Till We Have Faces

I would love to tell you I completely understand this book, and it’s the best book I’ve ever read by C.S. Lewis.

Alas, that would be a lie.

I think I need to read it again to fully grasp all that he was saying. Whether that’s due to gaps in my knowledge of Lewis’ theology, or Greek mythology, I’m not quite sure.

However, here is what I do know:

This novel is a retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche which was first found in Metamorphoses by Lucias Apuleius Platonicius (born 125 A.D.)

The setting is in Glome, a fictional pre-Christian city much like Greece. The people there worship Ungit; “she is a black stone without head or hands or face, and a very strong goddess.” (p.4)

Our heroine is Psyche’s ugly sister, Orual. They, along with their sister, Redival, are daughters of the King of Glome. Orual is as terribly ugly as Psyche is beautiful. She consequently wears a veil to hide her face from all who might look upon her.

Orual is so emotionally close to Psyche that she cannot bear it when lots are thrown, and it is determined that Psyche has been chosen as the sacrifice to Ungit. When she goes to find Psyche, even if its only her remains, Orual discovers that Psyche was rescued by a god and lives with him in a great palace enjoying utter comfort and peace. Because Orual can see neither the god nor the palace herself, she doesn’t believe in their existence. In fact, Orual believes that Psyche has gone partly mad and will suffer to her death without shelter or food.

She coerces Psyche to light a lamp and look upon this god, to determine if he is real and good, even though Psyche has been given strict instructions never to do so. Psyche, against her wishes, does what her sister asks and is made into an exile from the wonderful life she had been given.

Orual, realizing that her own unbelief has caused terrible consequences for her sister, lives a life of shame because she is to be blamed for Psyche’s demise. Not until the end of the novel does she see how Psyche has truly fared. The rest of Orual’s life is spent in great mourning; not only is she incredibly lonesome for her sister, and guilty that she’s become an outcast, but Orual is accused of jealousy toward Psyche when she intended only to help to her.

So, perhaps one of the morals of the story lies in “the best intentions of man…” Certainly there is a lesson for the Christian not to let unbelievers stand in the way of faith.

But, I’m sure there’s more than that, if only I could fully grasp what Lewis wanted to convey. Maybe I’ll ask him if I ever see him face to face.

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16 thoughts on “Till We Have Faces”

  1. I like the sound of this one, I love re-tellings of fairy tales and myths. Perhaps it is also referring to that part in the bible where the man tries to remove a splinter from someone elses eye and Jesus tells him to look to his own troubles before taking on that of others? Thanks for the review, I have been wanting to try some more CS Lewis but didn't want to read too much of his christian stuff.

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  2. Rhinoa, this would be a good one for youu (especially if you love fairy tales and myths). I'm sure that if you read it, you could shed more light on it for me with that background knowledge. I'm coming at it with more Biblical understanding than mythological, which I think is part of the reason I don't fully get it. I find C.S. Lewis such a powerful author; like Madeleine L'Engle he is able to address faith as well as STORY.

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  3. I have read some of C.S. Lewis' nonfiction and can attest to the fact that he can be difficult to understand at times, and yet the rewards of taking the time, rereading if necessary, are well worthwhile. This one does indeed sound intersting. I honestly don't recall ever even hearing about it. As much as I have enjoyed Tolkien's work and the evaluation of his thoughts on mythology, etc. I really should delve into more of Lewis' stuff as well. Intriguing review!

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  4. Andi, this is one of those instances when having read this book for a class would be beneficial; I find myself looking for discussion from others in order to clarify my ideas.Carl, it's true: Lewis readers seem to be more familiar with Narnia, or Mere Christianity, or Surprised by Joy, or The Four Loves. My personal favorite happens to be The Screwtape Letters, in which Satan gives lessons on how to discourage the people. It's so piercing to me! I think, that with you background knowledge, you would have a clear understanding of this work should you choose to read it. Might I add that I'm really enjoying this challenge? Much more than the first one, even. You may just turn me into a fantasy fan afterall.

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  5. I think this myth is one of my favorite and it actually plays with one of the ideas thgat trouble humans most. If something is just too good to be true, is it really true or is itr some kind of deception. This thesis kind of relies on the one with belief, because one has to believe and not show suspicion. Nice book.

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  6. Daydream! Eureka! You lifted the veil with one sentence: "If something is just too good to be true is it real or deception?" That's just what Lewis was writing about at its core, thank you.

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  7. I am always willing to help. It was a random thought that came out, while thinking for something else to say. I love myths! They speak to the primal in the human nature, all fears and insecurities, which we hid deep down. So exciting.

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  8. Interesting–I was just asking Nymeth for other versions of the Psyche/Cupid myth. I have read very very little of CS Lewis, but I'm guessing this probably isn't the place to start.

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  9. Actually, Trish, I think this would be a good place to start especially if you're already a bit familiar with the Pscyhe Cupid myth. Daydream hit the nail on the head, so to speak, when he said, "If something is just too good to be true, is it really true or is it some kind of deception?" That's the book, which really circles around the issue of faith, in a nutshell. I think you'd like it as it certainly is food for thought.

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  10. Well then, I'm going to put it on my list! I've really wanted to read The Chronicles of Narnia, but I just haven't been able to fit them in (well, and I want a nice set to keep and don't want to spend the money right now).

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  11. My Narnia set is just a set of paperbacks from Scholastic. My mother bought me the hard covers when I was a child, but they're very tattered, and I'm afraid of ruining them. I've seen a copy at Costco which is all of the books put together into one big thick one. That would be convenient!

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  12. I've seen one like that as well–actually I think my brother has a copy (with the lion on the cover). I may just borrow his copy sooner or later. I've also been interested in his Mere Christianity–have you read that?

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  13. Mere Christianity is probably his most famous nonfiction book. I've read it, and find it wonderful: for the non-Christian, it gives the reasons for faith; for the Christian it is reaffirming. It's a short and fairly easy read. I'd definitely pick it up, no matter from which position you come. (Lewis was a nonbeliever, until his 'research' convinced him otherwise, so his thoughts are quite compelling.)

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  14. An illuminating verse from my Bible reading yesterday:"But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with UNVEILED FACES all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."2 Corinthians 3: 16-18Footnoted in my Life Application Bible it says, "When anyone becomes a Christian, Christ removes the veil, giving eternal life and freedom fron trying to be saved by keeping laws. And without the veil, we can be like mirrors reflecting God's glory." Amen.

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