8.09.2010

A great good is coming - is coming - is coming to thee, Anodos!

I do not grow weary of George MacDonald. His romantically descriptive, clause-riddled sentences are like a cataract of playful wind tugging at unused and dusty banners and pinions of the soul. His stories demand the courage and perseverance of the explorer who would strive through a dense wood: a journey, that in all variations, opens to grand vistas of sky and land and water only in the next moment to darken with obscuring fog and branches and mires; always it is deep with sounds or silences; and always the flitting, fleeting beauty that remains obscure, hidden in the periphery of the mind and of the eye, only to reveal itself in retrospection both near and solid. What can one write about after laying down MacDonald's Phantastes; a Faerie Romance for Men and Women? I am heavy and quiet with the thought of it. Yet it is not the quiet tumult of the fitful voices, but a bunting expectancy and a repose and a waiting for the rustling of the overgrown trees outside to make sense.

Picture
Hughes

The story passes through every corner of the "Fantastic Imagination". Vistas, scenes, characters, creatures, songs, dreams, dances, aesthetics, philosophies, whispers, fanfares, all seem to have been standing in their place for thousands of years, waiting the moment when this blundering mortal will unwittingly collide with something ancient and deep. Each new chapter could not have been anticipated from the previous and truly opened my mind to the unquestioning acceptance of the motion of the story.
The wandering mortal here is called Anados. His name means "raised walkway" or "ascent" and comes straight from the idealism of Plato's cave analogy, of traveling out of ignorance to the Ideal. It is a name akin to the meaning in the title Pilgrim's Progress - both journeying and improving. Where then has Anodos ascended by the end of this story? For Pilgrim it is to the Celestial City. For Redcross it is to the Holiness of Maydenhead. For Anodos it is back to the Platonic Cave: his own house, his family and friends, his Victorian English life:

"I began the duties of my new position, somewhat instructed, I hoped, by the adventures that had befallen me in Fairy Land. Could I translate the experience of my travels there, into common life? This was the question. Or must I live it all over again, and learn it all over again, in the other forms that belong to the world of men, whose experience yet runs parallel to that of Fairy Land? These questions I cannot answer yet. But I fear."
Picture
Willet
These words at the close of the narrator's "ascent" underline the final, burning question that fills my heart. Indeed it is the question that overwhelms me at the end of other beautiful books, in the order of the stars and of grammar and of musical harmony, in deep moments of joy, in forgetting myself for but a moment, in feeling the veil lifted: how then shall I live? I remember being in agony over the character of Diamond from At the Back of the North Wind, crushed with the simplicity and impossibility of discipleship, of instruction, of improving. Anodos goes further. Rather than climbing to holiness per his name, his journeys reveal his mortality, unworthy of the honors of knights, the graces of maidens, of trust of children. All this comes to the fore with the hideous and frightening appearance and lingering of his Shadow, a blight on joy and creator of mistrust. (Another connection to Platonic philosophy?) Anodos does not climb. Rather he is carried, rescued, saved by others more noble and, for that, more loving. He is a strangely personal and personable hero. He is good because of those who honor him. Thus I, who set out to find my Ideal, came back rejoicing that I had lost my Shadow..
I hold this book carefully. I am poetic now. And happy. Perhaps not tomorrow. Yet to know that disgrace, failure, ignorance, even death do not signal the end... that is worth rumination and clumsy action and bold humility.

But what is left for the cold grey soul,


That moans like a wounded dove?
One wine is left in the broken bowl!-

Tis - To love, and love, and love

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