George MacDonald’s visionary and dark novel Lilith: A Romance, first published in 1895, was republished in September 2022 by The Works of George MacDonald. The new version includes a preface by poet Malcolm Guite and a helpful introduction by scholar Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson.
Regarded by C.S. Lewis as one of MacDonald’s greatest works, Lilith follows the story of Mr. Vane as he passes between his haunted manor and the parallel worlds he discovers within it. Led by a ghostly, bird-like man he calls Mr. Raven, Mr. Vane embarks on an eerie and life-altering adventure through a Victorian multiverse, encountering a macabre host of characters who roam the gate between death and life.
The titular character of Lilith is based on the Judaic mythological figure of the same name, who was purported to be the first wife of Adam. In the myth, she is banished from the Garden of Eden before the creation of Eve. MacDonald’s Lilith closely follows this mythology, weaving it into a broader, definitively Christian story.
Like Mr. Vane passing between the worlds, Lilith passes between various genres. Even though the book takes on allegorical forms in its direct use of biblical characters and metaphors, it remains a true novel, or “a romance,” as its title suggests. And even though Lilith takes on qualities that evoke horror (think Edgar Allan Poe), it does so without becoming mired in gloom and despair, ultimately ending in an astonishing hopefulness.
In her introduction, Johnson writes that Lilith “is not a book for those easily put off, nor for the faint of heart. … If, however, you are stepping in with an openness to being challenged and potentially changed—Salvé!”
Some readers might be taken aback at the antiquated views toward young women; the descriptions of one character as both a child and as a love interest, in particular, were uncomfortable for me. But for those who take the time to sit with it, Lilith is one of those rare books that will bestow gifts of fresh mystery and beauty to the reader.
“This is not a book to skim and discard, but the companion of a lifetime,” writes Guite in his foreword, “and on each rereading as we cross and recross its strange terrain with Mr. Vane, as we relive its adventures and transformations, we find, as does its hero, deeper and deeper layers of meaning.”
Guite continues, “This book is an always open door. It is, in Heaney’s phrase, ‘a door into the dark’ but also, and for that very reason, if we do not cease from exploration, it is a door into the light.” I invite you to walk through it. (worksofmacdonald.com)