I had a very short lived (freelance) career as a publisher's reader. My task was to digest 'borderline' texts and suggest why they might be published. The reason for their borderline status usually related to the fact that though the content was potentially very interesting, the texts construction, feel and quality of writing left something to be desired. Would the triumph of the former win out over the latter's faults?

The imprint was, at that time, owned by Routledge, publishers of Jung, who was always my model in arguing for the publication of a fascinating, worthwhile text badly written. Sometimes world changing thinkers, not, I confess, that I discovered any of those alas, cannot write (or, in the words of the poet, Kathleen Raine, they are compelled writers rather than compulsive ones).

C.S. Lewis alludes to this dilemma in his foreword to George MacDonald's fantasy novel, 'Lilith'. MacDonald is not a great writer judged by the quality of his prose (or even more so by the quality of his poetry which is frankly dire). It veers from German Romantic excess (sometimes on steroids) to the prose of a seed catalogue; however, none of this matters in the least because (as Lewis acknowledges), you are in the presence of an imagination of precise and guiding force, squeezing itself into inadequate containers. He raises the level of the writing by conferring on the reader a gift of insight and enjoyment that simply transforms everything it touches (except possibly the irruptions of the dire poems)!

The story involves the journey of Mr Vane, an orphaned man of leisure, to discover his ability to die to his egotistical self and discover his true life, resting in Him who has fashioned him and of Lilith's, the evil princess, and Adam's first wife's, path to redemption. A path in which the actions of Mr Vane are critical if not always conscious to Mr Vane!

It is a book replete with striking set pieces and arresting images. Most notably in the latter an image of a Protestant purgatory where hallways of the sleeping dead dream themselves into new, redeemed life.

At the heart of MacDonald's vision is the truth of the white stone that in the Book of Revelation is given to each person on which is written their unique name, known only to God. Each person is called to die into the reality of that name, shedding his or her mortal confusions and being reborn into the unique personal self they were gifted by God to be. In the course of exploring this vision, MacDonald reminds us of many of the distorting pathways we might seek that lead us away from dying into life and offer only a living death, wrapped in often compelling images - such as the city presided over by Lilith where the people live only by extraction (of gems) and eschew all creation so that creation itself has withdrawn into itself, becoming dry and barren.

Like Tagore, he reminds his audience that we must keep alight the candle of our better selves, hoping and ultimately knowing that this will dispel the darkness, even if on the way we stumble and are temporarily lost.

He is a most wonderfully gifted and visionary 'bad' writer - all faults of sense and construction swept away by his imagined, precise enthusiasm and his knowledge of souls.


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