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
talk about the 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? (Till We Have Faces)
Most people are familiar with C. S. Lewis' famous books, The Chronicles of Narnia. If they haven't read the books, they may have seen the movies, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Prince Caspian.
Others may have read his Science Fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.
If you haven't read those books, I can't recommend
them enough. Especially if you're an adult and a huge fan of science
fiction, I recommend Lewis' Space Trilogy. I have friends who prefer it
over his Narnia Chronicles.
This review, however, is about a lessor known work of
Lewis. It is a retelling of the Greek myth, Psyche and Cupid. When I
was a young teenager, this was probably my favorite Greek myth because
it was so romantic. For those unfamiliar with the story here it is
Psyche is a young woman, the youngest of three
daughters. All the daughters are beautiful, but Psyche is the most
beautiful. In fact she is so breathtaking that men start to worship her
and neglect the alters of Aphrodite. Aphrodite notices this and
determines to destroy Psyche. She sends her son Cupid to earth to cause
her to fall in love with a hideous monster who presumedly will eat
Cupid comes to earth and enters Psyche's room. When
he sees her, he falls deeply in love with her and instead of doing what
his mother tells him to, he takes her away to a palace where he keeps
her as his wife.
The catch is that for the time being, he only comes to
her in secret at night. She may not see who he is and has to have
faith that he is truly a beloved husband that loves her.
Psyche is OK with this until her sisters come to
visit. They persuade Psyche that her husband is really a horrible
monster that is planning on eating her. They convince her that her only
hope is to kill him in his sleep.
Psyche determines to do this, but when she lights a
candle in order to see, she realizes that her husband is not a hideous
monster but the manifestation of love itself, Cupid. Cupid wakes to see
Psyche looking at him, holding a knife and departs. His parting words
are, "Love cannot exist without faith."
Lewis takes this theme but turns it into a metaphor
for something real and greater: an eternal love story between God and
The story is told through the eyes of a woman, now
old, named Orual. She wants her side of the story told because she
believes that she is unfairly accused of what transpired between her and
her younger sister, Psyche.
Psyche and Orual are the daughters of a ruler of a
pagan land, contemporary with the ancient Greeks. They worship a
goddess, Ungit. Due to their father's inept ruling and drought, it is
decided that Ungit wants a sacrifice. Only the most beautiful and pure
of heart will qualify. Orual is disqualified because she is considered
too ugly. In fact, her father thinks her so ugly that she takes to
wearing a veil across her face for the rest of her life.
Psyche on the other hand, is very beautiful. Not only
is she lovely to look at, but she is kind and compassionate as well.
She willingly goes as a sacrifice out of a sincere desire to help the
people of her country.
For many days after Psyche is left alone on a
mountain, Orual is sick and bedridden. When she is able to get up, she
rushes to the mountainside where Psyche was left. When she arrives, she
is surprised and delighted to discover that Psyche is alive and well,
living on the mountain.
When Orual questions Psyche about how she is able to
survive by herself on a desolate mountain, Psyche informs her that she
is not alone. She is married to the God of the mountain. Orual demands
to see her palace. Psyche tells her they are standing in front of it.
Orual sees nothing but mountain and trees and decides that Psyche is
A hot debate ensues between Psyche and Orual ending
with Orual demanding to know what the God of the Mountain looks like.
Psyche admits that she is forbidden to look at him. Orual uses this
piece of information to wedge a chink of doubt into Psyche's heart.
Orual wants Psyche to return with her so they can
continue to live as sisters. She begs and cajoles Psyche proclaiming
her great love for her and that she is living a lie and a delusion.
There is no God of the mountain, and she is really living with a monster
who is biding his time to kill her. Why a monster who would have
nothing to lose would take so long and take such good care of his
supposed victim, Orual refuses to explain.
Finally, to prove her sincerity and ardor, Orual
takes her knife and thrusts it through her own arm. This so shocks
Psyche that she agrees to Orual's demands. Namely, to take a candle and
look upon her husband to see if he is really a monster or not.
Pysche disappears to fulfill this. In a moment, Orual
hears a heart rending scream. Not of someone who has seen a monster,
but of someone who realizes they have lost the most precious thing in
the world to them.
For a brief moment, Orual looks up to see a huge
palace and Psyche walking away, her hands covering her face, sobbing.
Then she sees a man walking up to her. He informs her that "Psyche goes
into exile" and that Orual "shall know herself and her work" and "also
shall be Psyche".
Orual interprets this to mean that she will share in
Psyche's punishment. She returns home, and shortly after, on her
father's death, becomes ruler of the country.
Unlike her father, she proves herself to be an able,
just and wise ruler and her country soon prospers. But she lives a
lonely life, always covered with her veil because of her ugliness.
Interestingly, many of the women she knew as a youth,
she realizes that after they married and had children, they no longer
stayed beautiful but their husbands still were devoted to them. She
slowly comes to realize that she allowed her father's cruel words to
determine her own value and self-perception.
In her old age, Orual comes across a shrine in a
forest dedicated to the worship of Psyche. She listens to the priest
tell the story and realizes that she, Orual, is presented as the
villain. She explains that is why she has written her narrative. So
she can be vindicated.
But something happens as she writes the story. She
begins to see what she really did and the final part of the book ends
with Oraul accusing the God but suddenly realizing what she actually
stole [Psyche] to make her happy, did you? Why, every wheedling,
smiling, catfooted rogue who lures away another man's wife or slave or
dog might say the same. Dog, now. That's very much to the purpose. I'll
thank you to let me feed my own; it needed no titbits from your table.
Did you ever remember whose the girl was? She was mine. Mine." (292;
Part II, Ch.3).
And that is the
crux right there. Finally Orual admits to herself that she was angry
with the God of the mountain for taking what she believed was hers.
That it cost Psyche her husband, her happiness, her life, mattered not
at all. She wanted Psyche back because she believed that Psyche
belonged to her.
As she confesses
her selfish motives a dawning revelation shatters everything she thought
she knew and made her bitter. Psyche never belonged to her. She
belonged to the God of the mountain. She always belonged to Him. She
stole that which belonged to Someone else.
And not only
that, Orual also belonged to Him. When she finally gives up her selfish
rebellion against him, she has a vision where Psyche returns to greet
her at a river. She looks into the river and sees that she, too, is as
beautiful as Psyche. She also is the bride of God.
The metaphor is
that the original goddess, Ungit, is man rebelling against their true
God. Instead of having a relationship that is so deep and personal that
it is compared to marriage with Him, they choose instead to worship and
enslave themselves to something that is not real. Their sinful nature
makes horrible barbaric demands on themselves and others that they
attribute to the goddess.
The writing of Till We Have Faces
is in the formal, grave manner of ancient Greek stories. The text is
pure Lewis with all the perspicuity, charm and wit that all his stories
contain. One will need to read the original myth first, I think, and
also understand the scripture:
For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. Isaiah 54:5
us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the
Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her
to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen
is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write
this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the
Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God." Revelation 19:7-9
Till We Have Faces is the last book C.S. Lewis wrote. His inspiration was his wife, Joy Davidman, to whom he dedicated the novel.
$8.52 on Kindle:
Heroic Orual and the tasks of Psyche
Bride of Christ scripture
C.S. Lewis and the numinous of relationships