Till We Have Faces : A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis. (Harcourt, Inc. $14 paperback. 309 pages)
Verdict: Worth Reading
But Only If Any One of the Following Applies: 1. You are a Christian, 2. You already like Lewis’ writing, or 3. You have an interest in and knowledge of Greek myths.
Otherwise, you may not enjoy it all that much. Since all three apply to me, I can’t say for sure how the lack of any one would change one’s enjoyment of this book.
So, True Confessions time– I don’t really like Lewis’ fiction. I find it heavy-handed and pedantic. However! I really enjoyed this book. It is (nominally, at any rate) a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth, but not really. It’s about redemption, as is the case with most of Lewis’ writing, but it’s also about developing a purer sort of love in our human relationships. The main character, Orual, loves her sister in a way that is damaging to both of them. The reader sees before Orual does the harm in the sort of love she has for Psyche. The reader is prompted always to be one step ahead of Orual in emotional development. This text creates in miniature the kind of process Lewis advocates as people turn from an obsessive love to something more godly. Translating this into actual daily relationships is another matter for the reader to tackle elsewhere. However, I think this text is an example of how texts (that are not necessarily sacred) can affect readers positively.
I also think this book shows Lewis at his best in regard to imaginative fiction. In so many of his other works (i.e. The Chronicles of Narnia or the Perelandra series), I’ve found the narrator’s tone to be fairly condescending. The “lecturing” present in so much of his work is absent from Till We Have Faces, and this allows the story to shine through. I appreciated Lewis’ setting this myth in pre-Christian Britain. His description of life then is, of course, imaginative rather than authoratative, but I enjoyed seeing his ideas of what it might have been like. Lewis effectively combines his penchant for moralizing with his desire to share imagined worlds with readers.
Till We Have Faces really is a fascinating book about human love versus divine love. If you’re into considering such things, do pick up this book. If you want a quick summer read, though, this is not really the book for you.