C. S. LEWIS: Till We Have Faces

For today’s “C” post, I was asked to talk about one of my favorite authors: C.S. Lewis. Though he is most widely known either for his children’s series “The Chronicles of Narnia” or for his theological masterpieces like “Mere Christianity,” there is one work of his which often goes unnoticed.

Till We Have Faces is up there in my top favorite books of all time. I read it in high school for summer reading, and then became very well acquainted with it in college, when I used it as one of my 3 pieces of literature I was supposed to focus on in my final senior paper. This is one of those books that I grow to love even more every time I read it. I love it so much that I inflicted it upon allowed my high school students the pleasure of studying it during my years as an English teacher.

The book is a re-telling of the Greek myth surrounding Cupid and Psyche. If you are unfamiliar with the myth, and curious, you can read a good version of it here.

A short summary of the myth: a king and queen had three daughters. The youngest, Psyche, was so beautiful that the people began to neglect worshipping Venus. Venus got upset and put a curse on Psyche. She was taken up to the mountain and left there to be wed to a monster, but the West Wind (Cupid) rescued her and married her instead. His only requirement was that she never look on his face. One day, her sisters find her and, upon seeing her grand palace, being served by her invisible servants, and eating at her table, are consumed with jealousy. They convince their sister she is married to a hideous beast and get her to agree to look upon his face as he sleeps. When she does, she sees that his is the most beautiful face on earth. She is cast out, and in desperation she seeks out Venus, where she is required to complete a series of impossible tasks, all of which she manages to accomplish. When Cupid finds out what she has done to regain his trust and love, he gets Jupiter to put a stop to Venus’ cruelty. Psyche is made into a goddess and she and Cupid live happily ever after.

In Lewis’ version, the story is presented by one of Psyche’s older sisters: Orual. The book is Orual’s complaint against the gods. She believes that the gods have mistreated her. The narrative is her demand for reparations she believes she deserves. As she makes her complaint, however, she is also forced to listen to her own words, which eventually reveal the true depths of her own flawed perspective. This faulty understanding of truth stems from several incorrect assumptions that Orual has made about what it means to love another person.

This story is masterfully crafted. It deviates from the myth in many places, while still retaining the key components of the story. The moral that the story centers around is the idea that selfless love for one another is vitally important and that its lack can lead to great suffering. Lewis seems to be saying that in life, it is not simply the perpetrator who must suffer the consequences of wrong actions; oftentimes it is the innocent who suffer the most from the wrong-doing of others. This story illustrates that it is not enough to merely have good intentions: one must actually do good in order to truly demonstrate love. Good intentions without the balance of selflessness and true charity only lead to pain.

I could go on and on. I wrote a 20-page paper on this book, and felt that I had pages of text I could have added. But suffice to say, I absolutely love this book. It has a little bit of everything: fantasy, mythology, battles, unrequited love, betrayal, friendship, sword fights, true love… and redemption, a theme I am especially fond of. I would love to see a movie version of this book.

If you haven’t read this gem, I recommend you run out to your nearest library or book store right now and pick up a copy to read. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

How about you? What’s your favorite C.S. Lewis book?

~ jenelle

10 Comments

Connie Keller

I started Till We Have Faces once, but life intervened and I never finished it. I’ll have to re-read it. My favorite CS Lewis book is The Horse and His Boy.

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Kaycee

This book sounds super cool! I’d never heard of it before. I am definitely going to try and read it over the summer. I’ve always liked “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” but I am also enjoying “Mere Christianity.”

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jenelle

I never can pick a favorite from the Chronicles of Narnia… it changes often because I love them all so very much. My most consistent favorite is probably The Silver Chair… because I just love Puddleglum! :)

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Wendy

I’ve never heard that myth before, and I love it! Now I am going to find the C.S. Lewis version and read it immediately!

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Botanist

I confess to being rather ignorant of C.S.Lewis, other than Narnia. Thanks for opening my eyes. Also glad it was a happy ending for Psyche :)

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lillian888

I’ve read a number of Lewis’ books, including The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce, but I had not heard of this one. Thank you! I’ll be getting a copy ASAP! (A to Z!)

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DJ Edwardson (@djedwardson)

This is certainly Lewis’ highest achievement in fiction in my opinion. It is also one of the greatest novels I have ever read by any author. I would say that it ranks just below Perelandra as my favorite Lewis book and the only reason Perelandra ranks higher is because of the setting Lewis created for that book and the fact that the truths there are more accessible. But that is not to take away anything from Til We Have Faces, a masterpiece by any definition of the word.

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