George MacDonald resigned his first pastorate for teaching a form of universalism (the idea that all souls will eventually be reconciled to God). His theology led him to the idea that God only punishes in order to instruct, and that instruction inevitably results in salvation. He did understand repentance to be a necessary element of this process—some people merely accomplished this after death and through the agency of divine intervention.
These beliefs are fully expressed in Lilith, published late in MacDonald's long and productive career. Much darker than his other adult fantasies, but also more hopeful, the novel follows the adventures of Mr. Vane through an evil landscape on his way to a house of beds where the sleeping dreamers await the end of the world. Vane has a series of otherworldly experiences culminating in a battle with Lilith whose beauty nearly overwhelms him. Lilith is not defeated by violence, but with a desire to be free of her own bitterness, and she takes her place as one of the sleepers in the house of beds.
Lilith burns with savage beauty distinct from any of MacDonald's other works. Far more theological, and far more dark, it's a nightmare journey through the wilderness of despair into the peace of Christ's love. Though MacDonald's beliefs were heretical, his compassion toward humanity and his sorrow at the largely self-inflicted pain they endure are as vivid here as any false doctrine. In fact it is this humanitarian spirit that informs the novel and leads readers far from familiar territory into a realm all mystery and wonder. And perhaps the greatest beauty is that MacDonald refrains from assertions, allowing us to ponder what we've seen in the peace in which he leaves us.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
Did you find this review helpful?