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Old 6th Jun 2006, 7:26   #11
Colyngbourne
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

Hee! I liked the awful dog woman-creature (which I'm sure is an early version of Garth Nix's Disreputable Dog in the Sabriel sequence), and the whole sneaking in and out of the castle and the general vitriol and hatred of the townspeople (which is unusual for a story like this) - which continues even after the leaders of the coup are put down. It's only a further explanation of his theology but leaving the unredeemed to themselves (because they will not be convinced to live in a more loving and forgiving way) is a startling way to end the book.
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Old 11th Jun 2006, 20:22   #12
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

I'm reading Lilith and it's going okay though very slowly (you know, I've been taking more care of my muscles than grey cells for the past few days). It seems rather charming and not too alegorical. So far I'm less annoyed with the riddles than the hero, which I think is a good sign.

Hm, I must speed up with it a little.
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Old 12th Jun 2006, 9:05   #13
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

I started this and could not go for more than the first three chapters.

Slow and ponderous in style perhaps, but the constant "this is not what it seems" and "why do ask that" sort of riddling just killed me.

Before I cast it aside, I skimmed the chapters ahead to see if anything improved but it seemed to be a series of meetings with other characters in his Gulliver like progression through allergorical settings. Call me prejudiced.

Strangely it reminded my of "News from Nowhere", William Morris's exploration of his utopian anarchist society.
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Old 12th Jun 2006, 10:04   #14
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

I think I'm enjoying it - a quarter of the way through. It is the kind of thing you have to wade through and as CS Lewis would have it, 'go deeper and deeper in' (and you can see all sorts of influences in it on Lewis too).
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Old 12th Jun 2006, 12:22   #15
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

Half-way through and it's getting rather exciting (in its peculiarly laborious way, you understand ) - the city of Bulika has similarities with The City in The Princess and Curdie, and the woman resembles Rider Haggard's Ayesha from his serialisation of She ten years before Lilith was written.

There might be over much 'descrying' but I am definitely enjoying it (though reading it on the computer screen is hard).
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Old 12th Jun 2006, 15:23   #16
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

Finished it just now. Tremendous - now I know why Lewis regarded him as 'his master'. A parable of great things and movingly done in the final chapters. However, I was unhappy at the somewhat pre-destined fate of the Little Ones who had begun to grow into Giants and could therefore not be saved. Got to to do the school run now but this has convinced me to buy The Light Princess which is in a second-hand store in our town.
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Old 12th Jun 2006, 15:31   #17
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

Crikey! Might have to actually read it now...
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Old 12th Jun 2006, 16:01   #18
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

Well, having ventured out of the house to get the kids and clear my head, I think I would probably revise it downwards half a star to ½ - MacDonald's longwindedness, which owes more to the start than the close of the C19th, as John commented, and also his fondness for overt as well as covert sentimental moralising, can get in the way of the story. There were strong antecedents of Narnia all over the place, and similarities to The Temptation of St Anthony too (some commentators on MacDonald did seem to suggest that he had something in common with orthodox patristics).
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Old 13th Jun 2006, 9:57   #19
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

Let me say first that Lilith is completely unexplainable as a story: yes, you can read a digest which says how Vane is led by a raven/sexton through a mirror into a fantastical land, where he is encouraged to lie down with the dead, and upon refusing, sent on his way to meet monsters and giants, and innocent children; to unwittingly save the life of a demon temptress who sucks his blood and that of children to maintain her crumbling beauty; to learn above all “who he is” and despite failing himself and others in various ways, to finally accept the paradox of life in death; and thence to live back in the ‘real world’, aware of the manifestation of God in the world and in other people, with a perception that can see this as minutely as Flaubert’s St Anthony. It is a state of permanent transfiguration he attains, which seems to echo something of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations. But it doesn't tell the whole story.

There is humour in it – the corpse couple who argue as she ties on his loose lower leg are like something out of Tim Burton; and sorrow – Vane mourns the death of Lona, the child-mother of the Innocents, as MacDonald mourned the tragically early death of his oldest daughter Lilia; and something of theological wisdom that kept nudging here and there: the importance of grief and sorrow and tears as part of humanity’s experience; the lack of lives lived in isolation. Here are some I jotted down:

Quote:
When a heart is really alive, then it is able to think live things. There is one heart all whose thoughts are strong, happy creatures, and whose very dreams are lives. When some pray, they lift heavy thoughts from the ground, only to drop them on it again; others send up their prayers in living shapes, this or that, the nearest likeness to each. All live things were thoughts to begin with, and are fit therefore to be used by those that think. When one says to the great Thinker:— “Here is one of thy thoughts: I am thinking it now!” that is a prayer—a word to the big heart from one of its own little hearts.—
Quote:
For light is yet light, if but the last of a countless series of reflections
Quote:
no atmosphere will comfort or nourish [man's] life, less divine than that offered by other souls; nowhere but in other lives can he breathe.
Images of Narnia flit in and out of the text: Vane cannot tell if the leopardess lying at the entrance hall to Lilith’s palace is alive or not, just as Edmund will later confuse Maugrim the wolf for a White-Witch-bespelled statue. Lilith becomes a white leech as long as a snake, as the Lady with the Green Kirtle in The Silver Chair becomes a snake; monstrous animals rear out of the land to be created - “the earth gave a heave and out comes a beast” - just as the Edenic Narnian soil heaves under Aslan’s word to yield the animals of creation in The Magician’s Nephew; the giant Bags cannot see or acknowledge the Little Ones because they are blinded by their own corruption, as the fighting dwarves are in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Most significantly, the Platonic idea of the world reflecting a greater reality (which is discovered to its depth and height in the last chapters of The Last Battle) underpins the entire story –

Quote:
I descended, the Little Ones came with me, and together we sped on faster. They grew yet merrier as they went, leading the way, and never looking behind them. The river grew lovelier and lovelier, until I knew that never before had I seen real water. Nothing in this world is more than like it.
I read last night an essay on the Feminist Self-Postponement in Lilith – which got right up my nose, I’ll admit. The approach could not have been more steeply angled if it tried, and to misunderstand the theology implicit in the piece and dismiss such notions as ‘redemption’ as mere mythology were arrogant in the extreme. MacDonald seemed to be a Christian universalist and not the woman-enslaving creature the essay’s authors took him for. Lilith as a mythological figure is a feminist icon of course, and a story which takes her and leads her (some would say ‘forces’ her) to repentance and an acceptance of her own death, is claimed to be one which denies women power and selfhood and self-determination.

Not so. I think the story has far more to say about selfhood and autonomy generally – not in its particular use by women. Lilith’s self-expression is not about anyone but herself. The ego is all and selfishly fed by the sacrifices of others – whether it is children’s deaths, including her own daughter's, or the corruption of a city’s inhabitants to be wary and inhospitable and cruel. Her selfhood is all about attaining power at the expense of others, and particularly in pursuit of what is superficial. If you look at the “nowhere but in other lives can [man] breathe” quote, what Lilith is doing is not that but breathing up others’ lives; not connecting in any way to another human, be it Adam, or Lona or Vane. She sets herself as an idol just as Ayesha does in She, and her verbs are demanding, controlling ones. Mara tells her that her freedom is false:

Quote:
She alone is free who would make free; she loves not freedom who would enslave: she is herself a slave. Every life, every will, every heart that came within your ken, you have sought to subdue: you are the slave of every slave you have made—such a slave that you do not know it!—
This will be a book I will read again. I would encourage those who’ve read it, to also read the excellent notes by Dale Nelson on the George MacDonald site.
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Old 13th Jun 2006, 10:03   #20
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Default Re: Book 25: LILITH by George MacDonald

As a fan of more modern sf and fantasy, I hated this book. I'm sure it was very clever in its time, but I resented every moment I spent with it, when I could have been reading something more entertaining. Let me put my objections in a more cogent form:
o It was pedestrian and wooden;
o Though a number of his images were compelling, it lacked coherence;
o There was little sensation of danger to the protagonist;
o OK, he had a message. I wasn't interested;
o If a book hasn't gripped me after 50 pages, I usually abandon it. I gave this more before abandoning it. I must have read about a third before yawns took over.

for the images.
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