When confronted with death, both Anodos of Phantastes and Pip of Great Expectations give little regard to fear of nonexistence or pain, focusing almost exclusively on their legacy: for Anodos, the heroic circumstances of his demise provide a comfort, while for Pip the prospect of being remembered in a bad light make him desperate to survive.
Anodos remarks in the chapter immediately following his death scene, "I was dead, and right content" (198). With regard to the people he left behind, Anodos can rest easy knowing they appreciate him and remember him fondly. "He has died well," says the lady after the knight describes his remorse at not being able to rescue Anodos. For the funeral, they bury Anodos in a place of honor, a place that shows just how much the people Anodos left behind care about him:
They buried me in no graveyard. They loved me too much for that, I thank them; but they laid me in the grounds of their own castle, amid many trees; where, as it was spring-time, were growing primroses, and blue-bells, and all the families of the woods. (200)
For Anodos, a noble death ensures that he will be remembered for his good deeds, and not for the moments in which his courage or cleverness fell short. Pip, however, faces quite opposite circumstances when in the climax of Great Expectations he finds himself at the mercy of Orlick�s long-awaited vengeance. As Orlick drinks from a bottle of spirits, mustering the resolve to commit murder, Pip contemplates the aftermath of his death, if it were to occur:
My mind, with inconceivable rapidity followed out all the consequences of such a death. Estella's father would believe I had deserted him, would be taken, would die accusing me; even Herbert would doubt me, when he compared the letter I had left for him with the fact that I had called at Miss Havisham's gate for only a moment; Joe and Biddy would never know how sorry I had been that night, none would ever know what I had suffered, how true I had meant to be, what an agony I had passed through. The death close before me was terrible, but far more terrible than death was the dread of being misremembered after death. And so quick were my thoughts, that I saw myself despised by unborn generations, — Estella's children, and their children, — while the wretch's words were yet on his lips. [Chapter 53]
Death at that moment would mean an eternity of being misunderstood; as such, Pip cannot bring himself to be satisfied with such an outcome in the way Anodos embraces it, and so he vows to resist it as much as he possibly can:
The resolution I had made did not desert me, for, without uttering one vain word of appeal to him, I shouted out with all my might, and struggled with all my might. It was only my head and my legs that I could move, but to that extent I struggled with all the force, until then unknown, that was within me. [Chapter 53]
In both cases, death or near-death marks a turning point in the character�s attitude towards himself and his legacy. Anodos learns to appreciate the people he left behind, whereas Pip realizes everything he has to fix about his life — the relationships he has to work at and every bit of the record that he has to set straight before he can accept death quietly, without feeling the need to struggle.
Phantastes, as a work of fantasy, can expand the sensory range of its first-person narrator without it seeming strange or implausible. Although Great Expectations — a work of realistic fiction — has to work within a much stricter set of constraints than Phantastes, Dickens finds a way to effectively sidestep those limitations. Pip must stay inside his own head, but his imaginings of the past and future read in a way that makes them seem almost like fact:
"I knew that when I was changed into a part of the vapor that had crept towards me but a little while before, like my own warning ghost, he would do as he had done in my sister's case, — make all haste to the town, and be seen slouching about there drinking at the alehouses. My rapid mind pursued him to the town, made a picture of the street with him in it, and contrasted its lights and life with the lonely marsh and the white vapor creeping over it, into which I should have dissolved."
Readers have no reason to doubt Pip�s assumptions, as they seem reasonable enough, and so Dickens manages to relate events that occur outside of Pip�s sensory range without having to resort to mysticism, a third-person narrator, or additional dialogue.
Phantastes and Great Expectations both marked a digression from their respective authors� usual writing process. Dickens, at the urging of Ellen Ternan and Sir Edward G. D. Bulwer-Lytton, ended up for the first time changing the ending to his story. MacDonald�s Phantastes was also a sort of experiment, as it was his first serious try at unrealistic fiction, and at prose (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantastes).
MacDonald, George. Phantastes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Last modified 15 May 2009