Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Till We Have Faces

Title: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
Author: C.S. Lewis
Year: 1956
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 1

"How can we see face to face till we have faces?" --Orual

Without a doubt, Till We Have Faces leaves Narnia with all its bright colors and beautiful words in the dust. C.S. Lewis's deeply humane masterpiece, woven in to the fabric of the Greek legend of Cupid and Psyche, is dark and beautiful, its words twined as deep in our hearts as our very life blood. Wisdom, knowledge, pain and hardship are all as poignant here as in any book, but somehow far more personal.
The story begins with Queen Orual looking back on her life, but she does not waste much time on trivialities: she begins almost immediately, telling the story of how she and her sister, Redival, were the princesses of Glome, an heirless and now-queenless kingdom. Orual's deeply pragmatic voice pushes deep into the reader's mind, making Glome a place truly seen though her eyes, hopes, fears, and prejudices. The story follows how Istra, Psyche, becomes like a daughter to Orual, is sacrificed to the god on Grey Mountain, and finds life there. But I shan't spoil it for you.
Orual, with her often childlike perceptions of everything that happens in the story, reminds me of myself sometimes, which makes her deeply relatable (especially in her casual acknowledgement of her ugliness and perpetual virginity). The Fox, an endearing, fatherlike character, is introduced in the first chapter as a  redheaded Greek slave, long taken from his family and thrown into slavery. However, he is cheerful, and he tells Orual "no man is a stranger if he remembers that the whole world is one city". He is wise, but still beautifully human and faulted, even in the somewhat confusing but fantastic ending scene.
C.S. Lewis' crowning achievement in this book, I believe, is getting me, as the reader, to know the characters as if they are standing next to me. Bardia is a very typical man, and I felt as if I have known him my whole life. Trunia is amusing, but still real in his humor and fears. Orual, however, is the truest- I know her the best; she has become an archetype for mistakes to avoid in my life, but also a heroine to me. And Psyche, of course; Psyche, in her Helen-beauty and wisdom, is the girl you have always loved, been jealous of, and wanted to know so well.
The best rivalry I have read in many books is that between Orual and Ungit. It is a deeply complex relationship, laced with fear and hate, until Orual realizes what she is; hearing the stories from the Fox, she knows to fear Ungit. But she does not know her full capacity until the dazed days of the end, in the second half of the book. The story completes itself so well in that regard that I cry every time in the last chapter.
Till We Have Faces is a fantastic piece of literature, and I commit myself to reading it at least twice a year- it never takes me more than a few sittings. The paperback copies are wonderfully cheap, but the eBook copies run a little pricey at $10.00. But if you have not read this underrated classic, get your hands on it as soon as possible.
"Did I not tell you, Maia, that one day we would meet in my house and no cloud would be between us?" --Psyche

No comments:

Post a Comment