Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book a Week, August 12

This round I will be re-reading something I haven't read in quite some time: George MacDonald's Lilith.

George MacDonald was a Scottish Congregationalist pastor, although he was often somewhat controversial, since Congregationalists are Calvinists and MacDonald had some serious problems with a number of distinctively Calvinist doctrines. His congregation actually at one point cut his salary in half because they didn't like his universalism. He also taught for a while at the University of London. He knew most of the great writers today; it's because of MacDonald's enthusiastic recommendation of Alice in Wonderland that Lewis Carroll decided to publish it. He also knew Dickens, Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, Ruskin, and Trollope; during a trip to America he made acquaintances with Longfellow, Whitman, and Mark Twain. He is famous for his fairy tales and Scottish novels, but the three works most closely associated with him are perhaps The Princess and the Goblin, Phantastes, and Lilith, all three of which would exert a profound influence on the future course of fantastic literature.

Lilith: A Romance was published in 1895. It is a very dark work, but owing to MacDonald's universalist theology, it is also optimistic in its direction. It is a 'romance', of course, in the old sense of being a novel with wild or fantastic elements. In its original form it seems to have been intended to be more fairy-tale like, but the heavily revised final form is like nothing else: to borrow a phrase from the novel itself, it consists of "enigma treading on enigma". Critics in MacDonald's day could never really figure out what to do with it, but people never really stopped reading it.

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