Phantastes, by George MacDonald (classic fantasy)
“First published in London in 1858, this adult fantasy novel follows Anodos, a man who searches for his ideal of female beauty in a dream-like world. Anodos has many adventures and faces many temptations in this fairyland, from tree spirit confrontations to a long trek to the palace of the fairy queen, where he eventually meets the Marble Lady. MacDonald would later astonish and influence writers such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and W. H. Auden, who saw in this work the successful embodiment of the depth and meaning of our inner, spiritual world. The poignancy of ‘Phantastes’ lies in its representation of a spiritual quest, one in which ideals are compromised, and the ultimate surrender of the self brings both overflowing joy and profound sadness.”
The women in my book group wanted to try something written by George MacDonald, so I recommended “The Light Princess,” thinking they would like that one better than Lilith, which is quite strange in a way I wasn’t sure the other members of the group would appreciate. After I re-read “The Light Princess,” I decided to try Phantastes. Phantastes isn’t a long novel, but it took me several weeks to get through it. Part of that was because the plot structure was episodic, lacking a strong narrative drive, but more than anything, George MacDonald simply isn’t a writer one can read fast. His work, like poetry, demands to be savored.
In Phantastes, Anodos is on a quest to yield to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit” and put off “the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:19) The apostle Paul describes this spiritual rebirth with these words: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor 5:17) MacDonald creatively describes the final stages of this process in Chapter 22: Continue reading
“The Mansion,” by Henry Van Dyke (American classic, story)
“John Weightman wanted the best of everything. He surrounded himself with beauty and riches, and was very careful with how he spent his money. ‘No pennies in beggars’ hats,’ he liked to say. Until one night he dreamed that he died . . .
“Finding himself with a group of travelers dressed in white, John joins them on their journey to the Celestial City where each individual will be rewarded with a mansion based on treasures set aside. Thinking that his mansion will be the most grand, John Weightman learns what it truly means to lay up treasures in heaven.”
“The Story of the Other Wise Man,” by Henry Van Dyke (American classic, story)
“Long, long ago, a wise man named Artaban, a priest of the Magi, discerned from heavenly signs that the time was at hand for the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy—the birth among the Hebrews of a holy Prince and Deliverer of Man. Hastening to join three fellow Magi for the long journey into Judaea, he paused to help a dying man and was left behind. And so Artaban began his pilgrimage alone, striking out not toward the realization of his life’s deepest longing, as he hoped, but only toward misfortune and suffering. Or so he believed until one blessed, radiant moment.”
These two classic Christmas stories illuminate the human progression from goodness to righteousness to holiness. Continue reading
“Your Refined Heavenly Home,” by Douglas L. Callister (Devotional speech at Brigham Young University, September 19, 2006)
I don’t expect to comment often on speeches, but I feel compelled to write about this one since it so eloquently addresses the culture of heaven and gives ideas for how we can bring that more into our lives, a critical topic if we are serious about becoming a Zion people. This speech was given by a leader of my church to students attending the Church-owned Brigham Young University. He introduces his topic with these words:
The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things. If we could part the veil and observe our heavenly home, we would be impressed with the cultivated minds and hearts of those who so happily live there. I imagine that our heavenly parents are exquisitely refined. In this great gospel of emulation, one of the purposes of our earthly probation is to become like them in every conceivable way so that we may be comfortable in the presence of heavenly parentage and, in the language of Enos, see their faces “with pleasure.” . . .
Today I would like to peek behind the veil that temporarily separates us from our heavenly home and paint a word picture of the virtuous, lovely, and refined circumstances that exist there. I will speak of the language, literature, music, and art of heaven, as well as the immaculate appearance of heavenly beings, for I believe that in heaven we will find each of these in pure and perfected form.
He goes on to encourage the students to pursue the best literature, music, and art the world has to offer.
H. Grimaud plays Rachmaninov
I’ll have to say, if I had heard this speech when I was in college, I would have received it with mixed feelings. On one hand, I had been taught a bit of art history in high school and had enjoyed looking at the slides of classic art. On the other hand, my high school art teacher liked to listen to classical violin music, which sounded like screeching to me. I took a humanities class my first semester in college and failed the opera unit. I hated the highly-trained voices so much that I had trouble concentrating on the music. Instead of focusing on the melodies, I memorized the peculiarities of the voices. Imagine my dismay when the professor played instrumental versions for the test! Despite my distaste for opera at that time, I heard Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 for the first time in that class and loved it, which gave me the motivation to seek out more classical music.