“Till We Have Faces” by C S Lewis: a review

Here is a work that will feed mind, heart, and soul.

It’s a reinterpretation of the old myth of Cupid and Psyche, told in one of the few surviving Latin novels, “the Metamorphoses.”  More than a reinterpretation, it’s a retelling and re-imagining, in contemporary terms a complete re-boot!

It’s a fantastic tale, wonderfully told.  Lewis’s gifts as a storyteller were never more on display than they are here.  The story gallops along in a compelling narrative that has the rhythms of the stories we used to love when we were young, and have always loved.  It’s a tale of a tyrannous and half mad king of a land called Glome.  He has two daughters, the beautiful Psyche and the ‘ugly’ Orual.  The sisters are bound by love and guided by a wise mentor, the Greek slave known as the Fox.  But shadows fall and Gnome falls under blight, and the Goddess of the land, ‘Ungit,’ will have expiation and sacrifice before the land can be restored.  Psyche is chosen…

Lewis here spins a tale that draws on an intoxicating mix of themes told in vivid and compelling imagery.  Loss, tragedy, human responsibility, expiation, redemption, vocation, faith versus rationality, all are here and more.  Lewis the Christian apologist is at work here, although his meanings are so intrinsically bound up in the story that you never feel ‘preached to.’  Christianity is never explicitly mentioned.  Rather, we have a story to chew over and enjoy, and we can let the deeper meanings work through us, or we can go into an internal dispute with them.  That’s up to us.  But the enjoyment the story gives, the enjoyment that comes from the love of ‘story,’ that’s not in doubt here.

There are strong and vivid characters and character development that is utterly believable, although told in a fantastic setting.  There are moments of intense human drama, and fantastical wonder.  It’s Lewis at his very best.  And in our time (as in most times) when the arguments between ‘reason’ and ‘faith’ clash ever more hotly, this work is supremely relevant.  Those unfamiliar with the myth that it is based on (myself included) can still appreciate how it has been re-told through an introductory note that gives a good, detailed summary of the original myth.

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