Monday, September 15, 2008

Lilith, by George MacDonald

"Our life is no dream, but it should and will, perhaps, become one."

Imagine, for a moment, that Pilgrim's Progress was rewritten by JRR Tolkien in the meandering style of Charles Dickens. You'd get Lilith. Sort of. Even that is not a perfect comparison, I don't think I've ever read anything quite like Lilith.

The story is based on the old myth of Lilith - for those who never heard it during the Lilian craze of the mid-90's - is fairly simple. Adam's first wife was not Eve, but Lilith - Lilith, though, in a sin whose exact nature varies, but which is usually of a prideful nature, often having some sexual nature, is not cast from the Garden of Eden, but willfully leaves it, and her husband, behind. In some myths, she is then the serpent who tempts Eve to eat the fruit, in others she marries Satan, but in almost all, she becomes a demoness, a vampire, usually. Google Search for Lilith brings up so many images of busty succubi that I finally gave up, and just searched for Eden instead...

MacDonald is widely acknowledged as the father of modern fantasy, but this is fantasy far different than what we've come to know. It was, however, a huge influence for people like Tolkien, CS Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, and others, and it shows - there is a sense of epic sweep, a certain idolization of the magical, and a lush drama to the characters that feels familiar to this reader. But, there is something else, here, something that hearkens back to the old morality tale, a sense of the blatantly symbolic that is passe now, but that in the book is powerfully felt, because it's clear that the author believes it.

MacDonald was a theologist, and it shows in his work - it's this sens of theology that makes him, probably, the first of the great Mythopoeist novelists. There is a richness of world to this novel that speaks to the work of a careful creator, and a very deliberate sort of author. It is one of the only books I've read that I felt like was really convincing in it's resolution of the question of why an endlessly loving god would allow suffering in the world.

The book is not perfect. It's certainly rather confusing at the beginning, and eventually one just starts glazing over mysteries, because there are so many. I at one point, just assumed that not everything would be explained, but I think it all was, which is both a triumph, and a weakness. The novel, though, is lovely, inasmuch as it makes you dream of things in the grandest of ways, it makes you dream at the edges of the dreams of God.


Amber said...

Wow. I really want to read this now. Thanks for the review.

Rebecca Reid said...

While I have heard of Lilith (my mother wrote her PhD dissertation on Eve in medieval literature), I somehow never heard of this particular book. Thanks for the review!

Laston Lastof said...

Interesting review - how much macdonald have you read- like Sir Gibbie - or Phantasties - have you been to

you might want to look into some Emmett Fox
ignore the self help sales pitch -
get the books ... Fox 's books -they are not self help any more than macdonald's books are fairy stories - because why - they have fairys in them - hmmmm - are the hardy boys - boy stories cause they have boys in them - what then is winnie the pooh -
Good review you gave -