Literary Relations in George MacDonald's Phantastes

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Literary relations include not only matters of source and influence but also parallel elements or different and even opposing ones. One of the most obvious sources of Phantastes is Shelley's lyric poem, "Alastor," which provides the epigraph that opens chapter 1. Read Shelley's heavily symbolic poem about its protagonist's quest for an ideal and see where you think it parallels and where it departs from MacDonald.

Other sources seem less obvious, such asPhantastes 's debt to Carlyle's idea of the hero and the human need for worship. When in the fantasy does this theme appear most clearly?

Phantastes follows the pattern of the medieval romance, a form that contains in symbolical or ideal form many elements of the later Bildungsroman, In this resemblance it seems to parallel the Alice books. Where do you find similarities and where do you find differences between the experiences of Alice and Anados?

One can also usefully examine the ways in which Phantastes obviously differents in theme and technique from any other text. Ask yourself, for example, how its plot differs from that found in works of fictional realism, such as North and South and The Way We Live Now. Similarly, how do these works use characterization and setting differently? What about the role of imagery?

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Last modified: 16 October 2002