Andrew, you should re-visit this book in a decade or two. What one sees in it changes, with time.
That was a comment left by "oldaggie" on my original review of Till we Have Faces. It's not been a decade — but it has been a solid two years since I picked up the book. This comment, and some recent conversations with my roommate, pushed me to give this book another read. It's rare that I reread books, but I figured C.S. Lewis was worth the effort. How right that proved to be!
If you want surface details, read the previous review, but here's a quick overview. Till we have Faces is the retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, complete with C.S. Lewis' twist on the story. The narrator throughout is strong-willed Orual, sister of Psyche and the protagonist of the book.
Orual is a delightful character. She's a clear-spoken, strong-willed woman who is self-admittedly flawed, most obviously in her face, which is like that of a man. The entire book is a protest against the gods, written in the name of Orual's love for Psyche, her sister, who has been sacrificed to the gods because the land suffers under a famine. Orual is C.S. Lewis' main addition to the old legend. While in the old stories Psyche's sisters were envious and mean-spirited (see: Cinderella's sisters), Orual is the protagonist of the story, suffering because of the abuse of the gods.
My younger self was concerned that this book mentioned "gods" and possibly drifted from Christianity. Read with more understanding, this book is teeming with truth and echoes of God's story in this world. There are many, many parallels in snippets of conversation, acts of sacrifice, description of sin, and more. This is an intriguing example of C.S. Lewis' theory of "remythologization through fiction." Simply put, this is Lewis' strategy to communicate truth in a fictional context, so that readers are not burdened by preconceptions of "God" or "religion" when reading. It's the same strategy he uses in the Space Trilogy and Narnia, and it shines just as brightly in Till We Have Faces. Every word in the book has meaning, and nearly every word in the book has a hidden, softer meaning. The entire book is a subtle beckoning towards truth, love, and light. In my opinion, this is the quality of C.S. Lewis' work that is most genius and also what has made it so enduring.
This is a book that is made to be read again, as Ms. Aggie recommended to me. When I was younger, it made for a good story: now that I am older, it makes for a beautiful story because I have learned what makes it beautiful. In the same way this book will beckon softly to those searching for truth, it will ring sweetly to those who have found truth. Like I said, the echoes are everywhere, and they are beautiful.
On top of that, the writing is different from C.S. Lewis' other work. It's a lot closer to The Great Divorce than to The Chronicles of Narnia. That said, it's still distinctly Lewis, and the writing is fine work on its own. The book is a life book: that is, it encompasses Orual's life. Orual's character is interesting and exciting. Her downward (or upward, depending on how one sees it) progress drives the book forward at the perfect pace. I'll leave you with Ms. Aggie's final recommendation to me, along with a word from the Gods to Orual:
"I got the strong feeling that there was only ever one sister ... that's all I'll say."
"...you also are Psyche."
A book review can only tell you so much. This is a tale with a story behind it, rich and full of truth. With that taste, go explore for yourself. For my part, this book will be staying on my bookshelf and it will be well-used. Maybe in a decade there will be more to see.
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