Metaphysical Romance Archive

Metaphysical Romance: Lilith

Posted January 19, 2024 By John C Wright

Lilith: “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!”

Eve: “But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself.”

LILITH: A ROMANCE (1895) is the final novel in the career of Scottish writer George MacDonald.

In a way, it forms a bookend with his first novel PHANTASTES (1858), using a similar setting and genre to approach similar themes, albeit from an opposite perspective. PHANTASTES told of a youth entering fairyland, pursuing romance but finding self-sacrifice, dying and rising again to return to earth to begin a parallel life here. LILITH, in contrast, is about a man of mature years passing through a magic mirror into a desolate spirit world or limbo inhabited by the dead awaiting resurrection, where the alluring love-interest must be persuaded to the path of self-sacrifice for her own salvation. In this mirror world, those alive on earth are seen as dead, and those dead on earth are slumbering to await waking to eternal life.

Both stories are told in a fairytale fashion, with simply-drawn stock characters, heavily symbolic or poetical events, centered on moral challenges and conundrums. Neither are clear, easy, nor enjoyable reads.

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Ye Have Not Spoken Rightly of the Lord

Posted October 27, 2023 By John C Wright

The Trials of Job and the Trial of God

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. — GK Chesterton

As wiser pens than mine have written, the Book of Job is both an historical mystery and a theological mystery. It addresses the suffering of the innocent, or, closer to the mark, the suffering of the righteous. Job suffers when he deserves it not, because and only because he deserves it not.

The Book of Job raises questions never answered, or answers questions with questions, and yet, somehow, the words offer comfort without offering answers.

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Metaphysical Romance: The Structure of Phantastes

Posted October 14, 2023 By John C Wright

It is rare to follow up a review with an analysis, but PHANTASTES by Geo MacDonald merits the attention.

First, it is such an extraordinary book, quite unlike its precursors or epigones. It mimics carefully the characters and tropes of fairy tales, knights and spites and evils trees, goblins and living statues and wise old crones and so on, but uses them to depict psychological or metaphysical musings on the nature of art, imagination, and spiritual reality. Unlike a fairy tale, this work is not structured around a plot, but around a motif. Like its narrator, whose name means wayward, PHANTATES is a wayward book. None of those following his footsteps, nor Lewis, nor Tolkien, follow this waywardness.

Second, albeit often forgotten, PHANTASTES is arguably the father of modern fantasy genre. Geo. MacDonald predates Wm. Morris’ WOOD BEYOND THE WORLD by thirty-six years. To put it in perspective, ALICE IN WONDERLAND was published seven years after, and MOBY-DICK seven years before.

Third, the book is so odd that I cannot say I have read any other like it, albeit I boast a library of fantasy both wide and deep.

It is a not book I dare praise or dispraise to another, for I cannot tell whom it will fascinate and attract or bore and repel.

And, unlike every other thing I have reviewed, this is not a matter of taste or judgment. It is deeper than that. Some souls need baptism in such a work as this, and others simply do not. Those whom the horns of elfland faintly calling from the far hills must follow them: others cannot hear.

For these three reasons, the work merits more than a review. It merits profound study, but, alas, this critic is only capable of shallow and cursory examination, therefore my beloved readers must bring their own deeper wits to bear on my remarks below, should any venture into the wayward elfin forest of Fairy Land MacDonald reflects in his book.

The book is not meant to be open to analysis.

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Metaphysical Romance: Phantastes

Posted October 10, 2023 By John C Wright

Part II of an ongoing series reviewing fiction novels with metaphysical themes. The first installment is here: Moby-Dick

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Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women is an otherworldly novel by Scottish minister George MacDonald, first published in London in 1858.

Forgotten by critics, despite that it is the first fantasy novel properly so called of the modern era, it is recalled and reread these days largely, if not exclusively, by fans of C.S. Lewis, for whom the little book was the prime inspiration and polestar of his own immortal imaginative work.

I can neither recommend nor fail to recommend this tale of wonders. Too much depends on you, dear reader, to say whether you will find this tale too twee, archaic, fustian and labyrinthine to bother, or the most beautiful and profound you ever read, or dreamed you’d read.

The work seems, at first, as pathless and dreamlike as the tales of Lewis Carrol, MacDonald’s friend, and as full of strangeness — albeit of far more profound weight that the light nonsense of Alice.

(As an historical note, it is MacDonald who first urged Carrol to publish “Alice’s Adventures Underground” — as it was called then. Alice’s cat Snowdrop in “Through the Looking Glass” is named for the MacDonald family cat.)

Critics have sought for a structure, some finding none, some seeing it as akin to a spiritual coming of age story, some seeing it as a mirror labyrinth, a psychological dreamscape, or a pagan allegory.

But to those who see in this work a vision, a reflection, a dream, a poignant as the memory of paradise in worlds of flight children retain from the days before their conception, this book will be, for you, a voyage into Fairy Land in truth, with all its wonder and strangeness: forest flowers, deathly Ash trees, long-toothed ogresses, knights and beggars, wise old wives and evil nymphs, palaces of unseen dancers, secret doors, deep loves, noble deeds, self-sacrifice, visions and shadows, death and waking. And, above all, magic mirrors.

For those for whom this tale is penned, it will be as the Perilous Wood itself would be: confusing, soothing, wonderful, terrible.

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Metaphysical Romance: Moby-Dick

Posted September 16, 2023 By John C Wright

Here are some books which strike me as having metaphysical themes. The older works are in the public domain and readily available online.

I will discuss this other works in later columns, time permitting. For now, I wish only to mention the first, and that briefly. Read the remainder of this entry »

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