Saturday, April 4, 2009

MacDonald's Lilith: A Matter of Life and Death.

I sense another long night approaching; once again I'm seized by the blogging urge at an unearthly hour. Here goes:

Introducing George MacDonald on procreation, children, and submission in his novel Lilith. As I have not (to my loss which I hope to soon remedy) read anything else by MacDonald, I won't presume to add much interpretation to the passages: they speak for themselves.

Setting the Stage:
Lilith is a highly figurative work. Every detail hints at something else - both within the narrative and outside the narrative. Hence it is difficult to properly understand without it's fictional context or a sense of what the author is driving at. Yet the point of some passages could hardly speak clearer.
In this book, Lilith - the mythic first (angelic) wife of Adam (take it figuratively where you will) - is the great Antagonist (herself decieved by the Satanic Shadow). She hates living things, especially children and particularly her own daughter Lona, seeking their destruction, (sustaining and perpetuating her beauty and youth by feeding upon blood.) It is foretold that her child will be her undoing.
The primary recalcitrant protagonist, Mr. Vane, is a man of our world (or rather "dimension") who is slowly learning both who he is, his name, how to live, and how to die (the four themes intertwine quite closely) among other things. At the moment of this conversation, Mr. Vane discourses with Mara (Woman of Sorrow - hint, hint) about the land of Bulika where (though he does not know it) Lilith rules. Mara speaks:

There is a city in that grassy land," she replied, "where a woman is princess. The city is called Bulika. But certainly the princess is not a girl! She is older than this world, and came to it from yours -- with a terrible history, which is not over yet. She is an evil person, and prevails much with the Prince of the Power of the Air. The people of Bulika were formerly simple folk, tilling the ground and pasturing sheep. She came among them, and they received her hospitably. She taught them to dig for diamonds and opals and sell them to strangers, and made them give up tillage and pasturage and build a city. One day they found a huge snake and killed it; which so enraged her that she declared herself their princess, and became terrible to them. The name of the country at that time was The Land of Waters...But the wicked princess gathered up in her lap what she could of the water over the whold country, closed it in an egg, and carried it away. Her lap, however, would not hold more than half of it; and the instant she was gone, what she had not taken fled away underground, leaving the country as dry and dusty as her own heart. Were it not for the waters under it, every living thing would long ago have perished from it. For where no water is, o rain falls; and where no rain falls, no springs rise. Ever since then, the princess has lived in Bulika, holding the inhabitants in constant terror, and doing what she can to keep them from multipying. Yet they boast and believe themselves a prosperous, and certainly are a self-satisfied people -- good at bargaining and buying, good at selling and cheeting; holding well together for a common interest, and uterly treacherious where interests clas; proud of their princess and her power, and despising every one they get the better of; never doubting themselves the most honourable of all the nations, and each man counting himself better than any other. The depth of their worthlessness and height of their vain-glory no one can understand who has not been there to see, who has not learned to know the miserable misgoverned and self-deceived creatures.

Introducing Lilith's pride:
Mr. Vane, in his lonely journey toward Bulika, stumbled across a woman - or rather, what remained of a woman - lying uncovered, cold, and 'skeletonic' [word coined here] in the woods. Unwilling to leave a woman exposed, yet unwilling to bury her if life could by any means be brought back, Vane devotes over a month to her care in the merest hope of revival from the death which seems to hold her in its grip. He bathes her daily in a warm stream, squeezes juice into her lips, and focuses his whole attention, his very desire and hope, on the remote chance of recovering this once dazzlingly beautiful woman as a companion. Toward the latter weeks of his watch, however, a leech-like creature begins to suck his blood every night, but he pays it little mind for the flesh begins to fill out on his charge. One morning he is woken by the woman. This rather strange exchange fires from her lips (reminiscent of Lewis' Jadis [whom Lewis casts as a descendent of Lilith]):

I stopped: a strange smile had flickered over her beautiful face.
"Did you find me there?" she asked, pointing to the cave.
"No; I brought you there," I replied.
"You brought me ?"
"Yes."
"From where?"
"From the forest."
"What have you done with my clothes - and my jewels?"
"You had none when I found you."
"Then why did you not leave me?"
"Because I hoped you were not dead."
"Why should you have cared?"
"Because I was very lonely, and wanted you to live."
"You would have kept me enchanted for my beauty!" she said, with proud scorn.
Her words and her look aroused my indignation.
"There was no beauty in you," I said.
"Why, then, again, did you not led me alone?"
"Because you were of my own kind."
"Of your kind?" she cried, in a tone of utter contempt.
"I thought so, but I find I was mistaken!"
"Doubtless you pitied me!"
"Never had woman more claim on pity, or less on any other feeling!"
With an expression of pain, mortification, and anger un-utterable, she turned from me and stood silent. Starless night lay profound in the gulfs of her eyes: hate of him who brought it back had slain their splendour. The light of life was gone from them...

"Ha! How long do you pretend I have lain unconscious? -- Answer me at once."
"I cannot tell how long you had lain when I found you, but there was nothing left of you save skin and bone: that is more than three months ago. --Your hair was beautiful, nothing else! I have done for it what I could."...
...She gave a shudder of disgust, and stood for a while with her gaze fixed on the hurrying water. Then she turned to me:
"We must understand each other!" she said. "--You have done me the two worst of wrongs -- compelled me to live, and put me to shame: neither of them can I pardon!"
She raised her left hand, and flung it out as if repelling me. Something ice-cold struck me on the forehead....

Hang on a minute, Lilith! I'm starting to get a very vague idea of your value system and it looks a tad skewed from the get go: to compel you to live and to shame you by helping you are the greatest wrongs one could do to you?

Lilith's appetite for children, mothers, and hatred of procreation:
Vane has begun to have horrible doubts as to Lilith's identity (he doesn't yet know her name) after seeing her transform? into a spotted leopardess and charge toward Bulika. He sees a mother pursued by the leopardess, hears a scream of anguish, and rushes to the scene to find that the mother has crushed the leopardess' left paw with a stone, prompting the beast's bloody flight. He converses with the mother (who is herself not native to Bulika):

"There, my darling is asleep! The foul beast has not hurt her! -- Yes; it was my baby she was after!" she went on, caressing the child. "and then she would have torn her mother to pieces for carrying her off! -- Some say the princess has two white leopardesses," she continued: "I know only one -- with spots. Everybody knows her! If the princess hear of a baby, she sends her immediately to suck its blood, and then it either dies or grows up and idiot. I would have gone away with my baby, but the princess was from home, and I thought I might wait..."
"Why is the princess so cruel?"
"There is an old prophecy that a child will be the death of her. That is why she will listen to no offer of marriage, they say."
"But what will become of her country if she kills all the babies?"
"She does not care about her country. She sends witches around to teach the women spells that keep babies away, and give them horrible things to eat. Some say she is in league with the Shadows to put an end to the race. At night we hear the questing beast, and lie awake and shiver. She can tell at once the house where a baby is coming, and lies down at the door, watching to get in. There are words that have power to shoo her away, only they do not always work..."

Of Bulikian materialism and strangers:
Vane cowering in an alley when the spotted leopardess passes is joined by a Bulikian woman who condescends to speak to him, though strangers and poor are to be shunned.

"[The spotted leopardess] is kept in a cage, her mouth muzzled, and her feet in gloves of crocodile leather. Chained she is too; but she gets out often, and sucks the blood of any child she can lay hold of. Happily there are not many mothers in Bulika!"...
...I asked her many questions. She told me the people never did anything except dig for precious stones in their cellars. They were rich, and had everything made for them in other towns.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because it is a disgrace to work," she answered. "Everybody in Bulika knows that!"
I asked how they were rich if none of them earned money. She replied that their ancestors had saved for them, and they never spent. When they wanted money they sold a few of their gems.
"But there must be some poor!" I said.
"I suppose there must be, but we never think of such people. When one goes poor, we forget him. That is how we keep rich. We mean to be rich always."
"But when you have dug up all your precious stones and sold them, you will have to spend your money, and one day you will have none left!"
"We have so many, and there are so many still in the ground, that that day will never come," she replied.
"Suppose a strange people were to fall upon you, and take everything you have!"
"No strange people will dare; they are all horribly afraid of our princess. She it is who keeps us safe and free and rich!"
Every now and then as she spoke, she would stop and look behind her.
I asked why her people had such a hatred of strangers. She answered that the presence of a stranger defiled the city.
"How is that?" I said.
"Because we are more ancient and noble than any other nation. --Therefore," she added, "we always turn strangers out before night."...
..."Is there no place in the city for the taking in of strangers?"
"Such a place would be pulled down, and its owner burned. How is purity to be preserved except by keeping low people at a proper distance? Dignity is such a delicate thing!"

Wow, Bulikite! You live in constant fear of your princess, yet you speak of her as the one who keeps us "safe and free and rich." Wealth takes priority. Yours is a society where work is shameful - we spend our fathers' riches - and racism coexists with infanticide. Interesting connection with the latter two, but perhaps I shouldn't make much of it, Eh?

Lilith on aging:
Vane is foolishly (against Mr. Raven/Adam's advice) listening to Lilith who is attempting to seduce him to bend to her deceitful, selfish machinations:

"Our natures, however, are so different, that this may not be easy. Men and women live but to die; we, that is such as I --we are but a few -- live to live on. Old age is to you a horror; to me it is a dear desire: the older we grow, the nearer we are to our perfection. Your perfection is a poor thing, comes soon, and lasts but a little while; ours is a ceaseless ripening. I am not yet ripe, and have lived thousands of your years --how many, I never cared to note. The everlasting will not be measured."

Sooo, Lilith sees man's life as a horror, her own as everlasting exercise in perfection. Hmm. Let's see if we can expand on this.

Lilith's Drive for Personal Autonomy:
Deceived into performing service for Lilith, Vane accidentally leads her back into his world -- from which she may be able to reach her innocent daughter! Mr. Raven, the mysterious Crow/ Sexton/ Librarian, revealed in his true nature as Adam, exposes Lilith in the guise of a cat and gently but masterfully exercises his capacity to stay her for the moment and exhort her to repentence. She will have none of it:

...returning to the cat, stood over her and said, in a still, solemn voice: --
"Lilith, when you came here on the way to your evil will, you little thought into whose hands you were delivering yourself! -- Mr. Vane, when God created me...He brought me an angelic splendour to be my wife: there she lies! For her first thought was power; she counted it slavery to be one with me, and bear children for Him who gave her being. Once child, indeed, she bore; then, puffed with the fancy that she had created her, would have me fall down and worship her! Finding, however, that I would but love and honour, never obey and worship her, she poured out her blood to escape me, fled... How it is with her now, she best knows, but I know also. The one child of her body she fears and hates, and would kill, asserting a right which is a lie, over what God sent through her into His new world. Of creating, she knows no more than the crystal that takes its allotted shape, or the worm that makes two worms when it is cloven asunder. Vilest of God's creatures, she lives by the blood and lives and souls of men. She consumes and slays, but is powerless to destroy as to create.....

....It is but her jealousy that speaks, " he said, "jealousy self-kindled, foiled and fruitless; for here I am, her master now whom she would not have for her husband! while my beautiful Eve yet lives, hoping immortally! Her hated daughter lives also, but beyond her evil ken, one day to be what she counts her destruction -- for even Lilith shall be saved by her childbearing. Meanwhile she exults that my human wife plunged herself and me in despair, and has borne me a countless race of miserables; but my Eve repented, and is now beautiful as never was woman or angel, while her groaning, travailing world is the nursery of our Father's children. I to have repented, and am blessed. --Thou, Lilith, hast not yet repented; but thou must. --Tell me, is the great Shadow beautiful? Knowest thou how long thou wilt thyself remain beautiful? --Answer me, if thou knowest."
Then at last I understood that Mr. Raven was indeed Adam, the old and the new man; and that his wife, ministering in the house of the dead, was Eve, the mother of us all, the lady of the New Jerusalem.
The leopardess reared; the flickering and fleeing of her spots began; the princess at length stood radiant in her perfect shape.
"I am beautiful -- and immortal!" she said -- and she looked the goddess she would be.
"As a bush that burns, and is consumed," answered he who had been her husband. "--What is that under they right hand?"
For her arm lay across her bosom, and her hand was pressed to her side.
A swift pang contorted her beautiful face, and passed.
"It is but a leopard-spot that lingers! it will quickly follow those I have dismissed," she answered.
"Thou art beautiful because God created thee, but thou art the slave of sin: take they hand from thy side."
Her hand sank away, and as it dropt she looked him in the eyes with a quailing fierceness that had in it no surrender.
He gazed a moment at the spot.
"It is not on the leopard; it is in the woman!" he said. "Nor will it leave thee until it hath eaten to they heart, and they beauty hath flowed from thee through the open wound!"
She gave a glance downward, and shivered.
"Lilith," said Adam, and his tone had changed to a tender beseeching, "hear me, and repent, and He who made thee will cleanse thee!"
Her hand returned quivering to her side. Her face grew dark. She gave the cry of one from whom hope is vanishing. The cry passed into a howl. She lay writhing on the floor, a leopardess covered with spots.
"The evil thou meditatest," Adam resumed, "thou shalt never compass, Lilith...how will it fare with thee when Time hath vanished in the dawn of the eternal morn? Repent, I beseech thee; repent, and be again an angel of God!"
She rose, she stood upright, a woman once more, and said,
"I will not repent. I will drink the blood of thy child."

If you want to know what happens next, read the book: I haven't time to give the entire plot, and even this extended passage is perhaps a bit superfluous, but I couldn't resist including it. It's such a fascinating exchange.
The cat of Lilith shut up in a closet, Mr. Vane and Adam prepare to return to the other world to rescue Lona and the little ones she cares for. Adam comments on Lilith:

"We must be on our guard," he said, "or she will again outwit us. She would befool the very elect!"
How are we to be on our guard?" I asked.
"Every way," he answered." She fears, therefore hates her child, and is in this house on her way to destroy her. The birth of children is in her eyes the death of their parents, and every new generation the enemy of the last. Her daughter appears to her and open channel throuh which her immortality -- which yet she counts self-inherent -- is flowing fast away: to fill it up, almost from her birth she has pursued her with an utter enmity. But the result of her machinations hitherto is, that in the region she claims as her own, has appeared a colony of children, to which my daughter is heart and head and sheltering wings...

It appears that to Lilith, children challenge and steal the parent's life; they constitute a huge drain. Her own "immortality" must be preserved at all costs. Even mother love falls before the drive for self-deification.

Mr. Vane's refusal to die to live:
Once before, Mr. Vane refused Adam and Eve's admonition to sleep the death that dies into life. Now, Adam tells him that he will be no help to the children until he die and wake again. Vane had promised to listen to and obey Adam, but, atop Adam's steed, he changes his mind (Lilithesque). He deceives himself that, by virtue of his love for the Little Ones (Lona and her charges), his rebellion is justified:

"I long so much to ride after the leopardess," I answered, "that I can scarce restrain myself!"
"You have promised!"
"My debt to the Little Ones appears, I confess, a greater thing than my bond to you."
"Yield to temptation and you will bring mischief upon them -- and on yourself also."
"What matters it for me? I love them; and love works no evil. I will go."
But the truth was, I forgot the children, infatuate with the horse.
Eyes flashed through the darkness, and I knew that Adam stood in his own shape beside me. I knew also by his voice that eh repressed an indignation almost too strong for him.
"Mr. Vane," he said, "do you not know why you have not yet done anything worth doing?"
"Because I have been a fool," I answered.
"Wherein?"
"In everything."
"Which do you count your most indiscreet action?"
"Bringing the princess to life: I ought to have left her to her just fate."
"Nay, now you talk foolishly! You could not have done otherwise than you did, not knowing she was evil! --But you never brought any one to life! How could you, yourself dead?"
"I dead?" I cried.
"Yes," he answered; "and you will be dead, so long as you refused to die."...
..."Mr. Vane," croaked the raven, "think what you are doing! Twice already has evil befallen you --once from fear, and once from heedlessness: breach of word is far wose; it is a crime."
"The Little Ones are in frightful peril, and I brought it upon them!" I cried. "--But indeed I will not break my word to you. I will return, and spend in your house what nights --what days -- what years you please."
"I tell you once more you will do them other than good if you go to-night," he insisted.
But a false sense of power, a sense which had no root and was merely vibrated into me from the strength of the horse, had, alas, rendered me too stupid to listen to anything he said!

The end does not justify the means. Love is not a trump card which we can play to do what we really want. Though we are excellent at building up a huge castle of excuses for ourselves, rebellion is not the proper product of love. And the dead cannot make themselves or anyone else alive.

Lilith's Painful Repentence and the hand she cannot open:
Mr. Vane (disobeying Adam) has sought out the Little Ones - the children in the care of Lona whom he loves - and has organized them into a miniature army to take over Bulika, find their mothers and defeat the princess. When they reach the palace, Lona in affectionate childlike confidence makes a beeline for the arms of her mother--who dashes her to the marble pavement with demonic triumph. She breathes her last, the words, "Mother, Mother," on her lips. Vane is crushed, and repentent.The children bind Lilith whose strength has dwindled, though she's bloodthirsty enough still, and set out to bear the physically dead and the spiritually dead to Adam. Their first halt is the desert house of Mara ('catwoman,' the white leopardess). Vane tries to correct the children's misconceptions of Mara:

"Will the cat-woman --I mean the woman that istn't the cat-woman, and has no claws on her toes -- give her [Lilith] grapes?"
"She is more likely to give her scratches!"
"Why? --You say she is her friend!"
"That is just why. --A friend is one who gives us what we need, and the princess is sorely in need of a terrible scratching."...

Mara speaks:
"Mr. Vane," she said, "and you, Little Ones, I thank you! This woman would not yield to gentler measures; harder must have their turn. I must do what I can to make her repent!"
The pitiful-hearted Little Ones began to sob sorely.
"Will you hurt her very much, lady Mara?" said the girl I have just mentioned, putting her warm little hand in mine.
"Yes; I am afraid I must; I fear she will make me!" answered Mara. "It would be cruel to hurt her too little. It would have all to be done again, only worse."
"May I stop with her?"
"No, my child. She loves no one, therefore she cannot be with any one. There is One who will be with her, but she will not be with Him."
"Will the shadow that came down the hill be with her?"
"The great Shadow will be in her, I fear, but he cannot be with her, or with any one. She will know that I am beside her, but that will not comfort her...."

The Children are put to bed. Vane and Mara wait in her hearth room, Lilith recumbent and seemingly unconscious upon the settle, as the shadows congeal around them. Midnight comes, Mara rises and unwraps her previously muffled face:

Then I saw her face. It was lovely beyond speech --white and sad, heart-and-soul sad, but not unhappy, and I knew it never could be unhappy. Great tears were running down her cheeks; she wiped them away with her robe; her countenance grew very still, and she wept no more. But for the pity in every line of her expression, she would have seemed severe. She laid her hand on the head of the princess -- on the hair that grew low on the forehead, and stooping, breathed on the sallow brow. The body shuddered.
"Will you turn away from the wicked things you have been doing so long?" said Mara gently.
The princess did not answer. Mara put the question again, in the same soft, inviting tone.
Still there was no sign of hearing. She spoke the words a third time.
Then the seeming corpse opened its mouth and answered, its words appearing to frame themselves of something else than sound. --I cannot shape the thing further: sounds they were not, yet they were words to me.
"I will not," she said. "I will be myself and not another!"
"Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real self?"
"I will be what I mean myself now."
"If you were restored, would you not make what amends you could for the misery you have caused?"
"I would do after my nature."
"You do not know it: your nature is good, and you do evil!"
"I will do as my Self pleases --as my Self desires."
"You will do as the Shadow, overshadowing your Self inclines you?"
"I will do what I will do."
"You have killed your daugher, Lilith!"
"I have killed thousands. She is my own!"
"She was never yours as you are another's."
"I am not another's; I am my own, and my daughter is mine."
"Then, alas, your hour is come!"
"I care not. I am what I am; no one can take from me myself!"
"You are not the Self you imagine."
"So long as I feel myself what it pleases me to think myself, I care not. I am content to be to myself what I would be. What I choose to seem to myself makes me what I am. My own thought makes me me; my own thought of myself is me. Another shall not make me!"
"But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself. You will not be able much longer to look to yourself anything but what he sees you! You will not much longer have satisfaction in the thought of yourself. At this moment you are aware of the coming change!"
"No one ever made me. I defy that Power to unmake me from a free woman! You are his slave, and I defy you! You may be able to torture me --I do not know, but you shall not compel me to anything against my will!"
"Such a compulsion would be without value. But there is a light that goes deeper than the will, a light that lights up the darkness behind it: that light can change your will, can make it truly yours and not another's --not the Shadow's. Into the created can pour itself the creating will, and so redeem it!"
"That light shall not enter me: I hate it! --Begone, slave!"
"I am no slave, for I love that light, and will with the deeper will which created mine. There is no slave but the creature that wills against its creator...
"You speak foolishness from a cowering heart! You imagine me given over to you: I defy you! I hold myself against you! What I choose to be, you cannot change. I will not be what you think me --what you say I am!"
"I am sorry: you must suffer!"
"But be free!"
"She alone is free who would make free; she loves not freedom who would enslave: she is herself a slave. Every life, every will, every heart that came within your ken, you have sought to subdue: you are the slave of every slave you have made --such a slave that you do not know it! See your own self!"

If you've made it this far, dear reader, I certainly hope you did not just skim that last passage: there's a lot there. Basically, Lilith thinks she is her own master and defies any one who would hold her accountable to aught but herself. She claims to control her very being - she is what she chooses to see herself. She claims to own her daughter.
The worm/leech which is Lilith, creeps into Lilith through the dark spot in her side. She begins to see herself in her horror. Mara speaks to Vane:

"...She sees at last the good she is not, the evil she is. She knows that she is herself the fire in which she is burning, but she does not know that the Light of Life is the heart of that fire. Her torment is that she is what she is. Do not fear for her; she is not forsaken. No gentler way to help her was left..." Large tears fell from her eyes on the woman who had never wept, and would not weep.
"Will you change your way?"she said at length.
"Why did he make me such?" gasped Lilith. "I would have made myself --oh, so different! I am glad it was he that made me and not I myself! He alone is to blame for what I am! Never would I have made such a worthless thing! He meant me such that I might know it and be miserable! I will not be made any longer!"
"Unmake yourself, then," said Mara.
"Alas, I cannot! You know it, and mock me! How often have I not agonised to cease, but the tyrant keeps me being! curse him! Now let him kill me!"
The words came in jets as from a dying fountain.
"Had he not made you," said Mara, gently and slowly, "you could not even hate him. But he did not make you such. You have made yourself what you are. --Be of better cheer: he can remake you."
"I will not be remade!"
"He will not change you; he will only restore you to what you were."
"I will not be aught of his making."

...."Those, alas, are not the tears of repentance!" she said. "The true tears gather in the eyes. Those are far more bitter, and not so good. Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in the way home, and in the father's arms the prodigal forgets the self he abominates. Once with his father, he is to himself of no more account. It will be so with her."
She went nearer and said,
"Will you restore that which you have wrongfully taken?"
"I have taken nothing," answered the princess, forcing out the words in spite of pain, "that I had not the right to take. My power to take manifested my right."

....I looked, and saw: before her, cast from unseen heavenly mirror, stood the freflection of herself, and beside it a form of splendent beauty. She trembed, and sank again on the floor helpless. She knew the one what God had intended her to be, the other what she had made herself...
..."You have conquered. Let me go into the wilderness and bewail myself."
Mara saw that her submission was not feigned, neither was it real. She looked at her a moment, and returned...
"Open thy hand, and let that which is in it go."
A fierce refusal seemed to struggle for passage, but she kept it prisoned.
"I cannot," she said. "I have no longer the power. Open it for me."
She held out the offending hand. It was more a paw than a hand. It seemed to me plain that she could not open it.
Mara did not even look at it.
"You must open it yourself," she said quietly.
"I have told you I cannot!"
"You can if you will --not indeed at once, but by persistent effort. What you have done, you do not yet wish undone --do not yet intend to undo!"
"You think so, I dare say, " rejoined the princes with a flash of insolence, "but I know that I cannot open my hand!"
"I know you better than you know yourself, and I know you can. You have oten opened it a little way. Without trouble and pain you cannot open it quite, but you can openit. At worst you could beat it open! i pray you, gather your strength, and open it wide."
"I will not try what I know impossible. It would be the part of a fool!"
"Which you have been playing all your life! Oh, you are hard to teach!"
Defiance reappeared on the face of the princess. She turned her back on Mara, saying,
"I know what you have been tormenting me for! You have not succeeded, nor shall you succeed! You shall yet find me stronger than you think! I will yet be mistress of myself! I am still what I have always know myself --queen of Hell, and mistress of the worlds!"


Then came the most fearful thing of all. I did not know what it was; I knew myself unable to imagine it; I knew only that it came near me I should die of terror! I now know that it was Life in Death --life dead, yet existent; and I knew that Lilith had had glimpses, but only glimpses of it before: it had never been with her until now....with my eyes I saw the face of a live death! She knew life only to know that it was dead, and that, in her, death lived. It was not merely that life had ceasedin her, but that she was consciously a dead thing. She had killed her life, and was dead --and knew it. She must death it for ever and ever! She had tried her hardest to unmake herself, and could not! She was a dead life! she could not cease! she must be! ...Her bodily eyes stood wide open, as if gazing into the heart of horror essential -- her own indestructible evil. Her right hand also was now clenched --upon existent Nothing --her inheritance!
But with God all things are possible: He can save even the rich!...
"I yield," said the princess. "I cannot hold out. I am defeated. --Not the less, I cannot open my hand."
"Have you tried?"
"I am trying now with all my might."
"I will take you to my father. You have wronged him worst of the created, therefore he best of the created can help you."
"How can he help me?"
"He will forgive you."
"Ah, if he would but help me to cease! Not even that I am capable of! I have no power over myself; I am a slave! I acknowledge it. Let me die."
"A slave thou art that shall one day be a child!" answered Mara. --"Verily, thou shalt die, but not as thou thinkest. Thou shalt die out of death into life. Now is the Life for, that never was against thee!"
Did you follow all that? Watch the unfolding drama of the hand when Lilith reaches the house of Adam where all sleep and die to live:
"Beautiful Eve, pursuade your husband to kill me: to you he will listen! Indeed I would but cannot open my hand."
"You cannot die without opening it. To kill you would not serve you," answered Eve. "But indeed he cannot! no one can kill you but the Shadow; and whom he kills never knows she is dead, but lives to do his will, and thinks she is doing her own."
"Show me then to my grave; I am so weary I can live no longer. I must go to the Shadow --yet I would not!"
She did not, could not understand!
..."You shall not go to the Shadow," I heard Eve say, as we passed them. "Even now is his head under my heel!"
..."Lilith," said Mara, you will not sleep, if you lie there a thousand years, until you have opened your hand, and yielded that which is not yours to give or to withhold."
"I cannot," she answered. "I would if I could, and gladly, for I am weary, and the shadows of death are gathering about me."
"They will gather and gather, but they cannot infold you while yet your hand remains unopened...Open your hand, and you will sleep indeed --then wake indeed."
"I am trying hard, but the fingers have grown together and into the palm."
"I pray you put forth the strength of your will. For the love of life, draw together your forces and break its bonds!"
"I have struggled in vain; I can do no more. I am very weary, and sleep lies heavy upon my lids."
"The moment you open you hand, you will sleep. Open it, and make an end."
A tinge of colour arose in teh parchment-like face; the contorted hand trembled with agonised effort, Mara took it, and sought to aid her.
"Hold, Mara!" cried her father. "There is danger!"
The princess turned her eyes upon Eve, beseechingly.
"There was a sword I once saw in your husband's hands," she murmured. "I fled when I saw it. I heard him who bore it say it would divide whatever was not one and indivisible!"
..."Bring it, Adam," pleaded Lilith, "and cut me off this hand that I may sleep."
"I will," he answered.
...She saw the sword, shuddered, and held out her hand. Adam took it. The sword gleamed once, there was one little gush of blood, and he laid the severed hand in Mara's lap. Lilith had given one moan, and was already fast asleep. ..."Where the dead deformity clung," replied Mara, "the true, lovely hand is already growing."
All right. Now to try to sum up why in the world I spent all this time typing out passages from a Victorian era fantasy about a bloodthirsty woman who won't die and happens to have a deformed hand.
Children are critical in George MacDonald's Lilith --in more ways than I have quoted here. The faith of the childlike makes them the wise ones in all their foolishness. They are the ones who, though living have already died and are thereby truly alive. (Which is why Lilith couldn't actually destroy Lona; she had already died into life.) Children are the gifts of the Father, hope for creation. They center the entire narrative which circles around Vane and Lilith becoming children. For Vane, the children seem to be the first people he ever loves (other than himself and his horses), while for Lilith, the first sign of permanent character change to good emerges when she expresses concern over the safety of the children. The children themselves, like the water, are hidden away, and their very lack of fear, protects them. (If you've read the book, think crossing the monster basin.) The very act of growing up (precipitated by increasing selfishness) renders them "bad giants" for it is as children that they receive and joy in good gifts.
Lilith, in her unregenerate state, abhores children and seeks their destruction because they threaten her power over her own existence and supremacy. She will not even allow other mothers their infants, but while teaching "her" people pride, greed, and cruelty, she enforces infanticide, and contraception. This stance against babies is described as a league with the Shadow to put an end to the human race and a malice toward the repentant Eve whose children are blessed and redeemed.
Is there an applicable lesson here? For one, MacDonald demonstrates the immeasurable blessing of children to their mothers and to the world. Evil seeks to prevent this blessing and murders it whenever possible. He also holds up children as the model of the wisdom of God in foolishness and as those who are ready to simply receive, trust, and love unquestioningly. The children even love Lilith when she bites them as they feed their captive; Lona loves her mother even when she slays her body. Because they love and trust, they sleep easiest and wake earliest.
I'm continually fascinated by MacDonald's descriptions of the people of Bulika as facets of their culture and society so nearly resemble our own. Can a culture like this be restored? For Bulika, one gets a sense that the waters unleashed by the burial of Lilith's hand in a deep spring will bring healing to the country and the city. Where are the waters of our day hid? What words repel the witches who prevent the birth of babies with horrible food? MacDonald's answer seems to indicate that only regeneration through repentence, forgiveness, and dying to one's own will and flesh, works the transformation of individuals and the culture. Yet repentence and surrender cannot come by an act of one's own strength - the eyes will not see until shown a true reflection; the hand will not open of one's own accord. For this, we need Mara - the "Lady of Sorrows," the "voice that called in the wilderness before ever the Baptist came," the one who calls to repentence. MacDonald seems purposely not to make her directly symbolic of any one individual. But she is the preacher who calls out, like wisdom in the streets, she holds up the mirror of the Law and offers bread and water to the hungry and thirsty. And until her work is done, she will not cease to beckon.
The end. I hope it's coherent.

2 comments:

elizabeth said...

dear S! I read the bolded version of your post (sorry; have to do stuff before night) however, wanted to mention that tomorrow DV i should show you (when you come here to my place) my handbound volumes (6 of them I think) of George MacDonald - perhaps you have already seen them? in case you have not, do remind me tomorrow! :)

TruthQuestioner said...

Thanks! And congratualations for even skimming this thing. I was tempted to remove it for the typo's and length. I didn't realize how long it was till I copy/pasted it into Word and it took up 15 pages 12 point single spaced! Blah!

I'm really not expecting anyone to read it all. I'll actually be shocked if anyone else comments.