Bookclub Review, September: “Till We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is revered among scholars, children’s book lovers, and Christians worldwide for his ability to craft a character and a story in subtle ways that utilize biblical symbolism and motifs. And though he’s loved globally, I’ve always felt like he and I didn’t see eye to eye when it came to style and characterization.

Thankfully, Till We Have Faces proved me wrong and showed me that C.S. Lewis is worth reading even if you don’t love the writing style of the early 20th century.

I love going to Goodreads for so many things–reviews, finding awesome new books to read, being a part of online book clubs–so I went ahead and pulled the synopsis from Goodreads which summarizes the novel really well:

In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses- one beautiful and one unattractive- C.S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who possessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.

Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.”

If you’re a fan of myths/fairytales retold, this is a great way to read a classic that follows that theme.

Orual, the main character and “ugly sister” to Psyche grows up in this barbaric land, unloved by her father but loved by a Greek servant nicknamed “the Fox” who teaches her about the gods and how to reason and think through problems. She loves Psyche, her younger sister by many years, like a daughter and is devastated when Psyche is chosen to be sacrificed to the gods because the people worship her too much for a mortal.

At the risk of giving the plot away, Orual tries to force her beliefs and opinions on Psyche and doesn’t listen to her sister even though she see’s that she’s happy in her new life as a sacrifice. When Psyche is banished, Orual has to live the rest of her life with the guilt that she has forced her sister into an unknown life while she, now the Queen of Glome, and becomes a strong ruler on par with Elizabeth I.

The book was published way back in ’56 and was considered, by Lewis, to be his best and most profound novel. And I think there can be some truth to that (although, don’t trust me on this because I’ve only read half the Narnia books and this).

(Side note: Don’t you love when a writer says “Read my article and listen to my opinion, but I’m going to tell you not to trust me,” so, sorry I just did that everyone)

The book reads smoothly, includes details from the Hellenistic Greek period tied in with the fictional, more Germanic kingdom of Glome, so if you’re a fan of historical novels with a literary bent to them, then this is a slam dunk (is anyone surprised? It’s C.S. Lewis, for crying out loud).

My rating: 4 / 5 stars

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