Till We Have Faces

'Till We Have Faces' is C.S. Lewis' imaginative retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche told from the perception of one of Psyche's two 'evil' sisters (in this particular case, ugly too). It was a myth drawn from Apuleius' 'The Golden Ass' that had haunted Lewis throughout his life and this is a compelling and beautiful late work.

It deeply coheres as a whole - Orual, the sister, tells her story in Part One as an accusation against the gods for sundering her relationship to her beloved half sister, Psyche. In Part Two Orual is reshaped by the gods accepting her complaint and responding in such a way that transforms and redeems Orual's story. Nothing in the past is fixed until it is seen in the light of a redeeming future.

Like his beloved George MacDonald, Lewis has reconfigured myth and faery and given it a contemporary accessibility of meaning. He does so with both psychological insight and metaphysical grace (and shows how the two co-inhere - you cannot ultimately have the one without the other).

The book is laced with moments where you recognise this. There is, for example, the moment when the book's title is revealed. Orual is talking of speaking to the gods and recognising that this is only possible when we speak from our utmost self. How can we expect the gods to listen until we stop babbling, how can we be seen until we have faces? I was reminded of the sage words of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh on prayer: Why do we expect God to be present when we want God to be present when most of our lives are spent in absence?

Orual spends her time in flight from her self and what she perceives she has inflicted on the life of her beloved sister, Psyche, and yet, as the story unfolds, she comes to realize that even her errors have been put to use and woven into the fabric of both Psyche's and her redemption.

The message, through the filter of a Greek myth, is understandably a Christian one. There is nothing that you can do to escape the forgiveness of God except maintain the pretence that you are doing so. As soon as the veil falls you are released not into judgement but love.

It is only we and our stories that bind but God comes to us accepting our stories and releasing us from our histories.


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