Monday, February 3, 2020

"Till We Have Faces" by C. S. Lewis

I had really zero idea what this book was going to be about because I don't know the story of Psyche and Cupid, so people telling me "it's a retelling of the story of Psyche and Cupid" didn't really mean anything to me.

Anyway, I'm soooo glad Olivia hosted a read-along for this because it's not a Lewis book I had any real interest in reading, so I probably would have gone YEARS before getting around to it.  But I dug it very much indeed.  Thank you, Olivia.

It's hard for me to explain what this book is even about.  On its surface, it's about a king's ugly daughter, Orual, who is fiercely possessive and protective of her younger half-sister, Psyche, who is even more beautiful than Orual is ugly.  They live in an ancient kingdom in the Middle East-ish sort of area, I guess?  And their father is a tyrant, they have a sister who's a fool, and they have a Greek slave called The Fox for a tutor.  

The Fox teaches them all sorts of fairly athiestic philosophy.  Their own culture worships a rock-goddess and believes in many deities.  But Orual basically worships her sister.  Until she loses her.  And gets freaked out by what she finds when she goes looking for her sister.

Basically, the whole thing is all about what it's like to be an unbeliever who loves a person who becomes a believer.  How left out you would feel, then how rejected, how angry, how confused.  How betrayed and bewildered.  Orual cannot accept or believe what happened to Psyche, and her unbelief drives her to desperation.  It's masterfully told, of course, and I think that when I re-read it, I'll enjoy it even more because it wasn't until the very end that I finally got what Lewis was saying about unbelief and belief, so I spent most of the book going, "Um, wait, what?"


Particularly Good Bits:

The days were endless.  The very shadows seemed nailed to the ground as if the sun no longer moved (p. 102).

I was with book, as a woman is with child (p. 281).

Memory, once waked, will play the tyrant (p. 287).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16.  Much more raw and adult than I was expecting, yet never crosses over into being explicit or dirty.



This is my 42nd book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club and my 3rd for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.  And my first for My Year with C.S. Lewis!

24 comments:

  1. You picked up some things I certainly didn’t. It was such a multilayered book & so much to mull over. I’ve read that it was Lewis’s favourite of all that he’d written.

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    1. Carol, I feel like this is one of those books that expands as you re-read it, and you find new or different things every time you read it. So I'm not surprised we both saw some different things!

      How cool that it was Lewis' favorite!

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  2. Psyche and Cupid was one of my favorite myths, but this book sounds odd. Not sure I would enjoy it, but you never know. Some of what you write here intrigues me. Maybe I'll try it sometime.

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    1. DKoren, well, this doesn't center around Psyche, she's more like a catalyst for the main character? But it feels like much more of a YOU book than a ME book, actually.

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    2. Oh, interesting that you think it might be a me book! I'm not a CS Lewis fan, but maybe I'll have to give this one a try sometime.

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    3. DKoren, yeah, it's very um... mythic and epic and chewy? It was soooo different from anything else I've read by Lewis. In some ways, it reminded me a little of that Kate Wilhelm book you gave me once, oddly enough. I had a bit of a similar reaction to this, in that I wanted to hold it off at arm's length for a very long time, but eventually got sucked in. I don't know. Anyway, it's nothing like Narnia or The Screwtape Letters.

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  3. I've never managed to finish reading this one, but when the time is right, I will. Sometimes the book waits for the person, sometimes the person waits for the book.

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    1. Unknown, that's so true! Sometimes we have to be ready. I've temporarily DNFed books too, knowing some day I'll be in the right point of life for them.

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  4. I had this book on my TBR earlier this year, but Upon Further Review *coughs* I've decided to take it off because I don't think I would like it or be okay with it.

    Probably I should just stick to Narnia. ;-)

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    1. Katie, I don't know. It's got lots of weighty, meaty stuff, very hard situations and very complex characters... but I have zero idea if you would like it or not. Be okay with it? I mean, it's about a pagan society, zero Christianity mentioned in it at all, so... I don't know if you'd be okay with that?

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    2. Well, you see, I only sort-of realized that this book was based on the Cupid and Psyche myth until I wikipedia'd the plot summary and was like "oh."

      And I HATE the Cupid and Psyche myth with the fire of a thousand suns--so that's why I'm thinking I probably shouldn't read this. ;-)

      It's not the overall pagan-ness that I would have a problem with, but the specific plot elements.

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    3. Katie, ahhhh, gotcha. Yeah, that's a pretty sad myth, I've now learned. But the book does NOT end sadly!

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  5. I'll definitely need to reread this to understand it better, but yeah. SO GOOD. Like you, I had no idea what the myth was about but I skipped to the author's (or publisher's) note at the back that explained the myth (didn't know it held an explanation, just that I like doing that). So that helped.

    But the story was still kind of weird and unknowable to me - in a good way.

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    1. Eva, yeah, I think a second reading will be really illuminating.

      I found that note on the myth at the end AFTER I'd finished reading the book, and it was cool to remember the story and see how it all slotted together.

      Weird and unknowable -- yes, in a way. Powerful writing.

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  6. Some people say That Hideous Strength is Lewis's best novel. They're wrong of course, not because That Hideous Strength isn't great, but because Till We Have Faces is greater. I weep when I read this novel, especially the latter half.

    To understand why there's no open mention of Christianity one needs to know Lewis's relationship with myth and how myth brought him to the Christian faith.

    Anyway, I can't say how much I love this book and how it pierces me to the heart.

    “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?"

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    1. George, I don't think I've read That Hideous Strength yet. So much Lewis for me to discover yet!

      I felt like an open discussion of Christianity would have been out of place in this book. It works much better this way.

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  7. So glad you enjoyed this one!! I wasn't able to participate in the readalong but I read it a few years ago and it's one of my all-time favorite novels. :)

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    1. Olivia, I did like it :-) In a sort of cautious, contemplative way. I didn't love it... but it's not the sort of book that I would love, it's one I more... appreciate and learn from? And want to study. Masterful writing here.

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  9. Oh, I really like your thoughts on it! I wouldn't have thought of that, but it is really about how Orual processes being left out of something that she doesn't understand. Nice observation!

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    1. Thanks, MC! I like that this is one of those books that many people can read and each take their own thing from it.

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  10. This is one of his books I haven't been sure about starting, mostly for the same reasons as you mentioned for yourself. But now you intrigue me! And it IS a Lewis book, so....perhaps I shall try it soon. :)

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    1. Kara, read this one when you're in the mood for something meaty and a little mystifying. But with lots of good payoff at the end :-)

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