Till We Have Faces (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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Till We Have Faces
C.S. Lewis, 1956
313 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
June 2007
Dismissed by critics at first, Till We Have Faces is now thought by some to be one of Lewis’s most profound works. Certainly it is mysterious, complex, and imaginative—and on any level a wonderful read.

Faces is a retelling of the ancient myth of Psyche and Eros. If you’re unfamiliar with the original story, get hold of Edith Hamilton’s classic Mythology (a book you might want for your personal library). But here’s a stripped down version:

Psyche’s extraordinary beauty angers the jealous gods, who demand that she be sacrificed on a mountain top. Eros (Cupid) falls in love with her, rescues, and builds her a palace. Eventually, Psyche’s jealous sisters find her and convince her to disobey Eros. Psyche does so, is abandoned by Eros, and wanders the earth, weeping, in search of redemption. And that's only the first part of the myth.

Lewis's story is re-imagined and told from the point of view of one of Psyche’s sisters. Orual stands in stark contrast to Psyche: so disfigured that she veils her face. Orual writes her story as an accusation against the gods, whom she accuses of raining down misery on a feckless human race. Her argument is called theodicy, a branch of theology that asks the ageless question, why do bad things happen to good people?

The work has stunning implications, both theologically and psychologically. The symbol of covering one's face is to deny the true self, but it might be best to use Lewis’s own words:

How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces? The idea was that a human being must become real before it can expect to receive any message from the superhuman; that is, it must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask, veil, or personae.             —CS Lewis in a letter to Dorothea Conybeare

This is a rich, fable-like work: easily readable yet surprisingly deep. Include it on your list of "must reads." It should generate considerable discussion for any book club.

 

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