This past spring I audited a Socratic dialogue class on the literature that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination. Among the many works explored and discussed, we spent two weeks reading Phantastes, by George MacDonald. The students in the class were discussing the character of Anodos and his seeming inability to make reliable decisions and follow the advice given him. They put this down to his naiveté, however, when I considered their discussion more deeply later, I discovered that Anodos was not naïve at all, rather he was vastly immature.1
To be naïve is to be innocently ignorant. Naiveté is often associated with young children, for children will often make mistakes because they are not old enough to know better. One of the faults of a naïve person is that he will sometimes take advice blindly without considering the credibility of the advisor.
An immature person is old enough to avoid the uninformed mistakes of childhood. Immaturity is a form of pride, for an immature person will disregard wise advice because he thinks he is wiser than the advisor, when in reality he is not.
At the beginning of his journey through Faerie, Anodos shows signs of naiveté. He wanders through Faerie in blissful admiration, as a child would, simply drinking in the wonders before his eyes. But he soon looses his purity of mind. Although throughout his journey he possesses an ability to sense the underlying good and evil of a person or situation, he consistently disregards his deeper convictions in favour of what his eyes see.
In his search for the Marble Lady, he meets the evil Maid of the Alder-tree. However, because the two women look similar to one another, he never doubts that the Maid of the Alder-tree is his Marble Lady. He later admits, “Yet, if I would have confessed it, there was something…in the sound of the voice, although it seemed sweetness itself…that did not vibrate harmoniously with the beat of my inward music.”2 Despite this and numerous other misgivings, he excuses them for the unexplained and unpredictable ways of Faerie and makes the disastrous error of mistaking great evil for great good.
As he continues his journey through Faerie, Anodos repeatedly disobeys the advice of those wiser than he, bringing consistent disaster and heartbreak upon himself and those with whom he interacts. Despite numerous warnings, he enters the ogress’s house (again ignoring his subconscious sense of good and evil). Upon entering, he is curiously attracted by a certain closed closet door. “You had better not open that door,” the ogress tells him.3 Anodos later writes, “The prohibition, however, only increased my desire to see.”4 He opens the door and is faced with his Shadow, whose company haunts him and destroys the beauty around him.
These are characteristics of immaturity, not of naiveté. Anodos does not act blindly out of ignorance. He is repeatedly given clear warnings which he consistently disregards. His actions are the result of pride. Anodos assumes he is wiser than the wise people around him when he is not. However, although it takes him some time to learn, Anodos slowly loses his pride. He becomes wiser and more understanding of the ways and world of Faerie, so much so that in the end he is able to defend a fellow wanderer who, like Anodos in the beginning, mistook great evil for great good.
1I am of the opinion that the class’s description of Anodos as being naïve arose from a misunderstanding of the word naïve, rather than a misunderstanding of the text.
2George MacDonald, Phantastes, Chapter 6
3Ibid., Chapter 8
6 thoughts on “Is Anodos Naïve or Immature?”
A very interesting article to say the least; well done on it!
Your post has better informed me on the true meanings of Naiveté, for I now realize that I was “innocently ignorant” of the topic, despite the fact that I’m not a young child.
I always thought that Naiveté was associated with being foolish and full of denial within a serious situation. For example, a man decides to leave his windows open at night when he lives in a neighborhood burdened with burglary. His wife tells him to close them, but he merely shrugs his shoulders at her while saying, “it’s all fine,” even though he knows it’s not. I would describe the man as being naïve, as he is faced with a serious situation and is aware of the consequences, and yet he brushes it off as if though it were nothing. Your definition, however, would not describe the man as naïve?
Grace and peace,
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Interesting… It seems “innocently ignorant” definitions of “naïve” are floating about. 🙂 Yes, I would define the man in your example as being immature, rather than naïve, because his actions are rash, and rashness is associated with immaturity.
Rash! That’s the perfect word to describe his actions (I actually had never heard that word before). Thanks, Nicole!
You are welcome!
Hmm. This is really interesting. However, I’m not sure I agree with your word to describe him. I think there ought to be a better one out there, though it’s not coming to me. And perhaps it is just all the connotations around the word “immature” that are not sitting well with me more so than the precise definition. At any rate, I can’t put a finger on all my thoughts right now, but next time we see each other, it would be interesting to talk more 🙂
Do let me know which word you are thinking of, if it ever comes to mind!