This is the second romance by George MacDonald I’ve read, the first being Phantastes. It’s also the second consecutive book I’ve read about someone crossing over into a treacherous fantasy world. Concurrently I read Jack’s Life, Douglas H. Gresham’s biography of his stepfather, C.S. Lewis. The Magicians was inspired in part by The Chronicles of Narnia, while Lewis referred to MacDonald as his master. Thus in the ascribed order I traced the flow of inspiration back to its source.
MacDonald traced mankind back to its source as his inspiration for Lilith. Certain traditions hold Lilith to be the first wife of Adam. She was loath to submit to her husband, so she was set aside in favor of Eve. Lilith was demonized for her refusal, becoming a child-stealing succubus. MacDonald harks back to the original sin to tell this tale of redemption.
Mr. Vane inherits his father’s estate, complete with library* and seemingly its former librarian. He follows the dispossessed librarian into a mirror world, where he encounters Adam, Eve, Lilith, and Mara, the Lady of Sorrow. It is a world of stasis, where the innocent remain children, no water flows, and Lilith persists in enmity. Only through the unwitting intervention of Mr. Vane is the world able to resume its natural progression of life and death unto new life.
*I envision this library to be like that of Biltmore, which I recently visited. The house was completed in 1895, the year Lilith was published.