When thinking about which blockbusters have dominated screens in cinemas all around the world during the last years, we can hardly fail in realizing that many of them actually belong to the genre of fantasy. The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia are just two of many examples. The reason for choosing these two movies as examples is that they have much in common: both of them are based on novels that were written many years ago, and they are given merit for inspiring many people to reading. The authors of the movies we used as examples are J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis; what they have in common is that both of them refer to George MacDonald as to the writer they were inspired by. Is not it strange that Tolkien and Lewis have become very famous in the present time (partially thanks to the movies based on their books), but nobody seems to have ever heard about MacDonald; the man whom Tolkien and Lewis call their master? 1
Despite the fact that George MacDonald has written more than 90 different books during his life, only a small number of them seem to have caught the attention of scholars as there is not much criticism of his works available. Knowing that MacDonald was valued as original thinker and a spiritual guide in his own time, it seems to be a paradox that he is not well known in our time 2 and none of his works has become a bestseller. The present state of my research on George MacDonald does not enable me to solve the mystery of scholar's indifference towards this writer; and his small readership. However, this paper should serve as a contribution to the criticism of MacDonald's writings. Moreover is shall be seen as an attempt to show that his writings are very up-to-date, addressing issues relevant to our age as much as to the Victorian period.
The present paper provides an analysis of the human figure and supernatural beings in "The Shadows" which is one of the less known fairy tales by George Macdonald. In order to show that the presentation of human figure and the role of supernatural beings in the story depend on the genre of the story (which in this case is a fairy tale); I shall discuss three aspects: 1) characteristic features of a fairy tale; 2) the quest of the human protagonist in the fairy tale; 3) the role of the magical beings for the message transmitted by the story.
I will be using T. Todorow's 3 and S.S Jone's 4 criticism when discussing the fairy tale as a genre and relate them to George MacDonald's essay "The Fantastic Imagination". 5 Joseph Campbell's quest pattern will be used to demonstrate the protagonist's adventures. The magical beings will be analysed with the help of psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud 6 and Carl Gustav Jung. 7 References to other critical voices will be given in text later on.
This chapter discusses the genre of fairy tale as such; and the question if and why "The Shadows" can be classified as such. This should provide us with a solid theoretical basis that can be used later when we will discuss the quest of the protagonist (which has a typical pattern in fairy tales). In his essay "The Fantastic Imagination", MacDonald discusses the question of what is a fairy tale and who is it written for. According to him "a fairytale is just a fairytale [. . .]". 8 He does not explain in greater detail what a story should be like in order to be classified as a fairy tale; only gives an example of his favourite one (Undine). As the author himself is rather hesitant to provide us with the theory of fairy tales we will be using some other critical voices when analyzing "The Shadows".
According to Tzvetan Todorow who defined different genres of fantasy, fairy tales are generally linked to the genre of the marvellous. The marvellous comprises narratives that demonstrate the acceptance of the supernatural. The fairy tale is one of the varieties of the marvellous in which not the supernatural as such; but the kind of writing about it is important. 9
"The Shadows" is written in a way that can be described as marvellous. The supernatural is fully accepted in the story, when the protagonist passes through the closed window 10 the reader accepts it as a fact because the story presents it as such. Solid bodies can not pass through barriers in our world and that makes the reader curious about the world in which they can. Not the supernatural as such, but the way the author deals with it is important here, he makes the reader want to explore other realms, different from his own experience.
Rosemary Jackson who analyzed Todorow's approach situated the fairy tale within the marvellous mode as well. She enhanced Todorow's theory naming two more important features of a fairy tale: a traditional opening and an authoritative impersonal narrator. 11 Having no traditional opening, only second feature applies to "The Shadows". The narrator of the fairy tale is John Smith. The story was originally included in novel Adela Cathcart, being one of the stories John was telling to his niece Adela. John is an authorial and omniscient narrator that seems to know more than he is willing to tell to the reader (54). Todorow's theory and Jackson's elaboration thereof enables us to qualify "The Shadows" as a fairy tale.
What are then the characteristic features of a fairy tale? According to Swan 12 fairy tales belong to the category of folk tales. Fables, jokes and novellas belong to the same category as well; in difference to fairy tales, life is depicted in mimetic way in the other three genres. Fairy tales depict marvellous events as if they would be a part of human experience. In his book on fairy tales; Swan lists a number of features typical for this genre.
An essential element of a fairy tale should be an ordinary protagonist, whose problem is on very personal level so that the audience can identify with him. Ralph Rinkelmann, the protagonist in "The Shadows" is an ordinary man; he has a wife and little children. His problem is his illness that is so severe that he is hovering between life and dead. Death and mortality are two other subject matters which the story deals with.
Swan points out that a fairy tale should display believe in unseen things, and other realms that exist parallel to our existence. These parallel dimensions are not perceived by all character in the story, and that opens a space for fairy tale's criticism of the society. 13 Ralph is the only character that can see the Shadows. Other human characters in the story serve as examples for critiques of MacDonald's contemporaries and the state of the society the author lived in.
The confrontation of a problem and resolving thereof are crucial elements in a fairy tale; the happy ending 14 is the last but definitely not least important feature on Swan's list. The problem that Ralph has to do with is the liminality of his own health conditions and of his age. Visiting the church of Shadows, he undergoes a quest and experiences different changes; as a consequence of these changes he starts to see common thing in a different way (64). Ralph experiences a personal happy end at the end of the fairy tale. Rejoicing that he is a man (79), Ralph accepts the fragility of his human body and reconciles with the mortality.
Comparing "The Shadows" to different definitions and theories it is obvious that the story is a fairy tale as it has many typical features of the genre. However, it needs to be remarked that it is a fairy tale for adults. MacDonald himself says, that he does not write for children "but for the childlike". 15 That can be understood as a glorification of childhood in the terms of children's readiness to accept magical worlds created by author with everything that belongs to it. Children are open-minded and more likely to tolerate the supernatural. But MacDonald's statement may be understood in the context of his sermon "The Child in the Midst" where MacDonald e explains that the childlike is divine. According to him the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children. 16
Ralph Rinkelmann is a comedian (54), a married man and a father (55). One may argue that such description is not sufficient enough to suggest that a person is human. A goblin or giant could be described as a husband or family father as well. What it is that makes Ralph ultimately human? It is his severe illness, and mortality that the protagonist is confronted with in the story.
Hovering between the life and death, Ralph is crowned the king of Fairyland as it is only between life and death when fairies can get hold of humans (54). Death and images thereof dominate the fairy tale. Because of his liminal health condition Ralph is too weak to walk and he must be carried by the Shadows that are dressed in "funeral black" (57) on a bier (58). The Shadows are gliding on white snow to which they refer as they "winding-sheet" (57). In western culture people tend to go to funerals dressed in black to express mourning. The dead body is carried on a bier and clothed in winding-sheet. In the text the winding sheet is related to the coldness of snow which could mean that Ralph is clothed in the coldness when travelling to the church of Shadows. Many other images of death are to be found in the stories told by the Shadows. The fashionable mother sees a coffin on the wall (66) and an old man believes to see his dead child coming back to him (78). The cluster of dead images that occur throughout the text contributes to the gloomy atmosphere in the story. J.R.R. Tolkien once remarked that death was the theme that most inspired MacDonald 17 what can be seen on the example of "The Shadows".
Ralph's adventures since his coronation till the return from the church of Shadows can be described using Joseph Campbell's quest pattern. 18 He describes three stages of hero's quest. At the beginning there is the "pattern of separation" where the hero crosses the threshold. Secondly the hero has to face an antagonist or divinity within the "pattern of initiation". The adventure ends with hero's reincorporation in the community which is involved in the "pattern of return".
The pattern of separation begins when Ralph is visited by the Shadows for the first time; the Shadows invite him to visit their church on Iceland (57). As a preparation for his journey, Ralph is clothed in royal ermine and put a crown of gold on his head (58). This is the first transformation that he undergoes, new clothes mean new identity which is totally different to the one he is having in his real life. The crossing of threshold happens via window (58).
Window is a liminal object separating two realms. Literally a window separates the interior of a room from outside; Campbell relates the crossing of a threshold to "crossing into another realm" of magic, fantasy or the unconscious. 19 Taking Ralph's liminal state of health into consideration, it appears very unlikely that he would have been able to travel for long distances. As the text gives us many references to his "nearly falling asleep" (55) and having eyes half shut (56) we shall assume that the threshold he crossed was the one of his consciousness. The eyes are commonly described as window to the soul. Closing his eyes, Ralph left the real world behind.
The pattern of initiation includes Ralph's two visits in the church of the Shadows. First journey is described in greater detail and enchants the reader with miscellaneous marvellous elements as for example the travelling at supernatural speed (59). During his first visit in the church, Ralph makes himself acquainted with his subjects- the Shadows and returns home when waken up by the voice of his wife (63). This physical awakening is followed by a spiritual awakening into greater social and personal awareness 20; that happens when Ralph says that his experiences were true, because they "had made common things disclose the wonderful that was in them" (64).
In his sermon "The Imagination: Its Function and its Culture", George MacDonald explains that the wonderful that is enclosed in things can be disclosed by the means of imagination. Imagination enables the humans to enquire into what was made by God. That means that imagination is not about generating thoughts but about discovering those already generated by God. These discovered thoughts need to be expressed by forms that already exist as well and are to be found in the nature. Man only has to "light the lamp within the form" which means to discover what idea is hidden behind natural forms and objects. 21
Within the phase of initiation, Ralph undergoes 3 major changes. First is the change of his identity from a comedian to a king. Two other changes are metamorphosis of his sight and hearing. One of the Shadows enables him to see better when he touches Ralph's head (56). Another change happens to his hearing in the church of Shadows when Ralph becomes to be able to listen to one voice only despite the fact that many Shadows are talking at the same time (65). All three transformations are temporary, caused by an external power and Ralph returns to his initiate condition after each change.
The pattern of return includes Ralph's reintegration in the human society after leaving the church of Shadows. He returns exactly to where he started from which shows the circularity of his adventure. Collin Manlowe considers circularity to be a very important motif in fantasy literature. When our normal life is disrupted with magical creatures, objects and persons, the return to a starting point means a departure from the supernatural. However, the departure from supernatural does by no mean the same as a return to indifference 22, but as we can see in Ralph' case, the world is perceived in different way after the return.
Ralph's wife and their children are rather flat characters; and the reader can not learn much about them. That is why we shall have a closer look at other human characters that occur as protagonists in the stories told by the Shadows. Their significance for the message the fairy tale is to transmit will be analysed in this chapter.
A murderer, a fashionable mother (66); a dishonest bride, a drunkard (67); a vain clergyman (68), a greedy miser (73) and a jealous old man; what we get here is not only the list of characters acting as protagonist in the stories told in the church of Shadows; but also a catalogue of human vices and sins. One may suggest that those characters are allegorical, but such assumption is only partly true. George MacDonald 23 said that "A fairy tale is not an allegory." He admits that there may be some allegory in the story though. The human characters in "The Shadows" are in fact allegorical as they are embodying abstract qualities. Moreover all the stories in which these characters occur have similar structure of crime/vice-repent-and restoration of order/ethics. The structure remembers us of parables, a genre commonly used for teaching of some ethical or religious ideas.
George MacDonald was a congregational minister. He resigned from the church after two years; having problems with the elders of his congregation for preaching possibility of life after death for the heathen. 24 MacDonald was concerned with the fact that his contemporaries seemed to visit the church only for the purpose of being seen there, neglecting the spiritual values. In a letter 25 that he wrote to his wife in the same year when he left his congregation, he describes how he was preaching to a congregation that was large but so indifferent that the chapel was filled with coldness. Regardless of the situation MacDonald strongly believed that he can contribute to a spiritual revival of his contemporaries. The message of his letter can be nicely related to the topics of stories told in the church of the Shadows. Each story provides a critique of the human qualities, but it ends with restoration of order and offers hope for salvation.
As fairies, ghosts, goblins and angels are only mentioned, but not really described in the text; the analysis of magical beings shall focus on the Shadows, their appearance and habits. The other Shadows shall be analysed as well.
Ralph perceives the Shadows as "dark creatures"; "black and mad in their gambols" (55). He says that they are kind of haunting his house (56) and he starts to feel uneasy during their visit. According to Freud, intellectual uneasiness causes fears in humans. 26 Ralph can not figure out the nature of the creatures, and the reason to their visit; he is helpless, and too weak to sit upright; his uneasiness can be felt by the reader as well. Another fear causing elements, according to Freud, are darkness and solitude. 27 Ralph's room is lit only by the fire in the chimney, most of the time he is alone as his wife has to care for their children. Therefore we shall assume that Ralph's first encounter with the Shadows is rather scary and has an uncanny undertone.
After the transformation of his sight, Ralph is allowed to perceive the Shadows better than before. He describes them as "tall and solemn, rather awful [. . .]" (56); they resemble the pictures of Puritans to him and all of them are dressed in funeral black. Ralph complains about the "insane lawlessness of form" (60) which the Shadows have. They appear to be shape-shifters and a closer look at the text passage, where metamorphoses of their form are described reveals that these changes can be related to changes in the intensity of light. When fire burns lower, the Shadows appear to be black and mad, they are gambolling in such a wild manner that Ralph is not able to decide what creatures they are (55). When fire burns up again, the creatures calm down and their form settles again (55). The change in intensity of light influences human sight and the way humans tend to perceive objects. A burning fire, for example, provides light of unstable intensity and the dancing flames of fire make us perceive the shadows as moving. MacDonald explains that when a writer invents his own world, he is calling up new forms, but in order to call this faculty imagination, these new forms must be "embodiments of old truths." 28 Creating a world in which shadows can talk and act independently (without being attached to any object) the writer called up new forms, but relating their form and metamorphosis thereof depending to the change in the intensity of light, he confirmed an old truth (that humans perceive objects differently when light changes).
The appearance of the Shadows changes in the shine coming from the diamond on the top of Ralph's kingly sceptre (58). In light of that diamond, some of the Shadows become more simple and human, while others turn yet more absurd (59). The shine seems to reveal something in the nature of the Shadows. Diamond is commonly considered a very precious stone, and it is related to Christian symbolism. A so called Crux Gemmata is a cross set with thirteen gem stones (usually diamonds) and symbolizing Christ and his twelve apostles. 29 The diamond is one of the many religious symbols in the text. The story plays during Christmas which for Christians is a time to celebrate Christ's birth. Ralph describes his travel to the church of Shadows as gliding through "the blue sphere of heaven [. . .] where his soul felt that it had room enough" (59). This passage echoes what MacDonald, being a Platonist himself, wrote about nature. The Nature wakes things in man up which already are in him, so that he can think about them. 30 In the text passage discussed, the protagonist describes contact to nature, but saying that his soul feels free, more important is that through nature he is in contact with God who is immanent in the nature.
The appearance of the Shadows is very often contrasted to some other elements and objects in the story. Being described as black (55); the Shadows are contrasted to whiteness of the snow (57). The night in which they pay their first visit to Ralph is described as white and glimmering (57); which is an oxymoron. This description fits well in the text because the whiteness of night is caused by aurora borealis that is illuminating the church of Shadows. Another contrast to appearance of the Shadows is provided by the angels who are described as white shadows cast in heaven from the "Light of Light" (79). The contrast is provided not only by their colour but also by the fact that angels are cast from Light of Light (God) and Shadows are not cast from light as humans commonly believe. They exist and attach themselves to different objects only when they please to so so (62).
The Shadows are not only shape-shifters but liminal beings as well. They usually appear in twilight (61). Twilight is a liminal time when the daylight is not yet gone and the evening is already about to begin. The Shadows also tend to appear in the light of a single candle. A flame of a candle does not provide enough light to illuminate a room but it at least disturbs the total darkness. The place when the Shadows assemble is Iceland, an island that can be regarded a liminal place as well. Moreover the setting in "The Shadows" can be described as paraxial. Rosemary Jackson explains paraxial setting as a realm of darkness behind the visible. The threshold between the visible and invisible is crossed by the means of mirrors, glasses, or other objects connected to vision. In paraxial setting no new world is invented, but this world is dislocated. 31 In "The Shadows" the magical world on the other side of the paraxis is the church of the Shadows and the protagonist must pass through the window to get there.
The church is an important assembly place for the Shadows; they visit it every day before they go to work (57). Having no printing and no writing, it is the only place where they can exchange ideas and news (66). During Ralph's first visit to the church, the Shadows present him with their petition:
. . .our very existence is in danger. The various sorts of artificial light, both in houses and in men, women and children, threaten to end our being. The use and disposition of gaslight,[...], blind the eyes by which alone we can be perceived. (62)
When we relate this quotation to the description of the church of Shadows, it becomes obvious that the petition is an implicit critique of the Victorian society. Victorian Age is commonly associated as a period of tremendous changes. In his book The Victorians, A.N. Wilson points out the importance of industrial revolution after which the world was "covered with railways and factories". 32 The people were preoccupied with materialism and social status; neglecting spiritual values. The Shadows have neither printing nor writing which means that the revolution has not penetrated into their magical world. Their complaint about the artificial light that is blinding the eyes can be understood as an allusion to electricity and technical progress as such. The blinding means that people are preoccupied with material things; and they make the "worldly man" and frivolous woman" (62) forget about the importance of spiritual values. The Shadows are forced to leave the towns because there is too much artificial light in there. People do not see their own shadows any more. A critique of moral and the society as such enters into MacDonald's fairy at this place in the story. What the Shadows are afraid of, is what MacDonald was according to Rolland Hein 33 fighting against: "secularism and the false religion". Stephen Prickett refers to MacDonald's fairy tales as to be totally condemnatory of business ethics of his contemporaries. As an alternative to material world MacDonald offers nature. 34 In nature, God is residing.
The Shadows are playing an important role in providing a critique of the society; but their part in the story should not be reduced only to that topic. Introducing themselves as "human Shadows" (61) and denying the common believe that they are only cast from light; the Shadows suggest are claiming an independent existence. Human shadow is an important concept in analytical psychology, particularly in the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. Their concepts of shadows shall be examined here to provide an interpretation of the Shadows.
Sigmund Freud provides two different conceptions of the shadow. In the older conception, the shadow is explained as a Doppelgänger of the body. While body is mortal and can not be preserved forever, the soul is immortal and serves as a protection of the I against destruction after death. The more modern conception describes the Doppelgänger (shadow) as an isolated part of I which is commonly known as the conscience and serves as a censor for all the parts of the I. 35 Freud's and Jung's theories are reflected in "The Shadows" in many ways.
There is big number of death images in "The Shadows", but there is no hint to the Shadows serving as a protection against death. Ralph does not refer to any of the Shadows as to his own and he is the only person in the story which is hovering between the life and death. The stories are showing no evidence of preserving the souls of the sinners from their destruction after death. Second of the two conceptions corresponds better with the story. The Shadows can be seen as an embodiment of human conscience, as they are making the people aware of their sins and vices. In the story about the fashionable mother, the Shadow made a little coffin on the wall and that made the mother to confess (66-67). In this sense the Shadows can be understood as externalizations of the qualities which the people wish to hide and repress.
Another explanation to the relationship between the person and its shadow can be found by Carl Gustav Jung. 36 To understand it, we need to understand some of the basic concepts Jung uses. First of all, Jung differentiates two types of the unconscious. The personal unconscious includes contents based on individual experiences and the collective unconscious includes archetypes. Archetypes are concepts common to all people. The shadow is one of the archetypes; which means that every person has a shadow. Jung defines the shadow as a "moral problem" and a "dark brother". That means that the shadow includes all dark aspects of a personality. The shadow is then subdivided into constructive and deconstructive, the deconstructive is important for our further analysis as it includes everything a person does not want to acknowledge. Because of this repression a person who is kind has a harsh shadow and a bad person has a kind one.
Jung's theory applied to "The Shadows" leads us to two important findings. The Shadows offer an affirmation for the concept of collective unconscious when introducing themselves as human shadows (61). Moreover the theory of deconstructive shadow enables us to solve the mystery of "the other Shadows".
". . .and the king begun to see several of those stranger Shadows, with human faces and eyes, moving about among the crowd. [...] And what their eyes said to him, the king only could tell. And he did not tell." (79)
First time when the other Shadows appear in the text is when Ralph travels to Iceland. Passing a dark passage in a forest, he catches a glimpse of them (59). The reader starts to feel curiosity while reading about that occurrence, because Ralph says that the other Shadows had lovely faces, but they were scaring the Shadows and made Ralph feel uneasy (59). There is no further explanation to this statement in the text and the reader has to fill in the information gap for himself.
At the end of the fairy tale the other Shadows appear again. They are frightening the Shadows and Ralph seems to know something about them that he is not going to tell. The text produces a tension in reader and raises the same question again: What are this stranger Shadows with human faces? Rosemary Jackson is using the term "nameless things" in order to refer to things, "which can have not accurate articulation". 37 She describes the gap that is created between the sign and its meaning. In many Gothic stories there is something that can not be articulated. This applies to the other Shadows as well. There is a gap between their name (if we can understand it as such) and the significance thereof. This gap stays open throughout the text and there are no textual clues that would help the reader to bridge the gap. Coming back to Jung's theory of deconstructive shadow, the other Shadows can be understood as having deconstructive nature as well. When they appear in text they are described as lovely in their appearance and that would according to Jung mean that they are shadows of people of evil character. This assumption is affirmed by the text, because the Shadows and Ralph as well are obviously scared of them.
There are some other creatures in "The Shadows" that are referred to as unnamed: the ghosts. However, in their case the problem is not that one would not know what they are; they are just too scary and dreadful to be called by a proper name. This reminds of Harry Potter books where Lord Voldermort is known as the ultimate evil, and the magicians do not pronounce his the name.
The presentation of the human figure and the role of magical beings in "The Shadows" are influenced by the genre of the story which is a fairy tale. The protagonist undergoes a quest and comes to a happy end after all. The Shadows and their magical world serve as a mirror to human society showing the image of human sins, faults and the decay of the moral.
Death still is a topic the people are rather hesitant to talk about, being both terrified and fascinated by it. The reader can identify easily with the protagonist Ralph who is facing his own mortality while suffering from a severe illness. Because of his liminal health condition, the threshold between Ralph's consciousness and unconsciousness turns into a flow which he can not control anymore. Crossing the threshold of his unconscious mind, he undergoes a journey of self-discovery. In the church of Shadows a catalogue of human sins and vices is presented to him. Learning more about the life of the Shadows, he rejoices being a man.
A more extensive research of George MacDonalds writings and particularly of his fairy tales needs to be done in the future. His fairy tales are inviting the reader to visit a magical world and learn something new about things commonly regarded as ordinary. These magical worlds are build upon authors own rules which are corresponding with the rules of nature. The characters in the stories are scary, funny enigmatic and wise. Even more fascinating than the magical worlds themselves is author's Christian pantheist ideology that is hidden beyond the text and which is definitely worth exploring. In conclusion I would say that it is a pity that George MacDonald is unknown to contemporary readers. "The Shadows" and many other stories written by him, are not only providing us with the critique of Victorian materialism, but are very relevant to the present situation as well. The consumer society in which we live is just a next step in development of materialist society. The magic seems to have disappeared from our lives and the reader can benefit from stories in which it is still alive.
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