Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
"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?"
This novel is a powerful reimagining of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, from Psyche's sister's point of view. For those who have never heard the original story, Psyche was the youngest daughter of a King. She was so beautiful that men revered her as a goddess and it therefore prevented any of them from seeking her hand in marriage. Psyche's father sought counsel on this matter with Apollo, who said she could hope for no husband and that she should be left and exposed on a mountain to a dragon. Venus, jealous of Psyche's beauty, intervened with her own plan of affliction. Venus' son, Cupid, was suppose to see this through, but he fell so in love with Psyche that he secretly saved her. He took Psyche to a palace and made her his own. In order to protect her, he hid his face/identity from Psyche. After much persuasion, Psyche was able to invite her two older sisters to the palace for a visit. Out of envy, her sisters persuaded her that her husband was full of malicious intent and that she must take a lamp to bed that night in order to see the monster that he truly was and stab him to death. As she shined the light upon his face, she hesitated, realizing her love for him, but a drop of oil from the lamp awoke him and he became angry and left her. She was then left to wander in despair, becoming a slave to Venus. This isn't of course where the myth ends, but it makes for a good backdrop to Lewis' retelling. (In case you are curious for more, Lewis offers a full explanation of the original myth within this gem of a book).
Out of all of Lewis' works of fiction, Till We Have Faces seems to be the least known. It is one of his later publications, and I personally believe it is the most poignant expression of all of his spiritual beliefs coming together in the form of a single story. I believe that just about any reader can form a familiar connection with the main character, Orual (Psyche's sister). There is a strong parallel between Orual's struggle with "the gods" and our own. Orual has to confront who she really is and the reality of the part that she has played in her own misery, and the misery of others. It is an eloquent story of redemption, shining with the most beautiful symbolism and imagery. This book contains all of Lewis' heart and wisdom, wrapped up in an epic tale of old.