Wednesday, March 07, 2007

book review: Till We Have Faces

This semester at LSU, I'm taking a course called C. S. Lewis and the 20th Century Oxford Christian Scholars. While taking it wasn't exactly a paramount decision, it is easiliy one of the best ones I've ever made. The reading has been pretty varied so far: essays by Austin Farrer, Tolkien's On Fairie Stories, some Dorothy Sayers, selections from Charles Williams's theology and Lewis's Miracles, and then into fiction. Fiction of course included a bit of the Narnian Chronicles(The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and The Magician's Nephew), and now we're at Lewis's favorite of his fiction, Till We Have Faces.
Wow that's a lot of reading... and plenty more to go. But I wanted to focus here on Till We Have Faces.

The novel is a retelling of the Greek myth of Psyche and Cupid. The central character in Lewis's version, however, is one of the sisters of Psyche, Orual, hardly a central character in the original myth. The novel's also divided into two books: Book I's the first 25-odd chapters, the story of Orual's life and her complaint against the gods who have wronged her, while Book II, the last 4 chapters, is, I suppose you could say, the response of the gods(almost like in the Book of Job).
While love is a major theme(ringing of The Four Loves), the real central theme in the novel is that of identity, with a lot of emphasis on Orual's face and her wearing of a veil or going bareface at different points and on her identifying herself only in relation to others(generally, the beautiful Psyche).
Without giving anything away, let's just say that the god's response to Orual's complaint in Book II very poignantly and beautifully brings together the story Orual tells in Book I, the myth of Psyche, and the truth about where one's identity is actually found(a truth very reminiscent of the sermons of George MacDonald).
While Book I is certainly not lacking for entertainment value, Book II offers infinitely more in the way of brilliant... well, theology. I'm hardly a book reviewer, but I couldn't not write something on all this. I'd definitely recommend the read for any fans of Lewis or mythology or to anyone who appreciates the works of the Inklings and the depth of the truths that they ardently weave into the work.
-N

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