Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces was one of the few book I hadn’t yet read by C.S. Lewis. Now, I wonder why I didn’t get around to it any sooner. In a nutshell, the book is an interesting twist on a classic Greek legend, and definitely worth the read. C.S. Lewis is at it again and he leaves this legend shaped with his particular touch.

The book retells the myth of Cupid and Psyche, set within the frame of a Ruritanian nation named Glome, which is somewhere near Greece. The king of Glome has three daughters, two of which share the stage as the primary characters: Psyche and Orual. Psyche is blessed with trascendent beauty; Orual’s face, however, is rough like that of a man. When Psyche is revealed to be the only person that can save the Kingdom of Glome from a terrible sickness, she sacrifices herself to the Hill God voluntarily. But is she really dead?

Though the plot of the book is on the surface a telling of the tale of Cupid and Psyche (Cupid playing the role of the “hill god”), and thus familiar to anyone who knows of that legend, the real meat of the book is Orual’s story. Told from first person, the book gives us an excellent glimpse into her thoughts. She begins to tell the story meaning to tell and unbiased version of the events, after being incensed at hearing a version of the tale which placed all of the blame on Psyche’s sisters (including Orual herself). But as later events in her life unfold, Orual begins to question whether what she has told is truly what happened.

The book is loosely divided into two parts – part one covers the events of the legend, and later, Orual’s later life and reign as Queen of Glome. Part two shows Orual as she discovers what really happened, and uncovers the truth around Psyche’s sacrifice. Along with this is a personal revelation of who she really is. And Orual herself may yet have a role to play in Psyche’s future. In a way, part two wraps everything up, and ties it in with the gods without seeming ‘deus ex machina.’

Any book with gods in it is tricky to review; especially one from the desk of an author such as C.S. Lewis. Nowhere is the real God named in this book, but He shines through the gods mentioned by Lewis. This, hwoever, drags us dangerously to the ‘all religions lead to heaven’ fallacy. Overall, working within the context of a myth, Lewis’ treatment of multiple gods is well-handled, though it’s a subject you may want to dig into a little deeper before forming opinions.

But if the book is read with the understanding that the gods, as any other characters, can reflect good attributes, you are well on your way to digging deep into this book. There are lesssons to be learned from the gods in the book, just as there are from Orual, Psyche, Redival, the Fox, the king, and the others in the book.

Till We Have Faces is an excellent book, and a classic for sure. It’s a very new take on Greek mythology, and the exciting inner journey of a character in a first-person novel is masterfully written. This book is another C.S. Lewis classic that you would do well to pick up and read soon.

2 replies on “Till We Have Faces”

Andrew, you should re-visit this book in a decade or two. What one sees in it changes, with time.

My last time through the story, I got the strong feeling that there was only ever one sister … that’s all I’ll say – I’ll leave the rest for your future self.

– old aggie

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