Tuesday, January 01, 2013

George MacDonald's "Lilith": The Platypus Reads Part CCV

This Christmas season's "wintry read" has been George MacDonald's Lilith.  Written as part of the grieving process for MacDonald's dead daughter, the whole book is suffused with a cold, quiet, strangeness that pairs well with the waning of the year.  It's no small tribute to the eeriness of the work that H.P. Lovecraft singled it out as one of the landmark achievements in the development of the "weird tale."  Paying the book equal homage from the other side of the pond, C.S. Lewis contributed a brilliant forward to one of the reprints (W.H. Auden has the honor of another).  Though I could compare the mesmeric effects of the work to Lovecraft's Dream Quest of Unknown Kaddath, which owes even more to Lord Dunsany, I'd like to focus in on Lilith's legacy to C.S. Lewis.

Lewis quite openly referred to George MacDonald as his master and claimed that there was some direct borrowing form MacDonald in everything he wrote.  This comes as little wonder since Lewis credits MacDonald's Phantastes with "baptizing" his imagination and thus enabling him to receive the gospel as an adult.  On this read-through of Lilith, I think I have detected several lewisian borrowings that pay homage to Lewis' spiritual master:

1.) The doorway to another world disguised as a mundane object in an abandoned room of an old mansion.  The mirror in Mr. Vane's attic that leads to the World of the Seven Dimensions functions in much the same way as the Wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

2.) The Trilema (Lord, Liar, Lunatic) is presented as a heuristic for extraordinary claims of other worlds by both Mr. Vane in Lilith and Professor Kirk in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

3.) In both Lilith and The Magician's Nephew an evil witch is brought from our world (though Jadis is originally from Charn) into another world where she enslaves the inhabitants and alters the natural landscape (taking away all the water and making it always winter and never Christmas respectively).

Those are the three that stick out most prominently in my mind right now.  Can you add any others?

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