In chapter 22 of Phantastes, having just helped kill the three evil giants, Anodos enters an enchanted forest. Mounted on horseback and wearing a beautiful suit of armor, Anodos swells with pride as he thinks back to the incredible feat he has just performed. Considering himself among "the glorious knights of old," Anodos forgets that his glory came at the price of two valiant men's lives. Nevertheless, Anodos' happy reflections come to an abrupt halt during a period of imprisonment in the enchanted forest from which he is ultimately helped to freedom by none other than the little girl with the broken globe:
Hardly knowing what I did, I opened the door. Why had I not done so before? I do not know. At first I could see no one; but when I had forced myself past the tree which grew across the entrance, I saw, seated on the ground, and leaning against the tree, with her back to my prison, a beautiful woman. Her countenance seemed [283/284] known to me, and yet unknown. She looked at me and smiled, when I made my appearance.
"Ah! were you the prisoner there? I am very glad I have wiled you out.'
"Do you know me then?'
"Do you not know me? But you hurt me, and that, I suppose, makes it easy for a man to forget. You broke my globe. Yet I thank you. Perhaps I owe you many thanks for breaking it. I took the pieces, all black, and wet with crying over them, to the Fairy Queen. There was no music and no light in them now. But she took them from me, and laid them aside; and made me go to sleep in a great hall of white, with black pillars, and many red curtains. When I woke in the morning, I went to her, hoping to have my globe again, whole and sound; but she sent me away without it, and I have not seen it since. Nor do I care for it now. I have something so much better. I do not need the globe to play to me; for I can sing. I could not sing at all before. Now I go about everywhere through Fairy Land, singing till my heart is like to break, just like my globe, for very joy at my own songs. And wherever I go, my songs do good, and deliver people. And now I have delivered you, and I am so happy.' [ch.22, p.283-284]
The little girl has lost her most precious object, and yet through this loss, she has come to gain an even greater gift. She no longer has to rely on the globe for music since she can now sing. Thus, in a sense, she was released from the hold that the globe had over her. Similarly, Anodos could only be set free from the prison once he had ridden himself of his pride. The walls that confined him were those of his overblown ego, and only through humility could he break them down.
In getting across this message, the key technique that MacDonald employs is that of setting. The use of a prison functions as a powerful tool in conveying the idea that a character is in some way either trapped or lost. The same technique is used in Dickens' The Pickwick Papers when Mr. Pickwick finds himself in a debtors prison after having refused to pay a sum of money owed in the case of Bardell vs. Pickwick:
In the galleries themselves, and more especially on the staircases, there lingered a great number of people, who came there, some because their rooms were empty and lonesome; others because their rooms were full and hot; and the greater part because they were restless and uncomfortable, and not possessed of the secret of exactly knowing what to do with themselves. [ch.40, p.547]
There is no disguising the fact that Mr. Pickwick felt very low-spirited and uncomfortable — not for lack of society for the prison was very full, and a bottle of wine would at once have purchased the utmost good-fellowship of a few choice spirits, without any more formal ceremony of introduction; but he was alone in the coarse vulgar crowd, and felt the depression of spirit and sinking heart, naturally consequent upon the reflection that he was cooped and caged up without prospect of liberation. As to the idea of releasing himself by ministering to the sharpness of Dodson and Fogg, it never for an instant entered his thoughts. [ch.40, p.549-550]
Compared with Phantastes, the description of the debtor's prison exhibits a great deal more realism. As its title suggests, Phantastes is a fantasy novel. Thus, when we find Anodos' prison to be a narrow tower-like structure in the middle of an enchanted forest, we are able to suspend our imaginations in order to immerse ourselves in the plot. In the case of the debtor's prison, however, the setting that Dickens relates to the reader is based on the reality of what a jail was like during the pre-Victorian period. Moreover, aside from its physical characteristics, the debtor's prison reveals an even deeper sense of realism in that it is the only segment of The Pickwick Papers (aside from the interspersed stories) in which there is pain, sadness, and suffering. Up until this point, the Pickwickians have traveled about with light hearts in search of adventures that always end in humor and happiness. Mr. Pickwick's imprisonment, on the other hand, shows a reality-based darker side of the of life that leaves Mr. Pickwick with a bit more cynicism in his heart.
Despite the differences between these two prisons in terms of fantasy and realism, however, they are thematically similar in that the individuals they contain (Anodos and Mr. Pickwick) have, in different ways, imprisoned themselves and can only be released once they have learned humility. Anodos' journey through Fairyland is, in essence, a period of self-exploration in which he faces his own character flaws. When he finds himself held captive in a narrow tower, the walls that surround him are barriers that his pride has created. He is set free when he is humbled by the little girl, and he demonstrates this humility by stripping off his armor and renouncing his knighthood. Likewise, because Mr. Pickwick refuses to swallow his pride and pay Dodson and Fogg, he must suffer the consequences and go to debtor's prison. Like Anodos, Mr. Pickwick also learns humility through his observation that not everything in the world in shiny and happy. He bears witness to the suffering and degradation that the prisoners must face, and he is forced to go without the many creature comforts that he has always known. Thus, while these two characters are literally worlds apart, they find themselves dealing with many of the same themes.
Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. New York, London: Penguin Books, 1999.
MacDonald, George. Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women. Text on The Victorian Web
Last modified 21 March 2003