In George MacDonald's Phantastes, Anodos spends the vast majority of the novel pursuing an imaginary ideal of female beauty personified by his Marble Lady. In his quest to obtain her love, Anodos encounters the evil Maid of the Alder-tree, whose ugly nature forces him to acknowledge that inner beauty does not always accompany outer beauty:
But tell me how it is that she could be so beautiful without any heart at all — without any place even for a heart to live in." "I cannot quite tell. . . But the chief thing that makes her beautiful is this: that, although she loves no man, she loves the love of any man; and when she finds one in her power, her desire to bewitch him and gain his love (not for the sake of his love either, but that she may be conscious anew of her own beauty, through the admiration he manifests), makes her very lovely — with a self-destructive beauty, though; for it is that which is constantly wearing her away within, till, at least, the decay will reach her face, and her whole front, when all the lovely mask of nothing will fall to pieces, and she be vanished forever" (52).
In Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, Pip similarly falls in love with Estella, a character whose icy demeanor resembles that of the Alder-Maiden in Phantastes. Pip finds himself irrevocably in love with her, despite her uncharitable treatment of him:
The unqualified truth is, that when I loved Estella with the love of a man,...I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me, than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection. 
Estella consistently attempts to disabuse her admirer of his fanciful notions by treating him cruelly and dismissing his obvious devotion. In doing so, she increases his lovesick ardor and his determination to win her heart. Estella's cold rebukes do little to penetrate Pip's optimistic haze: “You must know," said Estella, condescending to me as a brilliant and beautiful woman might, “ that I have no heart — if that has anything to do with my memory...I have no softens there, no — sympathy — sentiment — nonsense" (237). Not only does Estella keep Pip at arm's length, but she also encourages other men in their pursuit of her, blatantly parading her suitors before Pip, all the while brushing off her own cruelty by labeling it honesty:
"There is no doubt you do," said I, something hurriedly, “ for I have seen you give him looks and smiles this very night, such as you never give to — me."
"Do you want me the," said Estella, turning suddenly with a fixed and serious, if not angry, look, “ to deceive and entrap you?"
"Do you deceive and entrap him, Estella?"
"Yes, and many others — all of them but you..." 
Like the Alder-Maiden, Estella seems to relish men's responses to her beauty. Both characters represent the dangers of deceitful appearances and cruel beauty.
Great Expectations and Phantastes differ in that the Dickens's novel takes the form of semi-realism while the MacDonald's clearly falls into the genre of fantasy; however, they resemble one another in terms of their endings. MacDonald closed his fantasy on an optimistic note. Anodos matured and had learned “it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come nearest the soul of another" . After he achieves peace and understanding in Fairy Land, he is abruptly thrust back into the real world in order “ to minister to my fellow men, or, rather, to repair the wrongs I have already done." Anodos' return to his home after having experienced all of his adventures in Fairy Land presents the reader with a satisfying and vaguely realistic conclusion. Anodos' adventures seem distant and removed from his reality, almost like a dream. He describes his own transformation very effectively, stating “ Thus I, who set out to find my Ideal, came back rejoicing that I had lost my Shadow" (205).
Pip's character achieves a level of maturity and self-understanding similar to that of Anodos. Despite his never having realized his “Great Expectations," Pip accepts that honest work and pride in his accomplishments matter more than what others expect of him. As for his relationship with Estella, Dickens ensures that the reader leaves with an optimistic hope for Pip's happiness. Just as Anodos closes with a reference to his shadow, Pip states “ I took her hand in mine. . . I saw the shadow of no parting from her" (484).
In both works, nature plays a key role in producing the atmosphere of certain scenes. Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens uses natural phenomena to foreshadow future happenings. MacDonald uses nature to reflect Anodos' feelings, for example, employing storms to reflect his inner turmoil or fear:
Great drops of rain began to patter on the leaves. Thunder began to mutter, then growl in the distance. I ran on. The rain fell heavier...My mind was just reviving a little from its extreme terror, when, suddenly, a flash of lightning...seemed to throw on the ground in front of me...the shadow of some horrible hand. 
Last modified 17 May 2009