Lilith is a story concerning the nature of life, death, and salvation.
After he followed the old man through the mirror, nothing in his life was ever right again. It was a special mirror and the man he followed was a special man - a man who led him to the things that underlie the fate of all creation. Lilith is considered among the darkest of MacDonald's works, and among the most profound. It is a story concerning the nature of life, death, and salvation. In the story, MacDonald mentions a cosmic sleep that heals tortured souls, preceding the salvation of all.
George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister.
He was educated at Aberdeen University and after a short and stormy career as a minister at Arundel, where his unorthodox views led to his dismissal, he turned to fiction as a means of earning a living. He wrote over 50 books.
Known particularly for his poignant fairy tales and fantasy novels, MacDonald inspired many authors, such as G.K. Chesterton, W. H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Madeleine L'Engle. Lewis wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his "master": "Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day at a train-station bookstall, I began to read. A few hours later," said Lewis, "I knew that I had crossed a great frontier." G. K. Chesterton cited The Princess and the Goblin as a book that had "made a difference to my whole existence."
Elizabeth Yates wrote of Sir Gibbie, "It moved me the way books did when, as a child, the great gates of literature began to open and first encounters with noble thoughts and utterances were unspeakably thrilling."
Even Mark Twain, who initially disliked MacDonald, became friends with him, and there is some evidence that Twain was influenced by MacDonald.
When I was 2, my wonderful grandmother visited our little postwar stucco bungalow out on the fringes of our little former lumber town.
My grandmother believed in magic - White Magic. Back then she was like a Fairy Grandmother to me...
One day during her visit, she took me by the hand and led me down to our unfinished basement. All she said to me was - ‘Today we’re going to visit the Zoo.’
And she somehow, within my own private tiny toddler’s headspace, had suddenly transformed our little subterranean storage room - cluttered with bric-à-brac - by her very words, into a magical and mysterious Zoo.
And just like the early and somewhat naïve Carlos Castaneda - self-hypnosis can work wonders - I SAW the wild animals in their exotic cages all around me!
George MacDonald here conjures up a COMPLETELY FANCIFUL world for us too, in the bric-à-brac of an old, old house.
Cause it’s a feeling that’s replete and satisfying in life, to live close to a Deep, Bottomless Well of the Spirit in a palatial mansion on a princely property!
So infers George MacDonald in Lilith.
But his lucky hero inherits both...
Well, in part only - for the mansion is a bit dark and decrepit. And it’s haunted. By unearthly beings.
AND by a Secret World that dwells in a real spiritual opening.
A secret world far more MYSTICAL - in the traditional sense - than Neil Gaiman’s!
For MacDonald TRUSTS in Divine Providence.
Just like I trusted my grandmother - and everyone else - when I was a kid. No wonder the Lord tells us to be like these little ones...
It works wonders. It will take you back to that simple, first, miraculous and supernatural ORDINARINESS of MacDonald’s world.
Now - follow MacDonald’s hero as he chases after his own familial White Rabbit - right Through the (Spiritual) Looking Glass, to a place of deep sleep and his soul’s ultimate replenishment.
And we’ll ALL be in that place someday, with Faith.
Such a world as this 19th century Scottish Man of the Cloth, the author, must have mentally envisioned, mayhaps, as he trudged the dreary miles to visit his snappish and dour parishioners on many a gloomy Highland day.
Dreaming of the Rest that comes after a long life of labouring duty...
And a Duty to which he, an eternal dreamer, was so temperamentally ill-suited!
But his gloom is our gain.
And THAT’s getting older for you - a time when shifting slivers of fitful dreams flit over our half-lit neutral autumnal mindscapes - like morning mist.
But it gets even better as we age further - when we recover, as MacDonald does for us, our True Second Childhood - IF our dreams are born in a Milieu of Love.
And we, the readers, find that WE are the ones who have been blessed in heaping, overflowing good measure, as we reap the reward he - along with our own daily acts of charity - have sowed for us.
The reward of a bottomless reservoir of an endless wealth of imagination.
And as it was for the young C.S. Lewis, discovering fantastical new worlds in MacDonald’s magical tales in his gloomy, grimy Irish preteen years, so it will be for us.
I was torn between 4 and 5 for this one(at first). I love it in many ways and give it 5 stars. Some will probably find it a little harder to read but that's more due to the time in which it is written and it's slightly dated style. I'm not sure that "relax" is the right word here but "relax" into the book and "experience it". This book is in my opinion amazing. I got it out of the library and still would like to find a copy available locally.
I have since bought the book. It has stayed with me since the first reading and given me not only an amazing read but food for thought and insight into not only the ideas dealt with in the book, but myself.
From the opening scenes of this book (in an old and somewhat mysterious library apparently "haunted" by a raven looking man in tales, possibly the old librarian) I was pulled in. I followed the thoughtful yet enthralling story from start to finish and then tracked down a copy of the book for my own library.
My highest recommendation for this one 5+ stars. It gets listed among my favorites.
As my brother accurately described it, it starts out as a sort of Christian acid trip/Alice in Wonderland type experience. For the first half of the book you have almost no idea what is actually going on, but it's worth sticking it through because later it all falls into place. The story takes it's premise from an old Jewish myth about a companion named Lilith whom God gave to Adam before Eve. She was an angelic being, not human, and couldn't reconcile herself to the vocation of bearing Adam's children to populate the earth. They had a single child together before their relationship was abandoned and Lilith was replaced by a more fitting companion taken from Adam's side. Because of Eve's later fruitfulness Lilith bore an eternal hatred towards the human race. Most of the myth remains in the background however and the story centers on a man who stumbles through a mirror into an alternate realm where Adam, Eve, and Lilith continue to carry out their perpetual feud. The climax of the story involves Adam, the Father of mankind, and Mara, the Lady of Sorrows, leading Lilith grudgingly toward repentance. A parallel plot line involves the main character slowly learning how little it is he actually knows about what he has hitherto simply called "reality." Only after he willingly choosing to lie down in the House of the Dead is he able to rise to a fullness of life of which he has never before even dared to dream. C.S. Lewis has been quoted as saying that this book "baptized his imagination," and for good reason. The writing style leaves something to be desired (it is heavy and plodding in places), but the sheer myth of it is amazing. In my opinion, the entire story was worth the final few chapters which turn out to be a glimpse of what earthly life will be like after the resurrection of the dead. It is absolutely beautiful in its description. If you have yet to long for the world to come, this story may help take you a long way down that road. And, better yet, teach you to look for the glimpses of the heavenly kingdom which even now break through into the present world. Here is my favorite passage along those lines from Lilith:
"Now and then, when I look round on my books, they seem to waver as if a wind rippled their solid mass, and another world were about to break through. Sometimes when I am abroad, a like thing takes place; the heavens and the earth, the trees and the grass appear for a moment to shake as if about to pass away; then, lo, they have settled again into the old familiar face! At times I seem to hear whisperings around me, as if some that loved me were talking of me; but when I would distinguish the words, they cease, and all is very still. I know not whether these things rise in my brain or enter it from without. I do not seek them, they come, and I let them go.
"Strange dim memories, which will not abide identification, often, through the misty windows of the past, look out upon me in the broad daylight, but I never dream now. It may be, notwithstanding, that, when most awake, I am only dreaming the more! But when I wake at last into that life which, as a mother her child, carries this life in its bosom, I shall know that I wake, and shall doubt no more.
"I wait; asleep or awake, I wait.
"Our life is no dream, but it should and will perhaps become one."
I have an enormous respect for George MacDonald. His books such as At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and Curdie, The Princess and the Goblin, The Day Boy and the Night Girl and even Alec Forbes and His Friend Annie were among my childhood favorites--they were magical and my first brushes with fantasy at 8-10 years old. He was an exceptionally gifted and inspired writer of the 1800's. I even respect his history as a clergyman who loved god but left off being a preacher because he believed, against the tenets of his times, that everyone was capable of redemption. Plus, he was Scottish. You know? :)
But Lilith has been extremely difficult for me to get through. Lilith, the biblical Adam's 'other' wife, is basically damned and evil and vile because she's a really bad mother. (And I mean really bad, the characterization of which is misogynist in itself.) Almost worse, the main character's attraction to another disturbingly child-like girl is based solely on her having an intensely devoted mothering nature. This was "good". Anything else is "bad".
Perhaps this is all because it's the first time I've attempted one of GM's books after leaving behind my childhood religion. Perhaps I'd find myself reacting the same way to any of my old favorites, at this point in my life. I find that despite my respect for him, I can't not mention the sexism inherent in it, even though he's a man of god from the 1800's--what else could you expect? I know he wasn't more misogynist than his contemporaries--and considering his many, many books from the feminine perspective, I suspect he was actually less so than most! But it's still worth mentioning to the modern reader that the preconceived notions of womanhood, especially motherhood, that this book is based on are absolutely revolting.
It's pretty and romantic only if you are capable of completely divorcing the notion of womanhood and motherhood from any real, live woman. From humanity, from being capable of developing and living by our own moral compass, from the concept of self-determination.
This is by far one of the darkest books I've ever read. Coming from a Christian minister, I would expect the book to be a bit preachy. I found, however, that the story is way more of a dark fairy tale set in a somewhat biblical world, with faint biblical themes. It's hard, of course, not to be a bit biblical, considering some of the main characters are Adam, Eve, and Lilith (the first wife of Adam). MacDonald writes this story in a way that truly makes them characters in a book, rather than bible superheroes here to promote proper Christian morals and whatnot. I'm an atheist, and never once felt uncomfortable, or as though I were being read a story from a minister.
MacDonald uses amazing imagery when it comes to the world around Mr. Vane, the stories protagonist. At times things can be so beautiful, you wish you were there to see it, and then take a turn. There is a moment in the book where Mr. Vane is surrounded by flying, lit skulls, swirling around him in the black of night. MacDonald gives life to these skulls with an almost morbid reality.
In short, this book is for everyone. If you have thought about giving it a go, don't let the religious undertones keep you away. It is a fantastic roller-coaster ride through what is living, what is good and evil, and what is hell. It will challenge even the most creative mind, and I dare you to read it and not think at least once, "Wow, I wish I had thought that up."
Written as a fantasy novel with much spiritual wisdom and insight; George MacDonal in his companion of "phantastes", again achieved to render with "Lilith" a remarkable piece of literature which will hunt relentlessly your dreams and don't have mercy for the boundaries of your imagination!!!!
In brief a few words about MacDonal himself: A poet, Scottish author and a Christian minister. he lived from 10 December 1824 to 18 September 1905.... A prolific writer and after an exciting and eventful life with much sufferings and the lost of several of his children due to sickness, it is said that his writings has became the major influence in the life of such remarkable authors as J. R. R. Tolkien, G. K. Chesterton and several others..... C. S. Lewis wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his "master".
The novel itself deals with themes like death, redemption and the eternal struggle between good and evil, also the development of us human beings and the real meaning of reward and punishment. Let me insert the remark that I had goosebumps and tears following MacDonalds awesome fantasy tale and narration.....
Here some excerpts which will speak for themselves.....
"My boy, I answered, " there is no harm in being afraid. The only harm is in doing what Fear tells you. fear is not your master! Laugh in his face and he will run away...."
"....But there is a light that goes deeper than the will, a light that lights up the darkness behind it: that light can change your will, can make it truly yours and not another's --not the Shadows....."
A rewarding and an exceptional reading!!!! My full recommendation with five stars to you all.....
George MacDonald is one of the most severely underrated authors of all time. A contemporary to Lewis Caroll and major influence on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, this man’s imagination apparently knew no bounds and that is incredibly apparent in his masterpiece, Lilith. Narrated by a nameless everyman figure, it follows his adventures in a world he discovers after inheriting his father’s house and many unsettling circumstances there, leading him to a mirror which reveals another realm. Incredibly complex, this story is really more like a series of events that the narrator witnesses in this realm, all leading down to a confrontation with Lilith, the legendary “first wife” of Adam in various cults of Jewish faith. Ultimately, it is a story of the nature of evil and the hope of redemption but it is packed with literary allusion and stunning imagery that the reader will not soon forget. Written with a deft wit and a finesse for the subtleties of human nature, MacDonald deserves to be in the ranks of he highest of fantasy and allegorical writers rather than collecting dust at the bottom of knowledge’s shelf.
MacDonald seems to discover the story he wanted to tell partway through, which triggered a sense of discontinuity between the story I thought I was reading and the story I turned out to be reading, ten or twenty chapters in.
Some hopes the early chapters inspired were not fulfilled by the later chapters. Some horrors sprang upon me, unexpected (but not unwelcome) in an otherwise whimsical book.
Don't read MacDonald for his plots, or his writing style. Read him for his characters, the curiosity of his images, and the well-phrased philosophic observations sprinkled throughout his tales.
I'm a fan of George MacDonald for his fantasies and for his children's books. His two older fantasies, Lilith and Phantases, are difficult to read and they're difficult to pigeon-hole. But why do we even want to pigeon-hole things in the first place? Oh, right. Marketing.
Anyway, like I said, Lilith is not the easiest book to read. Perhaps it's partially due to the era MacDonald was writing in, but he certainly isn't pandering to the lowest denominator here. The story is a haunting tale of a man named Vane who travels to another reality where he learns about life and death and sin and redemption. That's the nutshell. The name Lilith, which refers to one of the characters in the story, is also the name given to Adam's first wife in traditional Jewish folklore (I think, if I have my facts straight).
Part horror, part romance, part fantasy, part theological treatise, and part philosophical musing, Lilith has to be experienced for any true fantasy connoisseur. I won't guarantee that you'll like it, but I guarantee there are shining jewels in it that'll make you think or, at the least, make you uneasy.
By the way, reading Lilith (and MacDonald's other fantasies) makes it fairly easy to see his influence on CS Lewis' fantasies. MacDonald is very much a thinker's fantasist. I'm combing through my memory files but I can't think of many who fall into that category (and they seem to become fewer and fewer, the closer the date approaches 2012). Voyage to Arcturus springs to mind, as well as Lewis's Space Trilogy, which I've always thought of as more fantasy than sci-fi, Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, The Silmarillion. What others would qualify?
Anyway, Lilith: difficult, maddening, puzzling, but definitely worth it.
This was an interesting book to read after David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus. Both deal with fantastic travel (Lilith with inter-dimensional travel, Arcturus with inter-planetary travel) as a means of religious and spiritual discovery. Both drag you on a harrowing journey, where many questions go unanswered. Lilith, however, is blatantly Christian. It is fun to read a fantasy novel that illustrates the milestones of Christianity, particularly Creation and the Resurrection, using quirky versions of Biblical characters. The Narnia series,which was hugely influenced by MacDonald, handles these ideas more elegantly through allegory and better writing, but Lilith is still an interesting read.
The book is focused on death: living is life in death, every immoral action is a new death, death is actually life, etc. These philosophies are often delivered gravely by a talking raven, and in a confusing semantic manner similar to any other talking animal in a Lewis Carroll story. This gets a bit tedious and confusing,because MacDonald's writing juggles between clunky and to-the-point and lushly poetic. However, there were enough monsters,beautiful ladies,and mutilations to balance this out.
The Narnia series has always been very important to me, so it was fun to read a book that so directly influenced C.S. Lewis. Hidden mundane objects in country houses used as portals to another world, speaking animals, fantastical Christian allegory-it's all in there. However, I don't think Lilith was intended as a children's novel, and it is interesting to see the contrast between these two books and and how each distilled their theological fantasies*. Lilith is mildly gothic, but certainly not as terrifying as Lewis's The Last Battle,which is downright apocalyptic.
Personally, I imagined this book's world through a filter of cheesy BBC video quality, like the music video for the Cure's "Charlotte Sometimes" or an episode of Doctor Who. That's just me. I think it's because there is a lot of wandering through a British country house in the beginning.
Lilith is worth the read if you're a fan of C.S. Lewis and would like to see a direct influence. It's got some beautiful,solemn,creepy bits, and good descriptions of hideous beings. If you're remotely Catholic, it might freak you out a little. It triggered my ingrained Catholic terror of the afterlife. So I suppose this was a good choice for Lent.
*It's an experience similar to reading Lewis's Narnia series v.s. his Space Trilogy.
What to say about this book? Well, it's the darker companion to Phantastes. It's an immersive fantasy dream-experience that transcends plot (though it has one). It's a Christian exhortation to the reader: die to self if you would live forever. It is by turns odd, humorous, witty, sweet, downright chilling, and glorious. It's often a blend of The Pilgrim's Progress and Alice in Wonderland, but I love it more than both those books put together.
Lilith begins as a man called Vane steps through a mirror into a vividly detailed fantasy world. His guide is an old librarian who, in the alternate realm, appears as a raven and offers him both practical advice and spiritual challenges (and their arguments on metaphysics, not without wordplay, leave no doubt as to MacDonald's influence on Lewis Carroll). Midway through the book, Vane's path crosses that of Lilith--yes, the same Lilith who, in Jewish mythology, was the rebellious first wife of Adam, replaced with Eve.
As anyone who knows MacDonald will expect, the journeys of Vane and Lilith each illustrate the Christian's journey to redemption. He writes said journey with so many layers--of justice, mercy, sorrow, love for fellow man, willful sin vs. ignorant sin, mysteries vs. revelations of God. If all that sounds preachy, well, I never found the book to be so. I walked in the protagonist's footprints, saw the fantasy realm as he saw it, felt the pricking of his heart in my own.
MacDonald wrote with a profound awareness of eternity I've never found in any other writer (except perhaps in the song lyrics of Rich Mullins). That bright and beautiful view is perhaps at its most resplendent in Lilith.
'A long time we were together, I and the moon, walking side by side, she the dull shine, and I the live shadow.'
I didn't like Lilith the first time I read it, despite being a big fan of MacDonald (and the people he influenced, like CS Lewis & Tolkien), but over the years as I have read it and read it again it has become one of my favorite books. Do not make the mistake of trying to understand each nuance- that would be like trying to understand all the symbolism of a Salvador Dali painting. Yes, the story is confusing, along the lines of Alice in Wonderland, and no, I honestly don't think MacDonald is a great writer. His power lies in his imagination and his ability to communicate realities about the human condition through these wild flights of fantasy. Lilith is ultimately a story about a terribly wicked woman and an ordinarily-selfish man who both find redemption through rest and sorrow, rather than their own strength. In between all this are desert monsters, skeleton dances, mirrors into other worlds, waking, sleeping, and a creepy librarian. Oh, not to mention MacDonald's weird poetry.
Lilith and Phantastes are MacDonald's less-accessible books. If you haven't read MacDonald yet (shame on you) then you should start with The Princess and the Goblin or his fairy tales (Photogen and Nycteris is my favorite). Then move on to his masterpieces!
If there was one theologian I wish more Christians were familiar with, it might be 19th century Scottish preacher and author George MacDonald. His Unspoken Sermons is one of my all-time favorite works. Reading it was one huge step in changing how I think about God. MacDonald, like the best theologians, was not limited to writing theology. He also wrote, and is probably more well-known for, his fantasy literature. Books like Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin and The Golden Key are precursors to modern fantasy. This book, I think his last work of fiction, is challenging. The main character, Mr. Vane, discovers a mirror in his library that leads into another world. In this world he meets various characters, many not very fleshed out. He also meets Adam and Eve.
The title character Lillith is Adam’s first wife. I found the narrative of the story weird and sometimes difficult to follow, but I find Lillith’s story to be fascinating. Further, if you are familiar with MacDonald’s theology you see a lot of that in here as well. In this review, I am going to share some quotes that I find striking.
Early on, Mr. Vane meets the “little people” who sometimes grow into vile giants. I found this quote humorous: “When they begin to grow big they care for nothing but bigness; and when they cannot grow any bigger, they try to grow fatter. The bad giants are very proud of being fat." "So they are in my world," I said; "only they do not say FAT there, they say RICH." (Ch. 13)
I found this quote humorous, as Vane reflects on preferring the company of books to people: “I sighed—and regarded with wonder my past self, which preferred the company of book or pen to that of man or woman; which, if the author of a tale I was enjoying appeared, would wish him away that I might return to his story. I had chosen the dead rather than the living, the thing thought rather than the thing thinking! "Any man," I said now, "is more than the greatest of books!" I had not cared for my live brothers and sisters, and now I was left without even the dead to comfort me!” (Ch. 16)
One theme that MacDonald comes back to again and again is the nature of God’s judgment. Rather than seeing God’s judgment as some form of retribution, where God smashes recalcitrant people with a cosmic paddle, or casts them weeping into unending torture, MacDonald describes God’s judgment as a cleansing, consuming fire (see the essay “Consuming Fire” in Unspoken Sermons…also this better reflects scripture). Along with this, God’s judgment is found through our cold hearts being warmed and thus enabling us to see the consequences of our action: who we’ve hurt, how others feel and so on.
There is a hopefulness in this. Humans are not seen as a lump of evil that deserve nothing, but instead are seen as beautiful creations of God that, though they have gone astray, deserve love. The remedy for sin is not mere destruction, but restoration.
Adam tells Mr. Vane of Lilith, his first wife who rebelled:
"Lilith, when you came here on the way to your evil will, you little thought into whose hands you were delivering yourself!—Mr. Vane, when God created me,—not out of Nothing, as say the unwise, but out of His own endless glory—He brought me an angelic splendour to be my wife: there she lies! For her first thought was POWER; she counted it slavery to be one with me, and bear children for Him who gave her being. One child, indeed, she bore; then, puffed with the fancy that she had created her, would have me fall down and worship her! Finding, however, that I would but love and honour, never obey and worship her, she poured out her blood to escape me, fled to the army of the aliens, and soon had so ensnared the heart of the great Shadow, that he became her slave, wrought her will, and made her queen of Hell. How it is with her now, she best knows, but I know also. The one child of her body she fears and hates, and would kill, asserting a right, which is a lie, over what God sent through her into His new world. Of creating, she knows no more than the crystal that takes its allotted shape, or the worm that makes two worms when it is cloven asunder. Vilest of God's creatures, she lives by the blood and lives and souls of men. She consumes and slays, but is powerless to destroy as to create." (Ch. 29)
Despite this rebellion, hope remains for Lilith. We see this in quotes such as:
"Thou art beautiful because God created thee, but thou art the slave of sin: take thy hand from thy side." (Ch. 29)
“Annihilation itself is no death to evil. Only good where evil was, is evil dead. An evil thing must live with its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil." (ch. 30)
Before anyone says this hopeful view is too easy-going, there is tremendous pain in such restoration. I would argue that any who have seriously reckoned with the hurt they caused would prefer a simple smack on the back over recognizing and dealing with the hurt caused to fellow humans. Lilith resists dealing with this, seen in this exchange:
"I will not," she said. "I will be myself and not another!" "Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real self?" "I will be what I mean myself now." "If you were restored, would you not make what amends you could for the misery you have caused?" "I would do after my nature." "You do not know it: your nature is good, and you do evil!" "I will do as my Self pleases—as my Self desires." "You will do as the Shadow, overshadowing your Self inclines you?" (ch. 39)
Soon Lilith begins to honestly examine herself, and it is a painful process: "She is seeing herself!" said Mara; and laying her hand on my arm, she drew me three paces from the settle.” (Ch. 39)
"You cannot go near her," she said. "She is far away from us, afar in the hell of her self-consciousness. The central fire of the universe is radiating into her the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of what she is. She sees at last the good she is not, the evil she is. She knows that she is herself the fire in which she is burning, but she does not know that the Light of Life is the heart of that fire. Her torment is that she is what she is. Do not fear for her; she is not forsaken. No gentler way to help her was left. Wait and watch." ch. 39)
“She knew the one what God had intended her to be, the other what she had made herself.” (39)
“I gazed on the face of one who knew existence but not love—knew nor life, nor joy, nor good; with my eyes I saw the face of a live death! She knew life only to know that it was dead, and that, in her, death lived. It was not merely that life had ceased in her, but that she was consciously a dead thing. She had killed her life, and was dead—and knew it. She must DEATH IT for ever and ever! She had tried her hardest to unmake herself, and could not! she was a dead life! she could not cease! she must BE! In her face I saw and read beyond its misery—saw in its dismay that the dismay behind it was more than it could manifest. It sent out a livid gloom; the light that was in her was darkness, and after its kind it shone. She was what God could not have created. She had usurped beyond her share in self-creation, and her part had undone His! She saw now what she had made, and behold, it was not good! She was as a conscious corpse, whose coffin would never come to pieces, never set her free! Her bodily eyes stood wide open, as if gazing into the heart of horror essential—her own indestructible evil. Her right hand also was now clenched—upon existent Nothing—her inheritance! But with God all things are possible: He can save even the rich!” (39)
It is not just Lilith who must go through this process. Mr. Vane begins to as well:
“Then, of a sudden, but not once troubling my conscious bliss, all the wrongs I had ever done, from far beyond my earthly memory down to the present moment, were with me. Fully in every wrong lived the conscious I, confessing, abjuring, lamenting the dead, making atonement with each person I had injured, hurt, or offended. Every human soul to which I had caused a troubled thought, was now grown unspeakably dear to me, and I humbled myself before it, agonising to cast from between us the clinging offence. I wept at the feet of the mother whose commands I had slighted; with bitter shame I confessed to my father that I had told him two lies, and long forgotten them: now for long had remembered them, and kept them in memory to crush at last at his feet. I was the eager slave of all whom I had thus or anyhow wronged. Countless services I devised to render them! For this one I would build such a house as had never grown from the ground! for that one I would train such horses as had never yet been seen in any world! For a third I would make such a garden as had never bloomed, haunted with still pools, and alive with running waters! I would write songs to make their hearts swell, and tales to make them glow! I would turn the forces of the world into such channels of invention as to make them laugh with the joy of wonder! Love possessed me! Love was my life! Love was to me, as to him that made me, all in all!” (43)
Perhaps the lesson MacDonald is pointing at is this is a process we must all go through. We all - no matter how good or bad we imagine ourselves to be - must be cleansed by the flames of God’s consuming fire. These flames will bring life to whatever shadow of goodness and beauty resides in us:
“But to him who has once seen even a shadow only of the truth, and, even but hoping he has seen it when it is present no longer, tries to obey it—to him the real vision, the Truth himself, will come, and depart no more, but abide with him for ever." (43)
At least, that’s what I get the story to be saying. I love the final line, which reminds me of other images of our final destiny in knowing and being known by the divine: “Novalis says, "Our life is no dream, but it should and will perhaps become one."
1 Stern für Freunde spannender Unterhaltung aus anderen Welten 5 Sterne für literarische Spurensucher mit Freude an Querverbindungen und Stationen der Wirkungsgeschichte von mystischen/biblischen Topoi.
Begründung meines Urteils für die 1-Sterne-Wertung
Diese Reise in eine Parallelwelt über ein lädiertes Exemplar in der Bibliothek eines englischen Landhauses enthält keinen Spannungsbogen oder eine Konfliktlage im traditionellen Sinn, es handelt sich eher um einen Nachfahren zu John Bunyans The Pilgrims Progress, in dem sich auch Elemente von Autorenfreund Lewis Carolls Alice-Romanen finden, die, wie dessen Knipsereien von nackten vorputerän Mädels, heute eher einen faden Nachgeschmack hinterlassen, auch wenn der Kopf weiß, dass die viktorianische Gesellschaft Kinder in diesem Alter für asexuell und unschuldig hielt. Der Erzähler Mister Vane schmust und tollt jedenfalls für sein Leben gern mit den Kleinen, die jenseits eines gewissen Alters zu dummen, brutalen und blinden Riesen werden. Assoziationen zu Swifts Gullivers Reisen liegen da nahe, dessen Schreibe war allerdings noch frei von der verklemmten Moral des Viktorianismus. Apokalyptische Elemente und eine Ahnung von Haggards She bei der Titelheldin, spielen auch eine Rolle und sorgen zumindest für Spannung bei der literarischen Spurensuche. Es wird viel gelitten und noch mehr gepredigt, allerdings spielen der Erlöser und seine Heilstat nicht die geringste Rolle, kein Wunder, dass C.S. Lewis da Nachbesserungsbedarf in seinen Narnia-Chroniken sah, die von MacDonalds Liltih inspiriert wurden. Der Tod der Kinder bzw. der Verzicht auf Nachwuchs als Grundlage für die persönliche physische Unsterblichkeit deutet zudem auf Abraham Merritts Face in the Abyss voraus.
Meine Begründung für fünf Sterne, auch wenn das Lesevergnügen von anfänglichem Entzücken, mehr und mehr in Überdruss bis zur Kotzgrenze umschlägt, weil MacDonalds abseitige Theologie einfach immer mehr Raum einnimmt (gewissermaßen die Erbsünde von Bunyan, der aber platt-rational bleibt, während MacDonald in Fin-de-Siecle-Esotherik abdriftet), liegt eben im Status der Schnittstelle zwischen Neudeutung der biblischen und literarischen Traditionen und zukunftsträchtigen Elementen. Einerseits habe ich mich geärgert, dass ich nicht statt des unfreiwilligen Wiederlesens mit einem längst verdrängten Schmöker aus der Stadtbücherei, endlich mal den Gulliver im Original gelesen habe, andererseits gab es eben immer wieder Aha-Erlebnisse im vollständigen und unbegradigten Original. Der Roman erschien erstmals 1895, also fünf Jahre vor Karl Mays Orientreise und der symbolistischen Wendung nach Realitätsschock und Zusammenbruch. Die beiden letzten Teile von Im Reich des silbernen Löwen, - insbesondere die surrealistischen Sequenzen am Rande des Todes, Ardistan und Dschinnistan, sowie die Bekehrungsorgien von Winnetous Erben liegen ganz auf McDonalds Linie. Allerdings hält der Mayster doch deutlich besser die Balance und hat seinen Humor nicht gänzlich verloren. Im Licht von MacDonald werde ich mir wohl noch mal die letzten Romane von Karl May vornehmen, das Wiederlesen der Abenteuer-Romane von Haggard steht ohnehin auf der Liste der Wiederlesen-Vorhaben. Aber eigentlich hat Gulliver Vorfahrt. Abschließendes Fazit: In Sachen Balance ist Lilith eine Katastrophe, zumal die Handlung eher aus einer Reihe von Episoden besteht, während die Titelheldin quälend lange auf sich warten lässt. Nach der Lösung des Rätsels wird die Handlung ziemlich zwanghaft auf Bekehrung und Wiedergeburt ausgerichtet, die Metapher vom Wasser des Lebens endlos ausgebeutet, während allerlei apokalyptische Phantome durch die Wüste wabern, bevor selbige wieder ergrünen darf. Die Kombination aus Quälerei und Entdeckerfreuden ergäbe 2,5 Sterne, da die Qualen vor einer wenig glaubwürdigen Erlösung doch deutlich mehr Raum einnehmen, runde ich auf zwei Sterne ab.
Free on the Gutenberg Project. Also free on Kindle
So I thought this was going to be a vampire romance book. Well, it has a sort of a vampiress character (Lillith) and there is a small romance. (Lona & Mr. Vane)
Written in 1895 by a Christian minister who apparently has had a significant level of spiritual awakening (or enlightenment/self realization).
He masterfully uses symbolism, Christian archetypes and fantasy storytelling to depict a man's spiritual journey to enlightenment. Or finding his "true self" (Christ within/Buddha nature etc).
He seems to be well versed in eastern philosophy as well as psychology due to not only writing this in the same time period as Jung & Freud, but also by observing his use of "consciousness" and "unconscious."
He attempts to expand the readers mind with the understanding that life/death is really a dream and that our divine purpose is to realize it. This is the path which we all follow whether we know it or not. (That's why it is call "Self-Realization.") The fact the author was a Christian minister just proves my point. How to realize? Some say, by following a moral code of conduct , behavior, speech, and thought (the one common thread of all religions) some say it is by grace.
He mentions 7 levels or planes of existence (dimensions/consciousness or 7 Chakras), with the well embraced idea by sages of no time existing on those planes as well as no place. Life is a mental construct and one can be in heaven or hell, which are not physical places but states of mind.
There are many interesting and thought provoking themes. Adam as a raven and a librarian... knowledge and intuition....Eve the mother...."Home"or the eternal soul, the divine within, which is always with him and not a place, not his "material house."
Lilith, (I believe) represents the ego. One who is self created (the false self), and feeds on others for the continuance of that false self. Ego makes one feel powerful and will try anything to survive.
Lona and Mr. Vane (I believe) are soul mates. Or consorts. Like Shiva and Shatki or many other Hindu deities, they all have a male/female partners. So to speak. It is my belief that when one has awoken spiritually, they are becoming whole or wholly. The discovering of your other half can be part of that experience.
The story goes into depth about what we truly are. That we are not our identity, that is a false self. Through eliminating all fears, doubt and the ignorance of ego, we arrive "home." This is not about dying but the death of the ego, the transformation or transcending to a spiritually evolved being.
My description is not adequate, but it is the best I can do. For no words can convey what can only be experienced.
At any rate, this will seem like a very bizarre and disjointed read to those who take it literally. For those who have some understandjng what spiritual awakening is about (even if only on an intellectual level) you may enjoy this.
This is one of these books that I -personally- would classify as solid 5/5. I only gave it a 4/5 for a single reason. MacDonald is not a typical writer. He was a priest, or, in the words of Wikipedia, a Christian minister. Why's that of importance? Because, the folk and the shepherds may use the same language, but not in the same way. The reader of this magnificent, allegoric, deeply religious fairytale will need to arm himself/herself with tons of good will to push onwards when the sentences become tiresome and exhausting. This is not something that the reader will realise halfway through the story. The very first paragraph reads: " I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether admirable and shining family had settled there in that part of the land called Concord, unknown to me,--to whom the sun was servant,-- who had not gone into society in the village,--who had not been called on". You get the point. However, the story is impeccable. The characters are ever changing. The plot is masterfully weaved. This is indeed a fairytale of faith or a work of fiction, or fantasy, on religion. It is so much in fact, that not unless you take the time to read it, will you realise the depths and the widths to which this novel extends. Even calling this a novel hurts its true nature. Parallel words, creatures, embodiments of notions, respectable axioms, believed vices, valuable ethics... You need to savour this story to get to grips with what a truly holistic view of faith can produce.
The second of MacDonald's adult fiction I've read. I come to them via C S Lewis's enthusiasm for his writings.
It's been said of Lewis, as writer, teacher & a conversationalist, that his own love & enthusiasm for certain books & authors could be infectious & send readers & listeners away eager to read works which then proved to be disappointing to them, wondering what he saw in them.
This is partly true of my response to "Lilith". There are many weaknesses in the plot & style of this book that are very trying. Three will do as examples.
1) His treatment of innocence & goodness as characterized in the Little Ones. He shows all worst elements of the Victorian period in this area. The tweeness of his presentation these characters, the baby-talk & behaviours are equal to the most sick-making of Dickens' heroines e.g. Dora Copperfield.
2) Some terribly heavy-handed clumsy use of symbols to represent ideas made reading this like eating very doughy bread.
3) The excursions into the language of the Authorized version in conversations between Vane & Adam, Eve etc. just did not work.
However, despite these & many other short-comings there were also some wonderful aspects to his story, some really inventive fantasy & many thoughts well worth underling & remembering.
It's hard to weird me out, and being so bizarro as to have exceeded my comprehension level is a rare feat. If I could finish this it would probably be a four star. Starts out lovely but becomes disconnected and hard to follow. If you liked, "Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath," you know the sort of dedication it takes to finish this. A good writer entertaining his edgiest explorations. I might revisit this, but my to read pile has too many abandoned books at the moment. DNF.
The book is as difficult as people say it is, but I found it worth the effort. C. S. Lewis's introduction was a big help to me in getting into the book, and you can recognize in it many places that are reflected in Lewis' own writings. The evangelism of Lilith was perhaps the most remarkable and illuminating description I've ever read of the struggle of a person to come to faith.
This was a beautiful story for the most part. There were some things that I didn't agree with or thought were rather strange, (for one thing, MacDonald believed that even the Devil would repent and be saved in the end), but it was still a very worthwhile read with many gems of spiritual truth. Since this is the third of his books I've read in a short time, I'm starting to see a lot of recurring themes, which is very interesting! Perhaps my very favorite quote was this one about prayer...I love the idea that when we rejoice in the beauty of God's creation, we are in fact offering up our worship!
“When some pray, they lift heavy thoughts from the ground, only to drop them on it again; others send up their prayers in living shapes, this or that, the nearest likeness to each. All live things were thoughts to begin with, and are fit therefore to be used by those that think. When one says to the great Thinker:—‘Here is one of thy thoughts: I am thinking it now!’ that is a prayer—a word to the big heart from one of its own little hearts.”
MacDonald was a big influence on C.S. Lewis, as many know. Lewis acknowledges this in the preface to this edition. MacDonald was a universalist, which is quite apparent in reading Lilith. The entire premise of the book requires one to enter a world where universalism is presupposed. Universalism, at least the MacDonald version of it, believes that all people will eventually bow the knee to Christ in faith, repent, believe, and enter into the New Heavens and the New Earth. MacDonald even argues that Satan himself will be redeemed. MacDonald argues that it isn't good enough for evil to be separated from good--in Heaven and Hell, but evil must be changed to good for good to triumph. This is philosophical more than theological.
In any case, the book itself is a highly imaginative, and largely cryptic work. The first half of the book is difficult, slow, mystical, and almost non-sensical. You've got to stick with it to the end to start to understand what has happened in the first half. It took discipline for me to stick through it, and I can understand why many wouldn't do so.
The end is fascinating and very interesting. When it is made clear who the main characters really are it gets good. But frankly, I don't think it really redeems the first half of the book. C.S. Lewis fans will likely want to read this to understand MacDonald's influence on Lewis, but I can't recommend it to others.
George MacDonald stands apart singularly in my reading experiences. C.S. Lewis said that every page he wrote plagiarized MacDonald's ideas, and also admitted that MacDonald was not a great writer in the quality of his prose. I agree fully on the later and see his point with the former.
In his favor, MacDonald's adult fantasy work is great reading because he has the most distinctly confident and original ideas for myths that I have ever read. His fantastic worlds are wholly original and inspired. His spiritual and philosophical components require deep mediation and are generally inspiring and quotable.
On the other hand, both due to the period of the writing and to his own verbose and exhausting communication, passages can drone and quickly lose the modern reader's interest.
Overall, Lilith is well worth a read. It deals with alternate planes, world mythologies and religion, and fleshes out the concepts of good, evil, forgiveness and restoration in a way that contains real elements of horror and exquisite visions of recreation. It takes some work, but I believe I shall mull upon it for many years.
This is perhaps my favorite book of all time. It does not get enough good press. It is definitely MacDonald's magnum opus. I would recommend it to all fantasy-lovers and readers just looking for something refreshingly different. Like most of George MacDonald's work, Lilith does have strong religious undertones, but they are presented in a unique way that I don't believe will offend or even distract non-religious readers. The religious content is comparable to that in the works of CS Lewis. I promise this book will be unlike anything you've ever read before or will ever read again. I would highly recommend all of MacDonald's fantasy works, but Lilith is definitely my favorite. I would welcome discussion on this book with anyone who has read it!
Lilith is probably a prime example of why Tolkien famously disliked allegory. The book wavers between stretches of tedious exposition and somewhat ridiculous plot interwoven with achingly beautiful scenes and haunting imagery. The themes of death and paradise are heavy stuff, and for me they don't always merge comfortably with their corresponding story elements. (although maybe that's the point?) I'm torn between three and four stars, but bumping it upward because its beauty and power outweigh the awkward plot.
On the tail of At the Back of the North Wind, I found this book and read it in high school, and although I recognized it as very interesting and impressive emotionally, I was too confused to get much out of it. When I picked it up again last year for a more mature read-through, it was because in many subtle ways I realized it had never left me. I thoroughly enjoyed it in my second reading and count it among my favorite books of all.
This is a strange and wonderful book. For much of it, I felt like a little child in awe at hearing a fairy tale for the first time. I was deeply moved by MacDonald's depiction of God's persistent love and redemptive justice.
A question I am pondering: When we perceive God as punitive are we perhaps projecting our own vindictiveness and broken understandings of justice onto God?
I'm almost at a loss how to review this one. The thing I was really glad about is that there was an introduction in the one that I had by C.S. Lewis, which put me in the right headspace to read this book. Lewis explained that MacDonald was not necessarily a great *writer*. What he was, though, was an exceptional myth-maker. In the same way, that we don't necessarily think of a particular writer when we think of Greek mythology, rather we think of the stories themselves - in the same way, MacDonald's stories are not great because of the writing itself, but the power of the concept that he is trying to get across.
Now that I've read the entire book, I see what Lewis is trying to get at. And it is this willingness to put up with a rambling story that is, ultimately, quite allegorical, that might make the difference between whether you love it or hate it.
The story, such as it is, tells of Mr Vane, a young man who inherits a rambling country house with a large book room and discovers a way into another world. The first half of the book, in which he explores the world, I found surreal and disorienting. I had no idea what the symbolism meant, or where the story was going. I just had to trust that it would all work out.
I'm glad that I did, because when I got to the second half, the threads started to come together. In the end, it's a very metaphysical story about good and evil, and especially the concept of dying in order to truly live. Belief in a life after this one is a fairly standard part of Christian belief, but how often do we sit around thinking about it?
Meanwhile, MacDonald has meditated on it, and in his own poetic fantastical way, paints a picture of life after death in a way which is neither angels with syrup, or just a rough concept. Those of you who have read C.S. Lewis' "The Last Battle" will recognise some of the ideas that have been borrowed.
In the end, despite the difficulty of the read and its shortcomings as a fantasy novel (which is what it most resembles), I think it succeeds in leaving you with a glimpse of something beyond this world, which is its most appealing aspect.
This is the third novel I've read by George MacDonald, the first being The Princess and The Goblin, sort of a young-adult novel, which was wonderfully written. I then started searching out other titles and now have a little collection.
Frankly, I was a bit worried in the beginning - it started very reminiscent of Phantastes, and was loaded with exclamation points, which seemed odd...but don't be fooled: the story picks up in a hurry, and is an excellent read. MacDonald's imaginings of the world after death, fulfillment of biblical promises, and descriptions of our temporal understandings and behavior make this a story of great depth and scope - every once in a while I'm struck by what an enormous tale an author has crafted, not even in the number of pages, but the scope of vision that they have: did they come up with the "general idea" first and, if so, how much of the tale was the "general idea"; or did they take a small thought and begin to weave other things into it as they went along? At any rate, some authors amaze me with their vision, and MacDonald is one of them. It is a page turner, without question, but a story that had me pondering throughout, and finishing with joy that I had read it.
Both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien credit George MacDonald as their inspiration to become authors, and it is easy to see that in his writings.
Favorite quote from the book: "That which is within a man, not that which lies beyond his vision, is the main factor in what is about to befall him: the operation upon him is the event."
In spite of the exuberant use of exclamation points at the outset, it still ranks 5 stars to me.