I know that it was myth that converted C.S. Lewis. I know that he was reluctant. Resistant in the extreme. He speaks to it in Surprised by Joy. But not like this.
I know that George MacDonald was a hero to him. So much so that he cast him as a dispenser of wisdom in The Great Divorce. In fact he said of him,
I have never concealed the fact that I regarded George MacDonald as my master; indeed, I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.
I was not surprised that he had written the introduction to Phantastes. I was surprised that I was so distracted by it. That I couldn’t stop reading it. Over and over.
He treats of myth and its power of enchantment. Its ability to seep into the deepest, most essential parts of us. Truth, marvelously cloaked in phantasy.
For your edification, for your education, for your provocation, I offer an appetizer…an enticement…a seduction.
Of myth in general…
It produces works which give us (at the first meeting) as much delight and (on prolonged acquaintance) as much wisdom and strength as the works of the greatest poets. It is in some ways more akin to music than to poetry or at least to most poetry. It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and possessed joys not promised to our birth….
Of his first encounter with Phantastes…
It must be 30 years ago that I bought, almost unwillingly…the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier….aware that if this new world was strange, it was also homely and humble; that if this was a dream, it was a dream in which one at least felt strangely vigilant; that the whole book had about it a sort of cool morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakably, a certain quality of Death, good Death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise (that was where the Death came in) my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later….
The quality that had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live….I see there was no deception. The deception is all the other way round–in that prosaic moralism which confines goodness to the region of Law and Duty, which never lets us feel in our face the sweet air blowing from ‘the land of righteousness’, never reveals that elusive Form which if once seen must inevitably be desired with all but sensuous desire–the thing (in Sappho’s phrase) ‘more gold than gold.’
*P.S. I have read already two of MacDonald’s works. Lilith is one of the most pivotal books of my life. I have read it multiple times. Her story is my story in more ways than I can explain. She helped me to go places I couldn’t get to by myself. The Wise Woman is troubling and provocative and redemptive. And I can tell you that, 4 chapters in, Phantastes is truly captivating.
**All bolds in the post mine.