The Lilith of Charles Williams

In my last post, I remarked on how unsettling it is to find that the societal warnings and critiques posed in fantasy guise by George MacDonald in his 1895 novel Lilith have in our own day taken on real-life forms that might make any demon proud. Charles Williams’s metaphysical horror novel Descent Into Hell (1937) … Continue reading The Lilith of Charles Williams

The Lilith of George MacDonald

1. In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we learn that the White Witch is a descendant of "Adam’s first wife . . . Lilith.” The certain influence on Lewis in this suggestive genealogy was his beloved George MacDonald, whose novel Lilith first appeared in 1895 and was part of a … Continue reading The Lilith of George MacDonald

Anatole France, “La Fille de Lilith” (1889)

It should not be surprising that Lilith, the demoness from medieval Jewish folklore and mysticism and with earlier roots in rabbinic texts and near eastern mythology, would come into wide circulation in nineteenth century European art and literature. Her oriental ambience, occult cachet, and symbolic relevance for modernity’s anxious grappling with the nature and shifting … Continue reading Anatole France, “La Fille de Lilith” (1889)

Guy Gavriel Kay’s All the Seas of the World

Three years ago, the Jewish Review of Books published my essay on the work of fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay. I discussed Kay’s early wrestling with the anxious influence of J. R. R. Tolkien, the intriguing ways Kay’s Jewish identity is both revealed and hidden in his novels, and the mode of historical fantasy he … Continue reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s All the Seas of the World

British Fantasy and the Jewish Question, pt. 4

JOAN AIKEN'S THE WHISPERING MOUNTAIN British fantasy’s ruminations on the exile and restoration of the Jews reach a whimsical, latter-day conclusion in Joan Aiken’s children’s novel The Whispering Mountain (1968). Set in a fantastical nineteenth-century Wales, the book is a prequel to Aiken’s series that takes place in an alternate-history Britain in which the Hanovers … Continue reading British Fantasy and the Jewish Question, pt. 4

British Fantasy and the Jewish Question, pt. 3: From Late Victorian Fantasy to Tolkien

At least one major Victorian fantasy writer, George MacDonald, was at times quite warm toward the Jews, and a landmark of British literary philosemitism, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, was published in 1876. Nevertheless, among the writers of late Victorian fantastic fiction, negative stereotypes of Jews outweigh positive representations, a trend that continued into the twentieth-century. … Continue reading British Fantasy and the Jewish Question, pt. 3: From Late Victorian Fantasy to Tolkien

Disraeli’s Jewish Fantasy Novel (British Fantasy and the Jewish Question, pt. 2)

In my last post I talked about Almamen, the protagonist of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1838 historical romance Leila, or the Seige of Granada. A fiery Jewish nationalist born in the wrong era, Almamen is a gifted political strategist, driven and charismatic. One suspects that there a bit of Benjamin Disraeli in Almamen. The future prime minister … Continue reading Disraeli’s Jewish Fantasy Novel (British Fantasy and the Jewish Question, pt. 2)

British Fantasy and the Jewish Question, pt. 1

Tolkien’s dwarves, as has often been pointed out, are based on the Jews. While the band that shows up at the home of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit has roots in northern European sources such as the Poetic Edda, Tolkien also gives Thorin Oakenshield and company a story of exile and a powerful yearning to … Continue reading British Fantasy and the Jewish Question, pt. 1

Diana Wynne Jones’s The Homeward Bounders and the Wandering Jew in Fantasy Literature

In Diana Wynne Jones’s 1981 children’s fantasy The Homeward Bounders, the 12 year old main character Jamie meets the Wandering Jew. A homeless man with filthy clothes and hair, he appears sprawled out in a city park. “His watery black eyes gleamed with a mad light,” we read, “and his nose stuck out from below … Continue reading Diana Wynne Jones’s The Homeward Bounders and the Wandering Jew in Fantasy Literature