Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lilith by George MacDonald

I have long loved the novels and poetry of George MacDonald, but it has been years since I have read any of his fantasy works. I don't remember much of The Princess and Curdie, though I do remember where I was when I was reading it - in the back of a bright yellow Volkswagen Rabbit that my dad bought sometime in the early 80's. Those were the days!

Anyway. . . when a fellow book club member mentioned Lilith, it piqued my interest, and I added it to my TBR list. Since we happened to have it on our shelves, it was the first book I picked up for the new year.

I must admit that I found the first half of the book very strange and somewhat confusing. There were plenty of profound statements which added a richness to the narrative, but I just wasn't sure where the story was going. By about half-way through, however, I was able to sort out the good from the bad and better understand the task of the protagonist Mr. Vane. Although the genre of myth is distinct from allegory, I could not help wondering if there were some symbolism in his name. Was Mr. Vane the embodiment of vanity in his willfulness and imagined self-importance, or was his name more suggestive of a weather vane, perhaps, that is blown to and fro by the wind?

This edition has an introduction by C. S. Lewis, who is often quoted by MacDonald fans as saying, "I have never concealed the fact that I regarded MacDonald as my master, indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him" (from the back cover). Although I have not read the entire corpus of Lewis' works, I could easily find some similarities to characters and ideas in the Chronicles of Narnia. For instance, the evil Lilith is described in terms that reminded me of the White Witch, and there was a reference to "farther in, higher up" that reminded me of The Last Battle.

I'm sure this is a book that I will ponder for a long time, and probably take up to re-read it several times over the years God gives me. Like all myth in its truest sense, that is, stories that resonate with all that is true and right, it is a story that must grow on and in the reader, being absorbed and felt, not merely read. With the very short time of reflection that I have given it, I would suggest that it paints a story around the truth of Matthew 10:39 ~ "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (ESV).

I found many noteworthy passages, but here are a few of my favorites:

"'In this world never trust a person who has once deceived you. Above all, never do anything such a one may ask you to do.'
'I will try to remember,' I answered; '- but I may forget!'
'Then some evil that is good for you will follow.'
'And if I remember?'
'Some evil that is not good for you, will not follow.'" (conversation between Mr. Raven and Mr. Vane, 95)

"'. . .my human wife plunged herself and me in despair, and has borne me a countless race of miserables; but my Eve repented, and is now beautiful as never was woman or angel, while her groaning, travailing world is the nursery of our Father's children.'" (Mr. Raven's description of Lilith, 148)

"'But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself. You will not be able much longer to look to yourself anything but what he sees you! You will not much longer have satisfaction in the thought of yourself.'" (Mara talking to Lilith, 200)

"'I may not be old enough to desire to die, but I am young enough to desire to live indeed! Therefore I go now to learn if she will at length take me in. You wish to die because you do not care to live: she will not open her door to you, for no one can die who does not long to live. . . Ah, then, sir,' I rejoined, 'it is but too plain you have not yet learned to die, and I am heartily grieved for you. Such had I too been but for the Lady of Sorrow. I am indeed young, but I have wept many tears. . .'" (Mr. Vane speaking to an old man, 225)

There are certainly depths to be plumbed on literary, philosophical, and theological levels in this book!

6 comments:

Amy said...

I've never read Macdonald, but I am familiar with him a little because of his link to Lewis. I need to change that! Thanks for a great review!

Laura said...

I like MacDonald's fiction for children, and some of his adult novels, but I've never read this one. Thanks for the review!

hopeinbrazil said...

I'm a MacDonald fan, but Lilith has been on my shelf, unopened, for about 15 years now! It sort of intimidates me. Thanks for a good review.

B said...

Thanks for the review. I like his poetry and I've listened to The Back of the North Wind, but I've never read any of his other work. I think I have The Princess and the Goblin. I'll have to give it a try. B.

Kathrzn Bahn said...

I have been listening to this book as an audio download from librivox.org as I go to sleep for the last week. It is a spooky experience.

Page Turner said...

Kathrzn ~ I can only imagine it would be very spooky to go to sleep listening to this read! If the reader had a deep forboding voice... Ooooh, that would give me chills!

Thanks for your comment!