The Phoenix is a mythological bird that bursts into flames when it dies, and is then reborn from the ashes to live again. It has colourful feathers in flame colours, a long tail and a beautiful song. It is often associated with the city of Heliopolis (‘sun-city’) in Egypt.
Rick has finally realised what is real, and what is really important. He decides that reality is better, and more fun, than the fake world in which he has been living. This realisation recalls the ‘Allegory of the Cave,’ written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. In it, a group of people have been chained up in a cave all their lives, staring at a blank wall. Objects are passed in front of a fire behind them, and they see the shadows of the objects moving along the blank wall. The cave is all they have ever known, so they assume that these shadows are real objects, and that this is the real world. One day one of the prisoners is freed from the chains, and turns to see the fire. He realises that what they had been seeing were merely the shadows of these objects. He then notices the light coming from the cave mouth and slowly climbs his way out of the cave. He sees the real world and the magnificence of the sun, and realises that even the fire and the ‘real’ objects had been fake. This is the real world, and it is far more beautiful and colourful than anything in the cave had been.
Rick is like the freed prisoner in this allegory. He lived most of his life in the Maze, which was a virtual world in which everything was fake. Everything he experienced there were like the shadows on the cave wall. These were put there by Crater, which is like the false light of the fire. When Rick leaves the Maze behind he begins to realise what ‘real life’ is like, and adapts to the world inside the Crater tower. However, this is not the real world either. It is pleasant and comfortable, but it is really just a gilded cage. Life in Crater is no more like real life than life in the Maze had been. Rick sees that he needs to escape Crater too, but that proves to be much harder than leaving the Maze, as the struggle to the cave mouth is very difficult for the prisoner in Plato’s story. Now that Rick is attempting escape, and sees the mouth of the cave in sight, he realises that he is finally experiencing what real life is like, and that it is better than any game could be.
In the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, Daedalus created wings so that they could fly from the palace and escape Crete. The feathers in the wings were held together with wax, so Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, fearing it would melt the wax. Icarus did not listen to him, however, as he was too caught up in the joy of being able to fly. He flew too close to the sun, and when the wax melted and his wings broke, he plummeted to his death below. Here, this escape attempt and its consequences have been re-imagined. This time it is Rick (Icarus) and not Daedalus who plans the escape, and although Rick gets away Daedalus is left behind. The burning building and Rick falling from it capture the sense of flying and the disastrous heat that brings Icarus down, but this also cleverly parallels Perdita’s fall. This links back to the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, in which Daedalus is forced to see his beloved son die in a similar way to the death he inflicted on Perdix.
The myth of Icarus is meant to comment on the hubris of mankind. Daedalus was like a god in his ability to create marvels such as the labyrinth and the wings, but in the end it was the sun, a force controlled by the true gods, that brought him to ruin. Icarus ignored his father’s advice and wanted to fly higher and closer to the sun, but was brought down for his pride and disobedience. There are many similar stories in mythology, such as the hero Bellerephon who wanted to fly Pegasus to Mount Olympus. The gods punished his hubris by sending a fly to sting Pegasus, who threw Bellerephon from his back. Both these stories could be summed up with the message: ‘pride comes before a fall.’ This story, however, turns Rick’s fall into a desperate escape attempt rather than a message about the danger of pride. Rick’s fall is described in triumphant terms; it is suggested that even if he dies, at least he is finally free.
This is referring to the heat of the inferno Rick created, but it also references the myth of Daedalus and Icarus in which the pair are kept prisoner in a tower. It might also be a subtle reminder of the mysterious Asterion. As mentioned earlier, ‘Asteri’ means star, and Cretan coins often had a star in the middle, representing the Minotaur in the middle of the labyrinth. What is Asterion, and what does its addition to the Maze mean? Could Asterion be Daedalus, still trapped inside Crater and the Maze? Could Daedalus become the Minotaur in the labyrinth? These questions are left open for the sequel.
The book finishes with a final reference to the myth of Icarus. Rick’s scars look like wings, recalling the wings that Icarus used to fly to freedom. Icarus fell to his death when his wings broke, but unlike Icarus, Rick survived. Ironically, whereas Icarus lost his wings and then fell, Rick seems to have gained his wings in his fall. Whereas Icarus lost his freedom (and his life) when he fell, Rick has finally gained his. Through daring to try to escape, Rick has earned his wings.