(The Inklings Series is a monthly series featuring the works of my two favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or books about them. But I don’t want it to be just me chatting about these books, so that’s where y’all come in! I’ll announce the book at least four weeks in advance of when the discussion post will go live, so you have plenty of time to get the book and read it. Then, the following month, I’ll post a discussion post and let the fun begin!!)
Today is discussion day! Woot! We’re discussing C.S. Lewis’ last work, Till We Have Faces. He considered this his most mature work (a.k.a. favorite) and it was also written with his wife, Joy. Plus, I have always enjoyed Greek history (and the mythology that comes with it), so I have definitely been looking forward to Lewis’ retelling of Cupid and Psyche’s story.
Haunted by the myth of Cupid and Psyche throughout his life, C.S. Lewis wrote this, his last, extraordinary novel, to retell their story through the gaze of Psyche’s sister, Orual. Disfigured and embittered, Orual loves her younger sister to a fault and suffers deeply when she is sent away to Cupid, the God of the Mountain. Psyche is forbidden to look upon the god’s face, but is persuaded by her sister to do so; she is banished for her betrayal. Orual is left alone to grow in power but never in love, to wonder at the silence of the gods. Only at the end of her life, in visions of her lost beloved sister, will she hear an answer.
One of my first thoughts after finishing this book was how true it is that all of us long to love and be loved in return (and not just in the romantic Moulin Rouge sense). Both Orual and Psyche love fiercely and this tale is one of self-discovery and that love. The way Lewis chose to revise the story reminded me of Disney’s Cinderella vs. the movie Ever After. Did anyone else think that? Where in the original, both step sisters are terrible, but in a retold version one sister is good. Random, I know, but I may have just watched Ever After.
I thought the story worked incredibly well from Orual’s point of view.
“You, who read my book, judge.”
One thing she didn’t lack was honesty. She was always true to what she thought, did and why. In the second half, she is willing to admit her earlier faults and be the better person for it.
“Today I shall meet cruel men, cowards and liars, the envious and the drunken. They will be like that because they do not know what is good from what is bad.”
Plus, as always, I love the characters Lewis creates.
The King: Simply put: was a jerk. Why you ask? Well, he said this to his daughter: “And you goblin daughter…if you with that face can’t frighten the men away, it’s a wonder.” Then, when he heard about the sacrifice due, after finding out it wouldn’t be required of him, had this happen:
“What?” said the King. (And this is the greatest shame I have to tell of in my whole life) his face cleared. He was only a hair’s breadth from smiling. I had thought that he had seen the arrow pointed at Psyche all along, had been afraid for her, fighting for her. He had not thought of her at all, nor any of us.” Pg 55
So yeah, he was a fan of himself.
I loved Fox.
“I’d lose not only my throne but my life to save the Princess, of I were a King and a father.”
Such a feisty old man, yet fiercely loyal to those he loved. I think he’s character represents a lot of people in the world. Refusing to believe while alive, only to discover things that were true when you are dead (in this case the gods). It reminded me of the story in Luke 16, of the the Rich Man and Lazarus, where the Rich Man only discovered the truth after he died.
I was a big fan of Bardia too. He was the friend Orual needed, although it makes me sad that she loved him and for several reasons, that love couldn’t be returned the way she longed for. But it was the love of a true friend and he was faithful to the end (although according to his wife, maybe too faithful).
This leads me to Orual: don’t mess!
Here’s how Bardia described her: “Why, yes, it’s a pity about her face. But she’s a brave girl and honest. If a man was blind and she weren’t the King’s daughter she make him a good wife.”
While she didn’t follow through with this, this quote was drop this mic style to her selfish sister: “I put my face close up to hers and said very low but distinctly, “Redival, if there is one single hour when I am queen of Glome, or even mistress of this house, I’ll hang you by the thumbs at a slow fire till you die.”
While some of her actions may come into question (think almost killing herself to make a point to Psyche), it was always based in love. Much different from the jealous character of the original tale. It’s interesting to see her character in the second half, from finding part of Ungit in herself, to the discovery and trial of all things with Psyche (and even becoming her). With each new “task” you see her develop more and more, taking on the role of a good Queen who earned respect from her subjects and surrounding kingdom. I enjoyed Lewis’ use of the veil as well. It gave her strength she didn’t have before.
Alright, here’s some more questions I’d love to have your thoughts on!
- Which part did you prefer? The second half was a bit harder to read. While I enjoyed it, it wasn’t as clear as to what was happening, mainly when it came to Psyche (I had to make sure I understood all that happened, since I didn’t expect that). But I enjoyed her accusation against the gods – in that she realizes her true reason for being angry and why she is finally able to come before them (“They cannot meet us face to face, until we have faces”).
- While this is a myth, did you see any themes in Christianity? (Lewis started this when he was an atheist, but finished after his conversion).
- Who was your favorite character?
I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes:
“Not that kind of longing. It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine… Where you couldn’t see Glome or the palace. Do you remember? The color and the smell, and looking across at the Grey mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it… I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind were flying home.”
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and thanks for joining in! In case you missed our book for August, check out what we’re reading next!