I don’t know what part of me was alive, but growing up, I had enough spirit to feel the pain of Satan’s paradise. I am, of course, talking about our anti-white acid bath of a culture and the pain it causes a true man caught in its depths. I was born alive, in a world of dead peers, and while I didn’t escape the indoctrination (it affected me deeply), I was never changed by it. The treatment never took with me.
I don’t brag about this. Likely it implies there is some serious flaw in my psyche that others are free of. But, whatever the cause, I know it was ultimately God’s doing. I also know it was His work that pulled me out of the acid-bath.
What a divine rope! I escaped to Narnia; I ran with Aragorn; I roamed the English countryside with James Herriot. That is to say, I escaped to the world of fantasy. But not the outlandish, meaningless fantasies devised by modernists. I mean, the old European fantasies. And, it was there I found the rope that would eventually pull me out of the acid-bath.
Now that I’m out, though, I feel bedraggled. Like I’ve climbed out of a pool on a cool day. The water is warm compared to the wind. Likewise, I’m on the edge of the acid bath, trembling and half-naked, covered in droplets of what I’ve yet to shake off. And, looking around, the landscape of old Europe is depressing to say the least.
Mine was likely one of the first generations to grow up without any old Europeans left to guide us. What I learn about the old ways comes from guessing, and feeling my way around. One example of what I mean comes immediately to mind. Because I’ve grown up isolated from the past, I cannot understand some of the old writing. To this day, I have no idea what is meant by something in the “Pickwickian sense”. What did Dickens have in mind? And why did society pick up this phrase? And how did they mean it when they used it? I’ve read descriptions and definitions and histories, but I still only have the barest impression of what was meant. The concept (I gather it’s a humorous conversational device), is alien to any conversation I expect to have. (At least, I think it is).
This alienation from the past is a major problem for not only me, but for anyone climbing out of the sludge. How can we instigate a pan-European renaissance, if we’re so disconnected from old Europe?
I don’t know what made me purchase a copy of George MacDonald’s “Phantastes”. I think it had something to do with the novel’s description as the story of a young man’s journey into fairy land. Also, I heard MacDonald had a loose literary influence on the likes of Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and I desperately want to understand Tolkien’s famous essay on Fairy Stories. Maybe I thought reading this novel by MacDonald might provide some insight?
When it comes to it, I’m not sure if I didn’t gain some understanding of what Tolkien’s essay might be about. That aside for now, however; I’d like to return to the question I asked above:
“How can my generation instigate a pan-European renaissance, if we’re so disconnected from old Europe?”
MacDonald might provide a clue. I didn’t realize it until after reading C.S. Lewis’ introductory essay, but, MacDonald’s novel is not a story as we think of stories. It’s the journey of a young man, into fairy land, yes, but the action is sporadic, almost nonsensical. Beings flow in and out of the main character’s life, without explanation or resolution (in some cases).
But, this is by design, as Lewis reveals. MacDonald is working at a particular type of literary genre. “What he does best is fantasy – fantasy that hovers between the allegorical and the mythopoeic. And this, in my opinion, he does better than any man.” Lewis, ix.
The story isn’t about the main character’s adventures so much as it is about the emotional growth the character undergoes throughout the novel. He evolves, changes, and matures, until, by the end, he’s turned into a genuinely decent individual.
But, MacDonald was writing during a time when the passions of the European every-man were still forged in the shape of Christ, and his average reader would have enjoyed the journey – maybe even seen the novel as an interesting sort of sermon. Unfortunately, for my ilk (who have had most all Christ-honoring European sensibilities seared out of our hearts), we cannot understand much of the novel. I could, because I’ve been out of the acid-bath for awhile, and with the encouragement of guiding lights, like CWNY, have been able to revive the sleeping sensibilities. But still, I learned a lot from MacDonald – not facts, figures, or philosophical concepts, but rather: how to feel correctly.
If we master this genre, we might be able to sermonize without preaching, and re-capture the minds of our folk who are drowning in the acid-bath.
I have serious doubts about my own ability in this area. Reading MacDonald was humbling. I felt like I had newly-made wings, and I was struggling to fly along with the master, who could dip equally between the mountains and near the sun, without fear; while I flew along, clumsily behind, afraid of everything. It’s humbling. The man feels what I should feel, but can’t, and writes what may only be passing thoughts (at best) in my modernity-riddled consciousness.
MacDonald (if anyone) was a Christian Romantic, and I hope to learn much more from him in the future.