariness to the spirit,' he reads the narrative of Lilith as a systematic allegory rather than simply a loose assemblage of symbols" (194). So while in writing about Phantastes Rolland Hein avoids reading its symbols allegorically, saying only that by "tracing the themes one is able to observe the underlying harmony" (Harmony 79), (3) Lewis apparently found a much more defined structure in Phantastes. Lewis describes MacDonald's fantasy as "hover[ing] between the allegorical and the mythopoeic" ("Preface" 14), (4) and the structure underlying MacDonald's "allegorical romance" suggested to Lewis a means by which the wonder of myth could be integrated into his daily life; as Prickett argues, Phantastes "showed [Lewis] a way [...] in which the literary or poetic transformation of sense-experience could be given some kind of objective meaning and validity" (182, 179). Prickett concludes his argument by linking Phantastes's structure to the German Bildungsroman (185-192), but more than a general formation of self-consciousness, Lewis saw a distinctively Christian pilgrimage at the core of Phantastes. So although Phantastes is certainly a fairy tale, MacDonald himself writes that "[t]here may be allegory in [a fairy tale]" (317), and Lewis seems to build his own early allegory of conversion on the distinctive allegorical structure he perceived in MacDonald's youthful tale. (5)

The protagonists of both books travel similar paths: both are drawn on their journeys by an inexplicable longing, both are linked to a knight or armed man, and both must embrace death before accomplishing deeds of valor on their journey home. By examining these similarities, the underlying natures of their redemptive journeys become clear: MacDonald and Lewis present a journey to God, to the ideal beauty, that begins with haunting desire and demands the death of self and an active love that returns to its place of origin to redemptively enact what it has learned. …

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