Sunday, February 27, 2011

Phantastes - Chapter 8

I was discussing this book briefly with my mom recently and I want to add a clarifying note here (which I really should have had at the beginning of the series): This set of blog posts is not meant to replace reading the book. In large part, I do not consider such a summarization to be possible, as the true magic of the book is not in the story or in my brief philosophizing about it, but rather in the actual descriptions and actions in the book.

My commentary is supposed to be an addendum to the book, not a replacement. I hope to make the book easier to understand and perhaps also more interesting, maybe spark some brief discussion or new thoughts and perspectives. If I can do just that much, I will be successful.

That said, chapter 8 is a turning point in the book with the introduction of the protagonist's shadow. The shadow will stay with him through much of the rest of the book, and as with much of the rest of the book, it hints that it is an allegory for something in the real world, without shouting such an allegory. It seems that this book almost continually draws forward towards allegory, akin to works like Pilgrim's Progress, but then almost immediately pulls back by filling in a variety of details that do not fit my attempt at systematizing the book.

This chapter is a perfect example of that trend. When reading it, my first thought is, "The shadow is symbolic of personal sin". It fits biblically (for instance, Romans 6-7 discussion of the sinful desires warring against righteous desires), so it seems like it should be obvious.

And yet there are many unaccountable details (to my mind at least): who is the ogre? Why is the shadow coming out of a closet? Why is there a night's sky in that closet? How does it relate to the quote about the darkness of night filling the universe? I do not have answers to these questions, and it makes me suspicious of the allegory that I myself suggest in the shadow. There is a dearth of consistency that makes me hesitate, which I think is perhaps the author's intention (or again, perhaps not).

Nevertheless, I think from reading the rest of the book it is pretty clear what role the shadow plays in the story. The shadow is the darkness that lies within the protagonist's heart, except that it is given a shape and form in Fairy Land. Wherever the author goes, his shadow goes with him and withers the life he finds around him, destroys the magic and leaves nothing worth keeping. It is the very same destroyer spirit that lived within the Ash, which the ogre vaguely references ("...Especially after meeting one in the forest, whom I dare say you have met"). Greed, lust and destruction are all wrapped together in this sinful destroyer spirit that haunts the narrator, Anodos.

Anyway, that's all for this chapter.

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