Ron’s #52: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

The story begins with this excellent opener: “I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.  I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me.  My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please.  The succession is provided for.  My crown passes to my nephew.”

I decided on this novel as my final book of 2011 after reading Mere Christianity. I love Lewis’s writing style, and I wanted to finally read this. This book is one that I’ve owed for some time. I bought this on my birthday in 1997. I know this because I still have the receipt in the book for a bookmark. I’ve started Till We Have Faces many times, but never getting beyond a chapter or two. I was frightened away by the subtitle—“A Myth Retold.” This is a version of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. If you are like me, you know little of that story. I kept telling myself that I’ll learn the myth before reading the Lewis version. I never did the first so I never got to the second. I grew tired of avoiding it, so I wanted to read it. To hell with the Psyche story (there’s a bit of a joke in that…)!

This is Lewis’s most challenging work; it is the one that he stated was his favorite, one that he has mentally worked on for years. It tells the story of Queen Oruel, her beautiful sister Psyche, and their beloved Greek tutor know as the Fox. Psyche is sacrificed to the god Ungit (Aphrodite), where she becomes more real and alive. Oruel, unwilling to believe that she is happy with her amorphous husband, challenges and defies the gods.

The novel is filled with dualities. Orule is ugly while Psyche is beautiful; Fox is rational, and the King is romantic; Lord Bardia has two “lovers”; the world is divided with Gnome and the Grey Mountains; Oruel fights to stay alive and not consumed by herself as the queen. There are even two books in this.

I wish that I could report that an understanding of Cupid and Psyche is not needed to fully enjoy this novel, but that is not true. While I did enjoy the story and the writing, I often felt like I was missing a greater portion of the tale because of my ignorance. However, readers can still find great value in reading this novel because Lewis is so vivid and clear in his style.

In addressing how insignificant our lives are next to the gods, Oruel adds this comment that I have been thinking about since yesterday:

(On the death of her father) “Yet I have often noticed since how much less stir nearly everyone’s death makes than you might expect. Men better loved and more worth loving than my father go down making only a small eddy” (214).

Till We Have Faces was a challenging end-of-the-year read, and I was glad to end with this work. If you have read it and can offer insight into the ending, I’m all ears.

About Ron 173 Articles
I teach English and government in Okinawa, Japan. I love reading theology and fiction, and my52books.com helps keep me accountable. Reading with three kids under 5 is a bit of a challenge, but I keep trying to find ways to read more. My favorites writers are C. S. Lewis, Flannery O’ Connor, and Raymond Carver.

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