MacDonald lays bare the power of fantasy literature to open our eyes to deeper depths and realities in the mundane worlds we think we live in.
One of the key images in Phantastes is the mirror. Mirrors occur with bewildering frequency. And even where there are not physical mirrors, there are events which mirror each other ... Phantastes is very carefully structured, but it is structured around repetition and reflection. The ‘main’ story of Anodos [a character on a journey into Fairy Land] contains many events which repeat, rework or reflect one another. And his story is mirrored in the poems, ballads and stories embedded within the text ... ‘All mirrors are magic mirrors,’ wrote MacDonald. ‘The commonest room is a room in a poem when I turn to the glass.’ Phantastes itself is a kind of magic mirror, through which we see life – our life – in a different way.
(Nick Page in the "Introduction" to Phantastes: Annotated Edition, Paternoster, 2008 forthcoming)
In doing this he's not so very different from the prophets of Israel or the author of the book of Revelation. "The way that the world appears to be", they say to us, "is not necessarily the way that it is. Look again! See beneath the surface! Gaze with fresh eyes! That which seems beautiful may be demonic; that which you think ordinary may be filled with dazzling glory; and that which appears insignificant may be the most world transforming thing of all."
Reading MacDonald has reminded me that "all mirrors are magic mirrors." Yes, even the ones in my house!