Book Review: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold – C.S. Lewis

In Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, Lewis retells in the form of a novel the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche found in Metamorphoses and written by Lucius Apuleius Plantonicus. Lewis sees Plantonicus’ work as a “source, not an influence nor a model” (356). He feels justified in doing this since Plantonicus was the story’s “transmitter, not its inventor” (356).

In Lewis’ version, Orual, the older sister of the beautiful Psyche, writes her complaint against the gods that they stole away from her the one she loves (Psyche) by their beauty and, most devastatingly, the gods remain silent.

After speaking her complaint, the judge asks, “are you answered?” (334). To this, she simply says, “yes.” Then she writes, “The complaint was the answer…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?” (335). Orual is discovering that the complaint she raises against the gods for taking away her love is really a complaint against herself. She is the one who steals and consumes with no reason other than selfish desire. She is Ungit, the very goddess that she despised. But this does not conclude Orual’s encounter with the gods.

Orual is then brought to face the Lord of the gods who will make his case against her. This One is “The most dreadful, the most beautiful, the only dread and beauty there is…” (350). He speaks only one sentence declaring her name, “You also are Psyche” (351). Rather than condemning, the Lord gifts her with a beauty beyond her comprehension. From this she learns the more fundamental lesson and concludes her book with this, “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?” (351).

Lewis’ writing is characteristically captivating. Whether he is describing swordsmanship or beauty, the gods or death, the reader’s imagination is fully engaged in painting the scene his words bring to light. For Lewis, both the world of his novel and the world of his readers remain deeply enchanted. The allure of materialism has no draw for him. In addition, he explores the true nature of love and what it means to love another for the sake of self or for the sake of the other. But more importantly, Lewis wrestles with the very human question of the gods’ or God’s silence to the most basic human question, “why?” Rather than merely dismissing the question as beyond human comprehension, Lewis’ story parallels the biblical story of Job and offers a similar answer. The Lord himself is the answer. For those who have encountered Him, this answer is sufficient.

“I had heard reports about you, but now my eyes have seen you.” – Job 42:5

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