I came to Phantastes through Tokien and Lewis. After reading in "Surprised by Joy" the profound impact this book had on C.S. Lewis, I had to read it for myself. I was not disappointed. The book has its finger in something that modern fantasy books are mostly missing. Where modern writers tend to infuse their stories with modern men and women with swords and an older manner of speech, the very essence of Phantastes is something truly "old." There is a strong moral root to it, that is profoundly Christian, a sense of good things lost but better things gained through humility. The moral foundation of it has the weight of reality behind, and has a bitter-sweet quality to it.
The line from a song sung in the book has stayed in my mind ever since I first read it (and I do not have a great head for memorizing lines)
"Alas, how easily things go wrong!
A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain,
And life is never the same again."
I think this line captures that "Paradise Lost" feeling present in the book quite profoundly, and yet there is much more to it than that.
I could go on at length about this book, but shall leave it at this: This is a fairy tale, and a true romance, with a profound moral center. It has its roots in the old ways of thinking and the old ways of feeling. It is a bridge to the "old," the heart and soul that makes knights and maidens and chivalry and honor a fascination to this very day. It is easy to see why this book inspired the great fantasy writers of the twentieth century.
I would conclude with a comment on the illustrations. I highly recommend this version as the illustrations are incredible. Arthur Hughes captures the essence of the things I spoke about above in his art. I am very glad to see this printing include the artwork that MacDonald preferred for his book, and can honestly say that it greatly increased my enjoyment of the already wonderful book.