on 26 December 1997
As has been said by C.S.Lewis,MacDonald has a gift which is difficult to define.A mythopoetic painter,is as close as I can come.He uses images as symbols of thoughts,ideas,spiritual states,and as has been said,shocks you into a more completely awake state than many will ever reach in their lives. Mr Vane,the central character,steps through a mirror,(possibly the same mirror written about by his friend,Lewis Carroll,in 'Through The Looking Glass.')In the world of the mirror,he finds that it is "-the business of the world to so make a fool of you that you know yourself to be one, and so begin to become wise."This is the book to which C.S.Lewis was referring in his book title,'Till we Have Faces,'as he watches the dance of the people whose spirits have not yet developed to the point where they yet have more than a flesh and blood body surmounted by a skull with lidless eyeballs,their uncontrolled passion stark and staring,though yet more well-developed than the poor skeleton couple who now need each other as they never did in life,and now must learn to love by need.From bog-worms to the demon vampire Lilith,saved by her ex-husband,Adam,from the noble Mr.Raven,who has haunted a magnificent library for generations,to the precious,innocent little ones,who will not grow to be stupid,cruel giants,all of the characters,teach the reader something of his own needs,his own sad character flaws,and how only a holy death can purify his motives.As do his other works,this one has inspired not only Lewis & Tolkein,but Madeline L'Engle,who quotes MacDonald in her books,and may have awakened the same gift in Charles Williams,another friend of Tolkein and Lewis.This and his other book,'Phantastes,' may be the greatest fairy tales ever written. The writing may not be perfect,but the content is right on.
on 23 December 1998
Lillith is the result of a full and mature exploration of the "otherworld" by an author who knew more about the symbols of the mythopoeic realm than most any other author in the last 100 years (including C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Lewis Carol). If you're looking for a light reading story book, or merely entertaining fiction, this book is probably not for you. Some people taking it superficially see nothing more than an incomprehensible juxtaposition of images that reveres the qualities of obedience and submission. However, this would be to entirely miss the point of this story, which is about the process of inner transformation of human desire and will. It is very existentialist in that it places the responsibility for our progress on ourselves rather than on circumstances outside of ourselves. For those willing to dig deeper however, many rewards await those willing to ponder the story's rich (and often riveting!) tapestry of images. Taken further, the story describes the path of an individual's complete inner transformation in a language of symbols not merely arbitrarily arranged, but composed out of a deep understanding of the nature of the inner world of the human psyche. I would highly recommend this book, and regard it (together with *phantastes*) as possibly the best of genre for fiction / phantasy writing in the last 100 years. Madame L'engel regarded MacDonald as the "godfather of phantasy", and Lewis regarded him as his "master". Lillith is certainly worthy material for earning this distinction.
on 6 March 1998
Rich in symbolism, steeped in paradox, this is a tale of a man's journey and his coming to terms with the frailty of humanity when it is seen in the light of God. MacDonald never hides the basis of his paradigm--that there is a God who loves us, who knows better than we do what is best for us--rather, he weaves it into a rich tapestry of adventure wherein key characters make known the paradox that is at the heart of Chrisitianity: he who would be first must be last.
This is not an easy read. And, truly, anyone who is not willing to accept that an author may expound his faith through the words and deeds of his characters--indeed, through the fatherly nature of the narative itself--will little likely enjoy reading this tale. But to those who are ready to dive in to the heart of a realm of paradox in an attempt to better know the God that MacDonald worshiped, this may very well be a life-changing story.
I am not a man given to favorites. But no other work has colored my life so beautifully as MacDonald's LILITH. And no other story is more dear to my heart.
on 8 December 1997
LILITH is best considered in the context of MacDonald's life, and remembering his earlier work PHANTASTES. PHANTASTES he wrote as a young man (35), LILITH he wrote at age 85. LILITH presents the maturity of the thoughts he introduced in PHANTASTES. To try to understand either work outside his religion (Christianity) would not do them justice. LILITH is considered a dark romance, but I don't think MacDonald would have called it so. It is full of a strange, mystical Christian hope; it is the tale of a spiritual journey, of dreams and visions just beyond our conscious reckoning -- always haunting us with the nagging question of whether our dreams are more real than what we call reality. The tale begins with a young man, Mr. Vane, come of age, and into the inheritance of a great estate. Mr. Vane is a man given to both inquiry and reflection. As he peruses the great library of books and manuscripts collected by his ancestors, his perception of reality is challenged and stretched to include, among other things, a talking raven. The raven becomes his guide into another world, strange to behold; the realm of the seven dimensions and the ten senses, MacDonald calls it. (What ever could he mean?)
LILITH is introduced well into the work, an emaciated being near death, until Mr. Vane unwittingly nurses her back to health. MacDonald certainly patterns her after the demon of Jewish folklore for whom she is named. All the demon's traits are apparent: cold beauty, fierce pride, seduction, hatred of men and children, even vampirism. C.S. Lewis also picked up on this theme of the wicked female protagonist. In THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE he tells us the White Witch is descended from Lilith.
As Mr. Vane bounces back and forth between physical and spiritual dimensions, he is confronted by the fact that he can do no good of himself. His futile attempts to prove his worth bring him sorrow and defeat, as when he leads a group of innocent children out of ignorance and simplicity to a city where their leader is murdered by her own estranged mother (Lilith).
The raven's insistence that Mr. Vane sleep before he can be of any use or value is incomprehensible to Mr. Vane, so he continues his various exploits, each ending is greater despair. Finally, Mr. Vane agrees if sleep is what is required, that he must do. But when he discovers the raven's idea of sleep is to repose lifeless in a cold, dark catacomb full of ageless corpses for time unknown, Mr. Vane is not so willing.
All of MacDonald's writing is heavy with Christian allegory. Deciphering his meaning is not a light undertaking. That he perceives death as a temporary state, where one emerges new as a butterfly transformed from a caterpillar is clear enough. That a true spiritual man must cease from his own labor (die to self), and rest in God's peace may be an interpretation of MacDonald's notions of sleep and death, but already I feel I am off solid ground. Mr. Vane's struggle with Lilith, is a most important theme. Lilith reminded me of scriptural references to Jezebel (both Old and New Testaments), and the harlot of Proverbs, and a few other seducers besides. I began to wonder: if Satan is the Father of Lies, might Lilith be The Mother of Harlots? Strange and mysterious, wrapped in secrecy, beguiling and subtle, she draws her victims near and feeds upon their strength, all the while narcotically enamoring them of her presence. (Mr. Vane plays the dupe as his life is drained by a white worm while he nurses Lilith back to health.)
Certain passages are unforgettable, which may be good or bad, depending on your frame of mind when you read them. The warring dance of skeletons comes to mind, with their lid less eyes revealing their uncloaked passions to all who would see, and Lilith presiding over their deaths shouting, "Ye are men, slay one another!" But don't let me convince you LILITH is merely a dark tale of terror. MacDonald also, seasons it with passages of unique warmth and beauty.
Reading LILITH, is like taking an adventurous journey, the likes of which I have never even come close to with a contemporary author. Fascinating? YES. Comforting? Definitely NOT. Worth the trip? Most assuredly!
on 26 February 2006
Told in first person. We experience the other world through Mr Vane's eyes and thoughts and wishes. His journey is wonderous and educational. Swiftian in its comparisons of scale, relativity, responsibility, choice, free-will. Melodic in its overtures, themes and reprises.
A humbling, beautiful, strangely comforting read.
Something wrong here? I'm clearly on the page for Lilith by Salamanca, but all the reviews, including this one, are duplicated on the page for Lilith by MacDonald - two pages wrongly linked with same author description and reviews on both!
I like all Salamanca's works, but above all 'Lilith'. I take a special interest in books that let me into the psyche of their author, and I feel that Salamanca does that very well, with some interesting common themes cropping up. A dislike of superficial lives is a feature of Salamanca's writings, as is an interest in unusual passions and sexuality. While his books are not autobiographical as such, his own life does have parallels to the lives in his stories - he did work in a mental asylum after returning from military service for example, giving credence to the story of 'Lilith', and themes of incest and child sexuality, temptation and guilt arise in Lilith and in 'Southern Light', making me feel that the author has known deep and complicated feelings in life and has not just made them up (which I would hate). Most readers see Lilith as a disturbed mental patient who is also an extraordinary and evil seductress. I think Salamanca is putting across something else, something unspeakable; Lilith is a very intelligent person whose actions are understandable in the light of what she has experienced - the death of her brother, for which she feels responsible. There are clues to indicate that he loved her and wanted her sexually. On his deathbed she does something, saying, "here's what you wanted". It seems to me that her brother died because of what she denied him, and that her building of a complicated world, which is absolutely fascinating, with it's own strange language, is her attempt to make a world in which such things don't happen - a world of joy and free sex! It backfires on her of course - in the real world people get jealous, but her attempt does make some sense if you view it as R D Laing and others have attempted to view psychotic patients from within. In one of his other books, Salamanca treads dangerously again, having his mature main character seduced under terrifying threat by a young girl, again reversing the normal story and pointing to the way in which societies rules and repressions can put individuals in impossible binds which perhaps could not exist in more open societies. Maybe I am the only person to understand what Salamanca is trying to tell us. Or maybe I am interpreting a real situation which he found himself in during his time as assistant in that mental hospital but did not himself understand - creepy!
on 6 March 2013
... I still can't help but love this book. Everything wrong about the writings of C.S. Lewis is in this book, but in such a way that it is somehow right. Using the same techniques to handle biblical reference and redemption as Lewis, MacDonald manages to produce a story as fascinating as it is powerful and heart-felt. Everything that was laudable of the Narnia books was ripped directly from these pages before being desecrated; infantilised in the worst manner possible. Good writers steal, true. But only bad writers steal from one source alone. This is where C.S Lewis is guilty. This is a fairy tale for adults. I don't mean it's full of gore and sex (because it's not), I mean it's for the mature of mind.
For this book alone, MacDonald deserves more renown than C.S Lewis. I highly recommend this book to anyone who read the synopsis and thought "This might be for me, if that's accurate".
on 5 January 2014
I was reminded of George MacDonald's writing by a friend on Google+, and he has been a great find. I already knew that CS Lewis acknowledged him as a major inspiration, but had not expected to find out just how large an influence he has been on modern fantasy as an entire genre.
I devoured two of his works in rapid succession - Phantastes and Lilith - and found them to have substantial differences as well as similarities. In both cases, MacDonald felt the need to devise a means for his protagonist to make the transition from the world we live in, into the particular fantasy world of the title in question. This is definitely a feature of the era, also seen in some equally inventive traveller's tales stories of the 19th century which never aspire to magic or the land of Faerie. Many modern authors would probably begin his or her story directly in the other realm, but Lewis used various devices such as the well-known Wardrobe, or the `Wood between the Worlds' to this end. For MacDonald and his contemporaries, the transition, and the relationship between the worlds, was an important ingredient.
Some of MacDonald's ideas have become so commonplace that some readers may think there is little originality in the books. Tolkien's ents are here, along with Lewis's courtly culture and virtues, and just about everyone's goblins and elves. In common with a great many other writers, the societies are basically medieval in outlook. People ride horses, fight with bladed weapons, and communicate face to face. Limited magical abilities are present, but not as learned talents for just anyone - they are an innate faculty of some beings and inaccessible to others.
Of the two books, Lilith is much more overtly concerned with Christian themes, building on the tradition that the woman of that name was Adam's first wife. Some familiarity with Christian elaboration of this idea helps, but is not essential, since the tradition MacDonald is using comes from outside the written text of the Bible. His profound commitment to principles of eternal hope and redemption drives the conflicts and resolutions of the book's characters. Themes of life and death fill the book, together with the Christian duty to lay aside the everyday life in order to put on a new kind of life. It is a duty which comes no more easily to the book's main character than to any of the rest of us.
Phantastes, subtitled `A Faerie Romance for Men and Women`, is, perhaps, a more conventional fantasy tale. It describes a quest and trial of passage in which the central character has to identify and master his shadow side - just as Ged has to in Ursula LeGuin's EarthSea books. There are mysterious beings, often women, locked inside wood or stone and waiting to be released by the right individual. There are warnings about particular actions or pathways, most of which are ignored by the protagonist who has a rather exaggerated sense not only of his own safety, but also the ability of the wider world to survive his rash deeds unscathed. The theme reaches back to Greek mythology (if not earlier), and forward to our own ecological travails. And finally there is the necessary noble deed which cannot be accomplished except through the gates of death.
The books, especially Phantastes, will not just appeal to fantasy fans, but are also of interest to students of psychology. Some passages anticipate the later formal development of psychotherapeutic understanding. Students of the life and work of, say, Freud and Jung will already know just how much of their thinking rested on earlier foundations laid by artists, philosophers, and authors. Here in 1858 we already have MacDonald writing about the "forgotten life, which lies behind the consciousness", and the mutual dependence of external objects with the "hidden things of a man's soul".
Having said all that, some people will, no doubt, be impatient with these works. For me they were definitely both five star books, not least because many of my favourite authors have so obviously been influenced by them. They have survived over 150 years of literary development remarkably well, but inevitably use some constructions and habits of thought which will seem dated to the modern reader. If you are keen on exploring one of the foundational authors of modern fantasy, and willing to work with the conventions of the 19th century, these books are for you.
on 4 February 2010
I read this book 30 years ago and it was life changing. I recently re-read it and it has become life affirming. The most wonderful book I have ever read.
on 9 March 1998
I would recomend this book to anyone who enjoys adventure, other worlds, thinking about strange but wonderful things, and using their imagination. This is one of the best books I have ever read. I could not put it down!!