Friday, February 20, 2015

A Review of Till We Have Faces

I have always had a love for Greek mythology. I also love the apologetic of C.S. Lewis. So when I found out that C.S. Lewis had done a retelling of Cupid and Psyche, I immediately put it on my Christmas list. 

I got around to reading it in January and now I shall review it in February. Having had time to think over this story, it just appears even better.

Orual is the main character in this story, and she is the older half sister and mother figure of Psyche. The story is written from the first person point of view of Orual, and she is writing in her old age a book accusing the gods. 

The idea of a book's sole purpose being to accuse the gods seemed gutsy and unusual and pulled me in at once. The ancient atmosphere of Glome and the far off echoes of ancient Greece brought by the Greek teacher and father figure "Fox" fascinated me and brought back the old myths.

This book is more than just a creative retelling of Cupid and Psyche, though. It is the stark showing of the flaws and self deception of human nature. It shows the sin and harm of possessive love. Deftly weaving the story so that Orual's faults and self deceptions shine through, while still allowing the reader to feel sympathy and understanding with the character, Lewis takes us through the reimagined tale of Cupid and Psyche from the POV of a loving sister who is hurt and confused by Psyche's presumed death; then she is hurt and "concerned" when she travels to bury Psyche, only to find her lovely sister alive and well, speaking of a wonderful husband and a palace Orual cannot see.

Feeling cut off and separated from her sister's new life, Orual seeks council from wise and good friends. Both feel that Psyche is married not to a wonderful husband, but to some despicable being. Orual allows this belief to be her excuse for forcing Psyche to question her new life and disobey her husband's one wish....

You know the rest. Psyche looks upon her husband when he is sleeping to find him to be a beautiful god. Unable to look away, Psyche gazes in awe on his beautiful face, when some hot oil from her lamp wakes him. He flees and sends Psyche away to wander and wail. 

He appears to Orual and curses her for her part in Pysche's betrayal. "Now Psyche goes out in exile. Now she must hunger and thirst and tread hard roads. Those against whom I cannot fight must do their will upon her. You, woman, shall know yourself and your work. You also shall be Psyche" (173-174). 

Orual becomes Queen of Glome when her father dies. Though a marvelous Queen, she is cold. "I am the Queen; I'll kill Orual too" (225). "I locked Orual up or laid her asleep as best I could somewhere deep down inside me; she lay curled there. It was like being with child, but reversed; the thing I carried in me grew slowly smaller and less alive" (226). 

At the end of her accusations and small tales of life as Queen, Orual ends the first part of the novel: "It may well be that, instad of answering, they'll strike me mad or leprous or turn me into beast, bird, or tree. But will not all the world then know (and the gods will know it knows) that this is because they have no answer?" (250). A very strong accusation to make against the gods, don't you think?

So by then I had to know what went on in part two, Did Orual get her answer from the gods? Does she see Psyche again? Does she ever realize her self deception and selfish, possessive love of Psyche?

The second part goes on to tell of how the very writing out of the past and accusations forced Orual to truthfully tell of the past and her old thoughts and passions. Then happenings from the present showed Orual the past in a new light. Finally, Orual has "dreams," if such they can be called, where finally she learns the truth of the matter.

"...the change which writing wrought in me (and of which I did not write) was only a beginning- only to prepare me for the gods' surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound" ( 253-254). 

"And now those divine Surgeons had me tied down and were at work. My anger protected me only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in" (266).

 "A love like that can grow to be nine-tenths hatred and still call itself love" (266). 

"'Do not do it,' said the god. 'You cannot escape Ungit by going to the deadlands, for she is there also. Die before you die. There is no change after'" (279). 

"I could mend my soul no more than my face. Unless the gods helped" (282). 

And, finally, in you are not already gorged with quotes, here is what I think is the best: "The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean.... When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not speak about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?" (294).  

Finally, C.S. Lewis ends with Truth. "I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?" (308). 

So, what started as a review ended as a quote binge. But I hope you enjoyed the quotes as much as I did, and that they will spur you on to read the entirety of Till We Have Faces, because it is a unique story. And now I will leave you with a cozy little picture I found of C.S. Lewis. :) 

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