The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. — J.R.R. Tolkien
Every child who has ever read fairy tales and who never quite outgrows the charms of elves and pixies even as she enters the wide wild world of youth soon discovers the true land of faery, or faerie, as it is quaintly spelled. Through CS Lewis’s Wardrobe, I stepped into a world of fauns, dryads or tree nymphs, and talking animals, and in high school, walked deeper still, like many others before and after me, into hobbit land and the realms spun from the vast imaginings of Tolkien.
Older still, are the woods and mountains that make up the fairyland of George MacDonald, an English pastor in the mid-nineteenth century, who wrote such classic fantasy tales as Phantastes (1858), The Princess and the Goblin (1872), and of course, The Golden Key (1867). Each tale had woven into it spiritual truths of Christianity, and so his stories are all infused, not with shades of darkness that often accompanies today’s fantasy tales, but with goodness.
CS Lewis wrote: “There are indeed passages where the wisdom and (I would dare to call it) holiness that are in him triumph over and even burn away the baser elements of his style: the expression becomes precise, weighty, economic, acquires a cutting edge.”
Re-reading Phantastes now, I come across favourite passages highlighted when I first read it 20 years ago, like this one of his description of the woods in fairy land:
Numberless unknown sounds came out of the unknown dusk; but all were of twilight-kind, oppressing the heart as with a condensed atmosphere of dreamy undefined love and longing. The odours of night arose, and bathed me in that luxurious mournfulness peculiar to them, as if the plants whence they floated had been watered with bygone tears.
It’s been too long since I disregarded my love of fantasy and all things faerie (it doesn’t help that the children haven’t adopted my literary tendencies towards these things, and no, Harry Potter is not quite the same league) but I am glad I’ve found it again.
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