Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Phantastes - Chapter 17

I love this chapter. First off, I'd say it's pretty clear that this chapter is about depression, about the darkness that fills a soul when darkness fills one's life. The gremlins are the voices of accusing people or thoughts.

I think the core of what happens here is possession of the Marble Lady. At first, what the protagonist says is, "I no longer called her MY Marble Lady" because he was losing hope. The voices of the gremlins pick up on this thread when they mock him, "you shan't have her." She will not belong to him, she will belong to another, better man.

After that, just barely is the protagonist willing to give up his claim on the Marble Lady: "It is well that thou should'st be, of the nobler, bride."

To give up your own claim to the Marble Lady, after such long and fruitless seeking, is certainly a "spark of nobleness" as the author proclaims.

The point of the second song is similar; by trying to greedily take as much as possible from those things that give you life (a violet, lady's gracious eyes, and "the maid" respectively), you end up killing the source of life and deceive yourself as well, while doing wrong.

The meeting with the elderly woman draws on a different theme, illuminating the depression. From this episode, the reader can discover that this whole country of bare rocks, gremlins and darkness is really just the product of the protagonist's depression over the lost Marble Lady. What the old woman says is that the companionship of any "pretty girl" would be enough to break him out of his depression. When she is transfigured into a beautiful woman, she similarly transfigures the landscape to a beautiful countryside, because the countryside itself is a product of the protagonist's mood. That's why he always chooses the lower paths whenever he had a choice, because the darkness within him was seeking to find darkness without.

The protagonist, in his turn, turns down the woman's claim and continues his search for the Marble Lady (not that he expected to find her).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Phantastes - Chapter 16

This episode, in chapter 16, is something that I am still mentally grappling. He nearly brought the Marble Lady to life, and even without that, he made her visible. He was in the presence of his Lady, and how my heart wished that he would finally find her, rescue her, bring her to life. This is the catharsis that both the protagonist and I are looking for.

But it doesn't happen. This introduces the second of the protagonist's depressions.

The main question I'm grappling with is why the protagonist should not touch her, why is it that he should have sung to her? When you consider the Marble Lady to be figurative for the artistic ideal, what would it mean to touch her?

I've spent an hour now thinking about this question, and the closest I have to an answer is this: it presents a dichotomy between force and inspiration. That's all I got.

In terms of the story line, this marks the protagonist's abrupt departure from the Fairy Palace. He does not return, nor will he ever meet the Fairy Queen, which was a bit of an anti-climax to me, but most assuredly does MacDonald make up for it later.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Phantastes - Chapter 15

I'm not going to write much about this chapter, because while I think it adds a lot to the story, it also seems to be fairly self-descriptive.

Furthermore, I think it follows exactly in line with nearly everything that I've written before. The Marble Lady is like a muse, which according to classical mythology really is an embodiment of artistic inspiration. This is no surprise to me because it is clear to me that women (to put it generally) are the main inspiration for most of the things done by men. Why is the Mona Lisa, one of Leonardo's most famous paintings, a simple portrait of a woman?

But that's a much longer and more important subject than I really want to (or am able to) address. What I will say is that it doesn't surprise me at all because I feel the exact same impulses as MacDonald (through his protagonist Anodos) or Leonardo. Beauty itself, whether that be natural beauty or the physical beauty seen in people, is an inspirational force.

To make one simple comment (in case anyone doesn't notice this), Anodos's song is a description of the Marble Lady's physical appearance, rising from her feet up to her forehead and hair. This song is supposed to match her persistent unveiling as the shadow is lifted off of her.

For the consequences of this song, we read on to Chapter 16.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Phantastes - Chapter 14

This chapter is delayed because I had to read it twice.

It's interesting to me how the protagonist does not hear any music. A lot of this book seems to be about art (the protagonist is a singer, the Marble Lady is a physical embodiment of sculpting, etc), so of course music is central to the conceptual framework here.

Note that in later chapters, the central hall is referred to as the Hall of Phantasy. In my opinion this hall is like some sort of encapsulation of the creative process, like a manifestation of artistic or creative inspiration.

The protagonist compares the Hall of Phantasy with the marble cave where he found the Marble Lady, and this is indicative of the similarities (though the Hall of Phantasy is mucher larger in scope). In the cave, he thought about Pygmalion and his sculpture, and he himself was inspired to sing a song that awakened the Marble Lady.

In the Hall, the protagonist is struck with wave upon wave of creative inspiration, where it be a drama, an epic tale, a song, beautiful images, etc.

I believe the reason why the protagonist had to surprise the statues is that his discovery of their motion also parallels the process of creative inspiration. That's why they could anticipate him entering their hall and even anticipate him *thinking* of entering their hall, but are caught off-guard when he does it with a sudden thought to enter, because he was essentially inspired and that allowed him to enter into the realm of creative magic. That magic took the marble statues from the stillness and death of mechanical life, of normality (what is the opposite of inspiration if it is not unthinking repetition?) and drew them into a rhythmic dance guided by celestial music that is not heard by human ears (and yet is discerned in the spirit).

Another similarity with the marble cave, is that the protagonist must sing another song to free the Marble Lady from this new tomb; rather than a tomb of alabaster, it is now a tomb of shadow. In the first case, it was like an unborn creation (from the sculpting metaphor, it was an unchiseled block of marble, yet with the perfect shape waiting within to be unleashed). In the second case, it was a stifled or smothered creation, destroyed or hidden by the sin and darkness that came from the heart of the protagonist (who is also the singer == creator). Of course it is the author's shadow who covers and smothers the creative power that comes from his heart. It is the shadow that battles against him finding and reaching his creative ideal and therefore it is his shadow that he must battle to free his Marble Lady. This seems to me like every artist's battle, to overcome the darkness in their life, to be free in their inspiration and to find and create that Marble Lady that we all seek.