decorated initiual 'F' antasy is often characterized by a departure from the accepted rules by which individuals perceive the world around them. Wonderland and the Looking-Glass House, inhabited by talking animals, chess-pieces, and playing cards, reflect the vivid and playful imagination of a child. While Goblin Market also depicts the encounters between young girls and strange creatures apparently comprised of various animal parts, these creatures are dangerous and gruesome rather than silly and humorous. In Phantastes, the protagonist enters a world of magic mirrors, dragons, wolves, and fairies. The world within Idylls of the King is full of metaphysical mysteries, such as the magic of Merlin and the passing of Arthur, whose body disintegrates into a hazy mist. Each of these fantastic spaces is characterized by very different images and visions. The magic mirrors in Fairy Land, Alice's entrance into the Looking-Glass House, and the Knights' quest of the Holy Grail all allow characters to see images which either reflect or elicit each character's subjective interpretations of his or her world. Various forms of fantastic visions illustrate how personal subjectivities influence the ways in which individuals see, interpret, and interact with their surroundings.

In "The Holy Grail," Tennyson illustrates that vision is subjective, even in cases where the viewed object is thought to be universal. The visions of each Knight, upon his quest to see the Holy Grail, reflect the workings of his psyche and the nature of his conscience rather than any sort of universal truth. Percivale has difficulty with this mission, finding himself in various surroundings where his touch turns everything to dust (361-400). This difficulty persists until he feels himself to have "become one" with Galahad, whom they both believe has already found salvation. Upon accounting his Grail vision to Percivale and the hermit, Galahad's "eye, dwelling on [Percivale's], / Drew [Percivale], with power . . . till [Percivale] grew / One with [Galahad], to believe as he believed" (485-8). Having arrived upon newfound confidence, Percivale sees the grail as Galahad disappears into the sky (531). Here, Percivale's eye comes to symbolize his belief in his own power to see, and vision thus becomes a manifestation of this psychological state of being. Lancelot, who acknowledges that he mistakenly used this mission to purge himself of his "one sin," describes how his vision, also reflective of the status of his conscience, was one of continual torture and "madness."

My madness came upon me as of old,
and whipt me into waste fields far away.
There was I beaten down by little men,
mean knights, to whom the moving of my sword
And shadow of my spear had been enow . . . [838-842]

"Happier are those that welter in their sin," he says, than those who have experienced such visions as his. The King, who had previously discouraged the Knights from following such "wandering fires," also attests to the notion that visions do not denote absolute truth or "reality." "Ye have seen what ye have seen" (912-915).

Although he obviously takes a much lighter tone, Carroll elaborates upon the subjective, individualistic nature of "seeing" by suggesting that fantastic visions are characterized and perhaps even fostered by solitude. Alice's entrance into the fantasy world of the Looking-Glass House is an entrance into her imagination, a means to escape the humdrum realities of very ordinary day. At several points in the book, Carroll enforces the solitary nature of her journey, even among a myriad of other characters, by juxtaposing the fantastic, humorous absurdities of the Looking-Glass world with references to Alice's loneliness. Alice's adventure begins when she playfully bullies her kitten, wanting to play "kings and queens." She continually teases and reproaches the kitten for refusing to follow her play-rules, "talking more to herself than the kitten" (108). In addition to being a world-in-reverse, The Looking-Glass house is one in which no one can reach Alice even when some one might see her. "Oh, what fun it'll be, when they see me through the glass in here, and can't get at me!" she says (110). Here, the notion of escaping boredom intertwines the "fun" behind reversing ordinary realities with the separation which it entails from the people outside Alice's fantasy world. Alice attests to her loneliness later, when she sobs to the Queen. "It's so very lonely here!" Alice said in a melancholy voice, and at the thought of her loneliness, two large tears came rolling down her cheeks" (152). Alice's Looking-Glass world thus illustrates that the creation of a fantasy world is a juxtaposition of imagination, escape from reality, and the solitary nature of the process.

While Alice's Looking-Glass reverses the world which it reflects, the mirrors in MacDonald's Phantastes foster distortion. In Phantastes, magic mirrors and warped reflections metaphorically illustrate how individuals have trouble building meaningful interpersonal relationships due to self-absorbed tendencies. Throughout the story, various elliptical mirrors, be they convex in surface or ovular in outline, are associated with an inability to see others as they are, a subconscious desire to view them as distorted reflections of oneself or one's selfish desires. Anodos' encounter with his shadow, who cultivates mistrust and egoism, is coincident with his arrival upon a land wherein the countenances of people become distorted unless one maintains a proper focal distance. "It is as though one is looking into a "concave or convex" surface, says Anodos (ch 9). The story of Cosmo, which, according to Anodos, illustrates universal ideas about the difficulties behind love and relationships, enforces this interdependence between elliptical vision and interpersonal distance, the failure of individuals to love or bond in the face of any sort of selfishness. "Many who love never come nearer than to behold each other as in a mirror; [they] seem to know and yet never know the inward life; never enter the other soul" of the other (ch 13). Cosmo's relationship with the mirror woman is voyeuristic; his "love" is initially a desire to "possess" her through his gaze upon the oval mirror. Only with the destruction of the mirror can true love take place between them (ch 13).

Whereas the arrival of Anodos' shadow, the onslaught of his egoism and mistrust, suggests the beginnings of his elliptical vision, the shadow's departure marks a reversal, wherein Anodos finds himself inside a convex mirror. In becoming the object, rather than enactor, of elliptical vision, Anodos replaces selfish tendencies with self-undermining ones. MacDonald thus enforces the interdependence between elliptical vision and the effects of Anodos' shadow by portraying a reverse scenario. After Anodos leaves the house of the ancient woman, he encounters two brothers, who reveal Anodos' chosen status to help slay the three dragons (ch 21). The brothers state that they have been forewarned of Anodos' arrival, through a magical, oval convex mirror. Although a newfound "selflessness" takes over Anodos, who helps saves the kingdom by successfully slaying his assigned dragon, MacDonald suggests that this binary reversal of roles, from voyeur to object, is weighted with dangers complementary to those of his "former self." "I took . . . what perhaps was a mistaken pleasure, in despising and degrading myself. Another self seemed to arise, like a white spirit from a dead man, from the dumb and trampled self of the past" (ch 22).

When Anodos finds himself both in and outside the convex mirror, he illustrates how elliptical vision is multidirectional, how one may be both object and voyeur. Through the integration of books and fairy tales, Phantastes furthers the notion that one can simultaneously look and be looked upon despite the apparently one-sided nature of voyeurism. Fairy tales and other stories in Phantastes, such as the books from the Fairy Palace, are a form of fantastic vision. They are portals into spheres of make-believe which, like elliptical mirrors, allow for glimpses into the worlds of others while reflecting elements of one's own. MacDonald blurs the boundaries between the make-believe, visions, presented by the stories, and the reality around Anodos. Upon reading about the planet of winged women and nature babies, Anodos speaks "as if [he] had visited the far-off planet" (ch 12). Anodos finds himself reenacting various moments of fantasy tales, as in his first encounter with the white lady, wherein he follows suit with the men of Sleeping Beauty and Orpheus in his attempts to free the woman from her marble confines. When he mentions fairy tales such as the Prince of the Enchanted City, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty, he calls them "histories" rather than fictions, further undermining the distinction between real and make-believe (ch 5). Anodos seems to flow freely in and out of these story worlds, becoming both a character within and a reader of fantasy stories. Anodos' dual position as imagined subject and the reader of it's actions, furthers Tennyons's notion of the subjectivities of vision and the absence of absolute truth.

Similarly, Carroll suggests that one may simultaneously be the product of someone else's fantastic vision while acting as, or perceiving oneself to be the voyeur. When Alice comes upon the sleeping Red King, Tweedledee claims that she is "not real," that she is "only one of the things in [the king's dream]" (145). While Alice insists that she, not the Red King, "constructed" the fantasy world of the Looking-Glass, she literally finds herself on the "other side" of the lens when "the Guard" at the train station looks at her, "first through a telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera glass" (130). Carroll enforces the idea that individuals may simultaneously view each other through "looking glasses," each seeing the other as a construction or manifestation of his or her own imagination.

In several of Tennyson's Idylls, flashes of light and reflection symbolize how the individual is constructed by others, how his identity is defined by subjective "visions" of those around him. One's mien, his visual appearance, becomes a metaphor for his interactions and relationships with those around him, as well as an illustration of the way in which others perceive him. In "The Coming of Arthur," the "reflection" of Arthur's "light" and "likeness" upon members of the court is perhaps a symbolic "vision" of faith. Thoses at Arthur's coronation "beheld / From eye to eye thro' all their Order flash / A momentary likeness of the King [on the] faces" Arthur's onlookers (267-275). Ambrosius adds that "every one" of the knights is "Stamp'd with the image of the King" (445). The image of Arthur's face, as reflected upon each knight, comes to denote both the extent of a Knight's faith as well as the evolution of Arthur's face from a concrete image to an abstract notion of social unity. Elaine's visions of Lancelot portray his countenance as a mixture of her intense longing for him, his "guilty love" for Guinevere, and his "love" for the King. Elaine

Lifted her eyes and read his lineaments
The great and guilty love he bare the Queen,
In battle with the love he bare his lord,
Had marr'd his face, and mark'd it . . . " [241-46]

As with Arthur, Tennyson begins with a very concrete image Lancelot's face and renders it abstract. When Elaine pines for Lancelot, she lovingly closes her eyes, "paint[ing] . . . his face . . . the shape and color of a mind and life" (421). The faces of Arthur and Lancelot become the imaginary constructions comprised of and assembled by others, metaphorically illustrating how one's identity as an imagined vision.

In Goblin Market, Christina Rossetti also constructs the appearance of both the Goblins and of the girls through imagery which leans away from the visual. She emphasizes movement, sound, and rhythm, with minimal physical description, arguably to reflect the way in which the girls view the outside world: confusing, disorienting, and inhuman. The "ugliness" of the Goblins, in contrast to the purity and innocence of the girls, is denoted largely by the sense of chaos created by Rossetti's combination of incongruous sounds. Animal imagery is juxtaposed with motions such as "tramping," "tumbling," "hurrying," "racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling" (350), as well as oxymoronic phrases such as "Snail-paced in a hurry."

Ratel and wombat-like
Snail-paced in a hurry
Parrot-voiced and whistler
Helter-skelter, hurry skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
flutterling like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes. [341-347]

The Goblins seem to denote a mixture of everything "inhuman," frenzied, and chaotic. In contrast, the two sisters comprise the picture of unity and "neatness." They lie

golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest,
. . . like two blossoms on one stem
Like two flakes of new-fall'n snow,
Like two wands of ivory. [190]

In Goblin Market, the sister's visions of the Goblins is fantastic because the Goblins' ugliness transcends visual imagery and fuses nonsensical motions with cacophonous sounds. The juxtaposition of such abstract ugliness of the Goblins, with the sing-song, nursery-rhyme of the poem, depicts a naïve, childlike perception of strangeness and ugliness in the "outside world."

Visual imagery and the fantastic visions of characters, whether they denote foresight, longing, madness, or distorted reflection, reveal the ways in which characters perceive, understand, and interpret the world around them. All of these visions are seemingly unconscious projections of the psyche often prevent individuals from seeing anything without projecting personal prejudices and manifesting the inevitable "distance" between oneself and others.

Victorian Web sitemap Fantasy Lewis Carroll Idylls of the King George MacDonald

Last modified 12 May 2003