Why ‘Lilith’? A Project Introduction

by John Chamberlain,
John Chamberlain Design, York, U.K.

I first encountered George Macdonald’s writings as a teenager when searching for a new book to read. I found myself drawn to two of my dad’s old books on an unassuming, forgotten and un-dusted corner of a shelf which had not seen direct sunlight since the early 90s. One of these books was Phantastes (1858); the other was a collection of shorter pieces entitled The Gray Wolf and Other Stories (1862). I was soon hooked on these stories, enchanted by the spectral dread and the winter fog they brought to the hearthside.

Cover for the Eerdmans 1981 edition

Cover for the Eerdmans 1981 edition

A few short years later The Gray Wolf and Other Stories became a token piece on my university era bookshelf whilst studying at Edinburgh College of Art. I made the fatal error of deciding to illustrate the front cover of the aforementioned book for a course project which was embarrassingly critically panned by my tutors. Consequently, George Macdonald was not thought about for a long time after university.

Cover for the Eerdmans 1992 edition

Cover for the Eerdmans 1992 edition

But upon arriving back in my home turf of West Yorkshire, I befriended Stefan Smith who was studying and working in Leeds along with his girlfriend. Frequent weekends were spent watching the most terrible films and television documentaries at his flat, which were often the springboard to us inventing various ludicrous characters and stories. One of these characters that we invented was a deluded middle aged lion tamer called Nigel who had seen better days. We came up with the idea that we would make a simple animated series based on the character of Nigel. Eventually we thought we would make a soundtrack album to accompany the animations and to inspire us I created a youtube playlist which would enable us to create the perfect ‘Nigel’ sound. This idea soon developed into finding a silent film in the public domain and creating a soundtrack to it.

However, around June 2012, we settled on adapting George Macdonald’s Lilith (1895) into a music album. Stefan came up with the idea since I had lent him the book and it had inspired him enough to at least momentarily shelve all our previous ideas. We were however not very serious about this project and I remember it starting out very much as a joke. At different times, one of would lose interest in the project but would be goaded on by the other to continue.

We had plenty of thoughts for how the album would sound and look. We spent a great deal of time picking apart the novel and working out how to adapt it, whether as a faithful adaptation or using Lilith as a springboard to our own stories, ideas and lyrics. We have continually moved either closer to the novel or further away from it throughout this project. We mapped out each chapter on Stefan’s study wall and decided which chapter we wanted to tackle first and found ourselves merging chapters or eliminating certain chapters altogether. But the album itself will contain narrative extracts from Lilith and direct quotations from Lilith will be within the album notes, so whether the finished product is directly faithful or a fast and loose rendition of the original novel, we will definitely acknowledge George Macdonald as the original inspiration.

We have ambitious plans for the Lilith project, which we now conceive as an album entitled ‘LILITH!’ However, we have broken these down into smaller stages and plan to complete a demo E.P by early next year, which we hope will gather further support and interest as we continue to develop the LILITH! project.


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