Renewed Stumblings in George MacDonald’s ‘Lilith’

Ever so strange how one reading helps another.  Just this Monday, though I have as yet noted no lunar influence, my wife and I were conversing with a friend about the early chapters of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which Mr Lewis’ professorial character suggests an unexpected trilemma concerning the young Lucy’s unlikely claims that she has not only been to another world, but that she has spent hours and hours – a claim she cannot demonstrate.  And so, ever so similar to his musings in Mere Christianity (pp. 54-56), where Jesus must be a lunatic of immense degree, the Devil of Hell OR the less immediately obvious but ultimate conclusion: He told the truth concerning Himself and is the rightful object of worship.

As I was acquainted first with Narnia and only was dis-covered of Lewis as apologist later (and finally, perhaps more importantly Medievalist for my own sake) – it was only evident to me that the same mechanism was used by the goodly professor Digory to defend the probability, after dismissing the other choices, that Lucy was telling the truth.  I make no further point on the matter, but in Lilith find Mr Raven in conversation with our main and tellingly nameless character’s father the following (after being told that a door exists in his house which enables Mr. Raven to venture to a world where most physical and mental laws differ from ours, excepting only the moral):

“You try my power of belief!” I said.

“You take me for a madman, probably?”

“You do not look like one.”

“A liar then?”

“You give me no ground to think you such.”

“Only you do not believe me?”

“I will go out of that door with you if you like: I believe you enough to risk the attempt.”

“The blunder all my children make!” he murmured.  “The only door out is the door in!”

~Lilith (1895): pp. 38-39

As to the above, I merely wish to note such for my own reading and hope it enlivens your readings as well.

The notion of doors, however, is one I mean to pay attention to in both works.  Both MacDonald and Lewis are far too intentional about having the experiences of the Otherworld fit with the current state of the one who has entered (Lucy is curious and trusting though pensive and no harm comes to her, whereas Edmund is throughly disturbed by his disempowered state – and surprise, he is offered the promise of a kingdom which shall serve he and he alone).  Our house-owner in Lilith knows not his own house, nor how the doors may lead either ‘out’ or ‘in’ (and we have yet to learn what either of these mean in the parlance of Mr Raven).  But thus far, the character seems to me to be in some struggle with the fear of death, as well as the lack of any meaningful identity.  More may follow as the idea develops, but please feed back anything this helps you see in your own readings.

After discovering the parchment which detailed his unknown father’s (our houseowner was orphaned quite early) encounter and flight from Mr Raven, an action similarly taken by our houseowner, now is found a connection infinitely curious.  As in a dream, our character took that action which he could not resist – to flee – and is drawn immediately back to the same course.  He must seek what Mr Raven knew of his father, for his father disappeared near the time this parchment was dated and surely had great adventures.  Becoming disgusted with his actions, our protagonist must again seek entry ‘out’ by finding a way ‘in’.

Weeping I threw myself on a couch, and suddenly fell asleep.  (p. 41)

Awaking as though he has been called, he rushes to arrange the mirrors in hopes of apologizing and renewing his sojourn.  Successful in again stepping into this world (note the determination in this entering – to find what lessons he shall be taught), he attempts to retrace those steps previously taken by Mr Raven through the pine-forest (trees are immensely important in PhantastesPrince Caspian, and anything written by Tolkien).  Haply he finds his quarry, though not the way into the forest, and is met with the unhappy news that where previously he was invited to rest, his time is not.

Inquiring of his unknown father, he is told that he had been invited to rest next to his father.  Both the father and twice-great grandfather are “up and away long ago” while the great-grandfather will soon begin to stir.  Of course, though our character saw him, he did not recognize him for “he is so much nearer waking than you.  No one who will not sleep [our houseowner] can ever wake. (p. 43)”  So, it seems there is some necessary embrace of death in sleep in order to wake to the full reality!

But the grandfather has not embraced rest, but is still in the Evil Wood, fighting the dead.  This is that place where “those who will not sleep, wake up at night, to kill their dead and bury them.”

I shall end this post with the following words of Mr Raven:

“I cannot [tell our houseowner where the nearest lesson is],” answered the raven; “you and I use the same words with different meanings.  We are often unable to tell people what they need  to known, because they want to know something else, and would therefore only misunderstand what we said.  Home is ever so far away in the palm of your hand, and how to get there it is of no use to tell you.  But you will get there; you must get there; you have to get there.  Everybody who is not home, has to go home.  You thought you were at home where I found you: if that had been your home, you could not have left it.  Nobody can leave home.  And nobody ever was or ever will be at home without having gone there.” (pp. 43-44)

I cannot treat more here, but to say that clearly there is a large gap (of worlds really) between our house-owner who has no home and the raven, aware only that he is not yet ready to come and rest that he may wake!  If purposes, and therefore starting-points (or each has his Standpunkt) are so varied, the needed advice cannot yet be provided.  The house-owner must first be led nearer to his home – a home he is yet unable to recognize.  He must find the way in, and his only movements are out.  It is a sad riddle, but how like being led to faith.  As Mr Raven avers, “They will go on asking themselves until you understand yourself.  The universe is a riddle trying to get out, and you are holding your door hard against it.”


Thoughts are welcome.


One response to “Renewed Stumblings in George MacDonald’s ‘Lilith’

  1. Pingback: Riddled: Dream-Allegory Readings from George MacDonald’s ‘Lilith’ « Try-ing—to-be—mis-under-stood

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