- Mass Market Paperback: 264 pages
- Publisher: Eerdmans; New edition edition (May 19 1981)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802860613
- ISBN-13: 978-0802860613
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.1 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 159 g
- Average Customer Review: 30 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #275,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Lilith Mass Market Paperback – May 19 1981
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"Lilith is equal if not superior to the best of Poe," the great 20th-century poet W.H. Auden said of this novel, but the comparison only begins to touch on the richness, density, and wonder of this late 19th-century adult fantasy novel. First published in 1895 (inhabiting a universe with the early Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde--not to mention Thomas Hardy), this is the story of the aptly named Mr. Vane, his magical house, and the journeys into another world into which it leads him.
Meeting up with one mystery after another, including Adam and Eve themselves, he slowly but surely explores the mystery of the human fall from grace, and of our redemption. Instructed into the ways of seeing the deeper realities of this world--seeing, in a sense, by the light of the spirit--the reader and Mr. Vane both sense that MacDonald writes from his own deep experience of radiance, from a bliss so profound that death's darkness itself is utterly eclipsed in its light. --Doug Thorpe
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Lilith is built upon a very old myth about the first wife of Adam-an angelic being-who was said to have been very rebellious and eventually was replaced by the more subservient human Eve (Lewis also references this myth in "That Hideous Strength"). I am not altogether certain where or how the story originated except that the Hebrew word which is translated "night specter" is lilyt, which must have somehow given rise to the story about the female demon who seeks to over power men. At points in the MacDonald narrative Adam reverts to King James old English in addressing Lilith, a touch I found a little disturbing. While the character of Lilith embodies the flesh in all of us-not just women-the use of the KJV linguistic style between Adam and Lilith seemed to adhere to the perceived rightness and superiority of the male-oriented theology of the middle ages (when the original myth was likely to have gained momentum as a means of shaming women into more subservient roles).
MacDonald uses this ancient myth to create a fantastic tale about the battle between spirit and flesh but in the telling he divulges vast philosophical/theological thoughts that take considerable energy to wade through. In the absence of realism, the philosophical core makes up for other narrative flaws. But, it's a very difficult story to read and absorb quickly. I made it about ¾ of the way through several months ago but was only able to pick it up again to finish recently.
The world MacDonald creates in this book is incredibly opaque and over-painted with layer after layer of meaning. One could drill down into each sentence in some places and find a wealth of unending content to explore. It's almost a stream of consciousness style that leaves the reader feeling like they've just fallen, somehow, between the written words and their meaning. Often times I felt like I was barely touching on that deep significance before being carried away on a completely different current. He changes gears very quickly and uses an abundance of metaphorical images that get very mixed together like literary soup. I don't doubt that MacDonald had an incredible mind, but his manner of presenting the material is difficult to follow at best.
It is easy to see MacDonald's influence in Lewis' writings, although I would say that Lewis wields words (and ideas) a little more kindly.
A couple further capiats: MacDonald's belief in universal salvation is clearly demonstrated, and his argument that the only way Good can truly be greater than Evil is if all Evil will one day succumb to Good by becoming Good has a certain, if incomplete persuasion. It was also surprising to see MacDonald making use of ancient Gnostic/Jewish heresies such as Lilith, the first wife of Adam.
I highly recommend the book however for it's depth of imagery, for the ideas that can extend into one's mind and bring forth something new, as we give up the old ones. MacDonald's layers and repetitions hearken to something Biblical, or Joycian. In death there is life.
The protagonist and first-person narrator is an excitable man named Mr. Vane who lives in an old house that has been in his family for generations. One day he notices an odd creature making its way through the library; this turns out to be the birdlike Mr. Raven, who introduces him to a mysterious world beyond a magic mirror stored in the garret of the house. A more modern author might be tempted to give this world a name to distinguish it from the real one, but to MacDonald it is merely an extension of Mr. Vane's conscience.
Mr. Vane is understandably frightened of but fascinated by this world. Part of it appears to be a realm of the Dead where skeletal apparitions dance and fight as though they were still living; part a forest where stupid, brutal giants and innocent, benevolent "little ones" share their habitats; part a murky moor where leopardesses roam in search of babies to eat and enchanting women are to be found. At the center of this world, embodying its evil, commanded by an entity known as the "Shadow," is the demon princess Lilith, a direct allusion to the Assyrian goddess and to the legend of Adam's first wife.
As a guide to this netherworld, Mr. Raven acts as a kind of Virgil to Mr. Vane's Dante; the structure of the story has a vague analogy to the sequence of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Mr. Vane's role is less clear; he could be considered a crusader against evil or an emissary of the living in the land of the dead. However, I wouldn't want to restrict my interpretation to a religious allegory because the novel works as pure mythology, although supplementary to Judeo-Christian theology.
For all his antiquated, overly formal prose, MacDonald displays a very poetic sensibility for symbolism; for example, he personifies the sun as "he" and the moon as "she," as if they were a married pair of celestial luminaries. There is also an implied notion of a library as a gateway to the imaginations of the innumerable deceased, which is a comforting thought that connotes potential immortality through the written word. If nothing else, "Lilith" functions as a bridge between two enduring traditions -- imaginative classic literature and twentieth century fantasy.
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