...but as often as I try to fit the reality with nearer words, I find myself in danger of losing the things themselves, and feel like one in process of awaking from a dream, with the thing that seemed familiar gradually yet swiftly changing through a succession of forms until its very nature is no longer recognisable.
- Lilith, by George MacDonald
Rarely does a book capture me so much that I spend the weekend with my nose hovering over the pages as I travel with Mr. Vane through the mirror in his big, old house into another world. This is the kind of imaginative story (likened to Alice in Wonderland, which, as an interesting side-note, MacDonald and Lewis Carroll were good friends) that dabbles in word-play but with deeper roots, a darker story line with evil that puts every living thing in danger. It is definitely my favourite George MacDonald book.
"The strange thing to you," he went on thoughtfully, "will be, that the more doors you go out of, the farther you get in!"
"Oblige me by telling me where I am."
"That is impossible. You know nothing about whereness. The only way to come to know where you are is to begin to make yourself at home."
Lilith was first published in 1895. I am fascinated to learn that MacDonald was good friends with Lewis Carroll and they spent a lot of time together talking literature and theology. Lilith came before Alice in Wonderland, and there are many influences from Lilith. In both stories, for example, the protagonist steps through a looking glass into another world, but in each case they were drawn into it and were not seeking it. The world they step into is full of bizarre creatures and experiences, with many lessons to be learned. In each book the main character has a child-likeness and naiveté, so they trust others without a second thought, which sometimes leads them into trouble. When Carroll was looking for opinions on his stories, he asked MacDonald to read Alice in Wonderland, which he brought it to his children and read it to them out loud.
"...Only good where evil was, is evil dead. An evil thing must live with its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil."
Lilith, unlike Alice in Wonderland, is not a children's book. It was written for adults. So it has complexities and darkness that capture you much more deeply than a story catered to children. This book is such a treasure. This story (and MacDonald's others) deeply influenced two of my favourite authors - G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Since I know their writings well, I really enjoyed seeing hints and influences as I read Lilith that would show up in varied ways in the 1900's through Chesterton and Lewis.
"What does it all mean?" I said.
"A good question!" he rejoined: "nobody knows what anything is; a man can learn only what a thing means! Whether he do, depends on the use he is making of it."
Anyone who knows me a little bit knows my affinity toward British writers, good fantasy stories that have deeper meanings, beautiful language, adventure, and deep thoughts. And this book does not disappoint. This is one that I want to read again, and soon.
The dark rocks drank like sponges the rays that showered upon them: the great world soaked up the light, and sent out the living.