Sunday, February 6, 2011

Phantastes - Chapter 4

So much to talk about.

One thing that fascinates me about these descriptions is the whole notion of a world that comes alive at night. It forms such a strong juxtaposition, in his writing, describing how the darkness of sleep flows over men, but this world of fairy lights awakens then. From chapter 3:

Everything sleeps and dreams now: when the night comes, it will be different. At the same time I, being a man and a child of the day, felt some anxiety as to how I should fare among the elves and other children of the night who wake when mortals dream, and find their common life in those wondrous hours that flow noiselessly over the moveless death-like forms of men and women and children, lying strewn and parted beneath the weight of the heavy waves of night, which flow on and beat them down, and hold them drowned and senseless, until the ebbtide comes, and the waves sink away, back into the ocean of the dark.

It makes me think of a bunch of things. One parallel is in dreamlife vs. waking life. Dreams are in some senses parallel to this fairy world, and indeed I believe dreams are an inspiration for his whimsical and non-linear story format.

Another parallel I believe is the spirit world vs. the physical world. Men sleep (and are unable to access the spirit realm), but while men sleep there is an entirely different world of life that is awake and active.

Our hero, Anodos, rencounters the Ash and it is a fascinating encounter. Perhaps the most fascinating part to me is how the author compares the Ash to a vampire. This is fascinating to me for several reasons. One is that vampires are a common trope in my dreams. I think there is a lot of depth to this, but at the very simplest level, I see a vampire as this: a symbol of lust. Vampires by their nature only survive by consuming others. They have nothing of their own and everything they do is to leech and suck life out of others to fill themselves. How ironic that they can create other vampires out of their victims. How often does that happen in real life, that it is through the injuries and destruction that one suffers that new monsters (for lack of a better word) are created.

That said, I think Macdonald's description is completely accurate. He describes an inner gnawing that devours the devourer. That is absolutely what it is. It is an infinite greed.

The other aspect that I see in the Ash (not specific to vampires) is the aspect of the terror that he spreads and the aspect of hatred and anger. I see him as being a figure of anger and hatred, which is partly what drives the lust/greed.

Another aspect of this story that I find interesting is the defenselessness of the narrator. He seems to have nothing that he can do to protect himself from this vague threat. He is dominated by fear and the inability to protect himself. And yet he is threatened.

Then there's the beech tree. Just as before we met a vague and unspecified threat, now we meet a vague and unspecified protector. I hesitate to draw any allegory into this part of the narrative, but I do find it interesting that the soft and protective Beech (wrapping her soft arms around the narrator) is able to ward off the angry and hateful Ash. I also find it interesting how the Beech is presented almost as a love interest, but one that cannot be for reasons outside of their control. Just a man and a Beech tree, from two different worlds, though intertwined by fate for a single day. Once again, I don't see much room for allegory here but the structure is very mournful yet relatable (think: Romeo and Juliet for another example).

I also really loved the song:
"I saw thee ne'er before;
I see thee never more;
But love, and help, and pain, beautiful one,
Have made thee mine, till all my years are done."

This is really meaningful to me because it emphasizes the connection that is formed by love and sacrifice towards the person you love and give you. I discuss this theme in my prior blog post, Love and Power. Ironically my inspiration for that post was a later passage in this exact same book.

In this passage, it is such a stark reinforcement of that theme. The narrator literally cuts off part of the Beech tree's hair ("she shuddered and breathed deep, as one does when an acute pain, steadfastly endured without sign of suffering, is at length relaxed"), and that forms a girdle to protect him from the Ash tree. Her sacrifice literally forms a belt that he wraps around him and takes with him as a force of protection. It is an incredibly stirring image of the spiritual reality, that one's sacrifice for another forms a girdle that both protects that person and binds you together with him or he, that gives you a power to serve them (like I describe in my other post).

At the end, their parting is bittersweet like so many partings are. And yet they have the hope of one day meeting again, when the Beech tree becomes a woman (enters the narrator's world) and they can be together. Not necessarily sexual, because it doesn't have to be sexual to be emotive.

Thus ends a very potent chapter. On to chapter 5!

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