George MacDonald was a man of his time, and that was the Victorian era of Great Britain. He was a highly intelligent and religious man who was first a minister in Scotland, then retired from that at age 26 to devote himself to writing. He was quite successful, creating all kinds of novels and stories for both children and adults in his long life. Best known today are his fantasies, and “Lilith” is the final one of those, written in 1895 in his seventies. It’s probably his darkest work, yet it’s still full of wonders and religious themes. The title character, Lilith, is the first wife of Adam according to Jewish theology, who was banished from Eden before Eve was created, and is an evil being.
Mr. Vane is a studious young man who has just inherited his father’s estate and home, which contains a large library. While studying there, Vane catches glimpses of a mysterious intruder who seems to come and go at will. Eventually he meets the man, who sometimes takes the form of a raven, and calls himself Mr. Raven. Raven challenges Vane to go with him to his own world, a sort of afterlife, where he can grow spiritually through a deep sleep that will transform him. At first Vane agrees, but in the end fearfully turns aside and follows his own path into the strange world where horrors and heavenly visions compete for his attention. He is captured by a group of stupid giants, but then rescued by an opposing group of young children. Their leader, Lona, becomes his friend, and he wants to help her, but doesn’t know how, and he wanders on. Eventually he comes to the city of Bulika where he meets and falls under the romantic spells of Lilith, it’s ruler. Eventually disillusioned, he returns to the children and leads Lona and her band against Lilith, but periodically he returns again to his father’s house, is counseled by Mr. Raven and his wife, who try to set him on the right path that his ego and stubbornness keep denying. Only the deep sleep in the house of many beds can lead to his and everyone’s resurrection.
While this book has some Victorian melodrama and too-cute children, on the whole it’s a fascinating and at times frightening exploration of the inner wonders of MacDonald’s imagination and faith, and well worth reading. I have to say I prefer his fantasy work for children, such as “The Princess and the Goblin,” and “At The Back of the North Wind,” but this one is original and wonderful too.