I finished George MacDonald’s The Wise Woman and Other Stories, in which I read only the Other Stories, because I already know The Wise Woman well and don’t have the bug to reread it right now. I found “Little Daylight” rather lovely and expressive but also a bit slight for my taste. “Cross Purposes” was fun but pretty silly and not my favorite—on the whole, I don’t think MacDonald’s humor has aged well, though I did enjoy the comical grotesquerie (and scariness) of the mushroom/umbrella/goose-selling goblin, who intends vague but frightening revenge on the hero for hitting him after he terrified the heroine.
This goblin—Toadstool by name—makes me realize something. People have called my writing “trippy” and I think MacDonald may be one place I get that—his stories are full of startling but somehow natural-seeming transformations of people and things (umbrellas become mushrooms become geese), Faerie that bleeds into the real world, and games with reality—one of my favorite endings of his is a version of that old laughingstock, “and it was all a dream,” but it comes off (to me, at least) beautiful, brilliant, and philosophically significant.
Often, I am not overly fond of works classified as magical realism because the ease and obviously metaphorical nature of the fantastic intrusions into reality to me denies them their own emotional weight and beauty. MacDonald (not that his work is classified that way, but the ways I’m describing it do superficially remind me of things people say about magical realism) does not do this. The numinous in his writing is not about unhappy relationships (e.g.); it is about itself and (probably) about God. In addition, it feels “real,” which I suspect actually means “as if it mirrors something about how my mind works”—also rarely true of the admittedly small amount of magical realism I’ve read.
Now I am making my way through Phantastes slowly (I read a bit before I go to bed). I love the edition my friend at work got me. It is illustrated in color, quotes Novalis at the beginning, and is sumptuously laid out with paisley borders on each page. Maybe it’s a little much? I don’t know much about design. But it makes me very happy.
When I first read Phantastes, the impression it left in my imagination was that of a vague and toothless dream. I am not finding this to be the case at all the second time through, though I don’t like it unreservedly by any means. One major gripe is that the viewpoint character is too much a blank—or, rather, he feels as if he’s meant to be a blank, but actually comes across as a cross between MacDonald’s society’s default person (aristocratic young man) and a bland puppet before the fantasy he encounters. I think I prefer MacDonald’s sharply defined children and secondary characters to his adult protagonists, and I also find that he’s better as a moralist and satirist than he is at describing the effects of the beautiful fantastic on the individual who is neither startlingly good nor startlingly bad (though he’s amazing at creating the beautiful fantastic in the first place).
Otherwise, I’m trying to write poetry out of a 120-page document called Random Nonfiction Thoughts. I wrote this in college as something like a journal, though I didn’t even try to make daily entries and little of it is narrative. I enjoy rereading it a lot (embarrassingly much, actually), so I decided I might as well make something from my enjoyment. I have maybe ten poems so far—with any luck, I’ll have more soon—but I’m also thinking about trying to submit poetry to journals, so I’m mostly focused on revising at the moment. Whee, trying to publish poetry! I’ve read one is supposed to submit a few poems every month. This seems…ambitious…but I can try!