Riddled: Dream-Allegory Readings from George MacDonald’s ‘Lilith’

I left the last reading (or stumbling) in Chapter IX, where our displaced homeowner has left the safety of being ‘in’ familiar surroundings in order to repent, so right himself, and accept whatever hospitality his otherworldly guide, Mr Raven, might offer.  Only, Mr. Vane (vain?) has failed in his attempt, finding himself the riddle that cannot be answered, and sets out to the land of the unliving in hopes of finding the way to life.

A mere note, Mr Raven perceives Mr Vane’s problem as being the riddle that will continue until ‘he understands himself’, which sounds rather glib.  While the repentant ever asks for help, he only in truth asks for answers where he refused the opportunity to embrace the rest offered to him.  This juxtaposition of the search for knowledge when submission of the will is required smacks too much of dualism.  Rather, our character as yet has no character and barely any characteristics for his will and knowledge are turned to himself.  The metaphysical argument being had throughout this book, is, I believe, the subtext of his inter-dream discourse with himself – reaching out and learning only as he is able to invert that will.  Seeing an anti-intellectualism in such a work would be well outside MacDonald’s purpose, so I believe there is an encounter or dialogue we too are meant to experience that we might hear something otherwise hinted to us only in our dreams.

We are provided with a momentary remark which tells us that in his dream-journey, often our wanderer would find that a single thing had many significances, or that its nature suddenly altered.  This thoroughly fits the dream aspect of Lilith, as in dreams I can often enough recall recognizing some person or place though no clear markers descried their presence, only to find these essences change wholly in character.  It is this flowing out and in which only makes sense in the dream-state: in waking I can no longer recall how such things made sense although they were truly significant at those moments of recognition.  This is that character I believe MacDonald captures so well – the purity and confluence present in dreams which is wholly inexplicable in any other reconfiguration.

Setting out in a direction, Mr Vane pursues his course guided by a bird-butterfly emanating the colours of the rainbow.  When this curious but splendid creature comes within reach, the act of grasping is enough to render it a blackened and dead book laying heavy in his hand.  The treasure of the universe, seemingly offered, is not a thing to be grasped with his hands for in the attempt nothing truly meaningful is gained to aid his journey.

A moon strange to him is enough to rouse and set Mr Vane again on his lonely sojourn.  As he traverses this place of shadowy death, encountering on the path of which are innumerable deadly phantasms whose dangers are more real than our character realizes.  Recounting these scenes, he notes that only later did he learn the protective role the moon played in guiding him to safer quarters, I wonder that this is n’t a throughly dream-like notion – often in a dream I have seemed aware of some notion I shall soon learn by means of the coming encounters in this dream.  I know not how well I have grasped the metaphysical character portrayed thus far, but this is how I think as I attempt to traverse the same steps, guided but by the words of the former visitor of these strange lands.

Coming through the stretch of land in which the dead perpetually go to the most futile of wars against one another, both sides goaded by the woman with one hand outstretched urging the fight and the other pressed against her side, there is little that stands out to me, save the horror of such purposeful futility.  As each side rails against the other, both yell The Truth! The Truth! (p. 52) until at last the sun rises and brushes all visible traces of these clashes away.  Instead, I would hurry to consider the refreshing encounter with the Giants and the Little Ones.

The Little Ones decide he belongs to the unique category of ‘good giant’ because he chooses to enjoy their fruit and will have none of that which passes for goodness amongst the enslaving (and enslaved) giant-folk.  These remarkable little people remind me something of the fairy people in Phantastes though I cannot say more at the moment – theirs is the best sort of naivete, wholesome and less-self, timeless for they do can answer nothing of time – instead drinking in the enjoyment of true discovery of others.  The differences between the giants, whose tastes and sight have become thoroughly near-sighted, recalls the Dwarfs (who are for the Dwarfs!) in C.S. Lewis’ Last Battle.  They have forgotten how to see past their own noses, or to use them to taste that which is wholesome and life-giving.

Shortly before he is forced onward, the good giant (notice the names given per stage as I attempt to trace our Mr Vane’s shifting identity) is discovered by the functional mother, Lona, of the origin of these giants.  Those children who grow in self forget their smallness and begin to eat of the horrid fruit fit for their appetites.  In short, the giants are those Little Ones for whom being little is n’t enough.  The prospect is ever the horror of Lona and the watchful older ones – those who have not become too big and know well the dangers.  At last forced on by his struggle with the giants, and with his first experience of home, the good giant is led to the edge of the valley and warned of the giant-girl who wishes harm on the Little Ones.

So, given the stumbling aspect inherent to the dream-state, our character shall surely meet with this harmful persona.  Still he wonders for what purpose he might have been led to meet the Little People and how he may yet help them.  Help any at this moment, including himself, is an unlikely prospect.  I might venture on, but my writing is already over-long for not having reached half through the book!

As ever, feel free to add your observations to this dream-discourse.


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