Till We Have Faces
A Myth RetoldBook - 1980
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.
" Till We Have Faces succeeds in presenting with imaginative directness what its author has described elsewhere as 'the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live' . . . [It] deepens for adults that sense of wonder and strange truth which delights children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , Prince Caspian , and other legends of Narnia." -- New York Times
"The most significant and triumphant work that Lewis has . . . produced." -- New York Herald Tribune
From Library Staff
JCLBetM Aug 27, 2018
Lewis's retelling of the Psyche myth, I think I first read this in college and it messed with my head a bit. The tone is much darker than his other works and doesn’t have as clear a sign of hope, either. But it is one of the best books I’ve read. And there’s a scene in the middle that is the best... Read More »
From the critics
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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? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words. Long did I hate you, long did I fear you. I might—
- Page 351
There must, whether the gods see it or not, be something great in the mortal soul. For suffering, it seems, is infinite, and our capacity without limit.
- Page 315
"Don't you think the things people are most ashamed of are the things they can't help?" - Psyche
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 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?
The Divine Nature wounds and perhaps destroys us merely by being what it is.
“No, no, no,” she said. “You don’t understand. 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 colour and the smell, and looking across 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. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche, come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home.”
Violence: There is some hand-to-hand combat, and medieval weapons such as swords, spears, daggers, and the like. There are a few injuries, some leading to death. Nothing is described graphically.
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SummaryAdd a Summary
The princess Orual is a girl known to be ugly and despised for it all her childhood. Her two younger sisters, Redival and Psyche, are very different in nature, the former being cruel, lustful, and vain and the latter being charming, polite, and gentle. But Psyche is chained on a mountain as a sacrifice to prevent the goddess Ungit from releasing her wrath on Glome. When Orual goes to collect her sister’s bones, she finds Psyche alive but wedded to an unknown god who saved her. Orual cannot see the palace nor taste the food that Psyche claims to have, and Psyche refuses to return to Glome. Orual devises a reckless plan that eventually sends Pysche into exile. Years pass, the king of Glome dies, Orual becomes queen, and the years pass even more. She brings success to Glome and her power grows—just as her despair, guilt, and grief grow. When she is old Orual receives a series of visions of Psyche, the gods, her father, her friend the Fox, and more. And finally, Orual sees the truth.