MacDonald’s realistic novels were the basis of his popularity in the Victorian period. His children’s fairy tales—including “The Light Princess” (1864), “The Golden Key” (1864), and At the Back of the North Wind (1871)—and his adult fantasies Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (1858) and Lilith: A Romance have won him modern readers. MacDonald believed that Lilith, which was his last novel and is widely considered to be his masterpiece, was particularly inspired. It was supposedly begun as a companion piece to Phantastes, in which the protagonist searches for a mother, in contrast to Mr. Vane’s quest to be reconciled with a father figure.
MacDonald’s influences include his close friends Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and William Morris, who helped to establish the fantasy genre in the nineteenth century. Other literary influences on Lilith include Dante, William Blake, the German Romantics, and the Celtic fairyland settings (also present in Morris), if not the myths, of MacDonald’s Scottish heritage. The character of Lilith, an immortal being who despises Adam and Eve’s children, is drawn from Jewish commentaries that posit her existence in order to reconcile contradictory statements in Genesis that indicate, on one hand, that Adam’s wife was created at the same time as he was, but on the other that she was subsequently fabricated out of his rib.
Lilith has the elements of a Christian dream allegory on the theme of fall and redemption, though it is much more. It reflects MacDonald’s intensive study of the dream process, mesmerism, and visionary states. Lilith was a major influence on C. S. Lewis, a debt that is apparent in Perelandra (1943) and the Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956). There is also a strong affinity between J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) and Lilith. Lilith is a striking synthesis of MacDonald’s most important ideas: the power of dreams to open doorways to the universe, the tangible relation of spiritual truth to the material world, the existence of a benevolent creator, and the role of punishment as a means to moral and psychological education.