Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

I love love love C. S. Lewis. And not just for the Narnia Chronicles, I love almost all his books, especially The Great Divorce and Mere Christianity. So when I first heard of this book on IntoTheBook, I knew that I had to read it. And when I saw this at the Christian Bookstore at Ochanomizu, the price tag wasn't even a consideration (but for the record, it's the most expensive book I've bought, and the only one I paid full price for, since coming to Japan).

Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth. In the original story, the two sisters of Psyche are evil and jealous. But like Wicked, C. S. Lewis shines a different light on one of the oldest sisters - Orual (or so he calls her).

Orual grew up ugly and unloved. But when Psyche is born (and her mother dies as a result), Orual transfers all her love to the beautiful Psyche. Eventually, this love is twisted into hate after Psyche's "sacrifice" to the Shadowbrute.

Bred on a mixture of Glom (the country where Till We Have Faces is set) superstition and Greek logic (courtesy of the Greek Slave The Fox/Grandfather), Orual is conflicted inside. Indeed, after she becomes Queen of Glom (a very capable queen I might add), she's still tormented by what she did to Psyche by convincing her to betray her husband. So what she does is to push Orual inside her and let the Queen take her place. In this way, she becomes numb.

It is only after she hears the twisted version of Cupid and Psyche (or to the reader, the conventional version), is she inspired to pen her version (or the 'true' version) of the story as a complaint to the gods. But when she is truly heard, she sees that her complaint was very different from the tale she told. Her complaint is one of bitterness, that she could not wholly possess the love of her sister.

The writing in this book is marvellous. I really do wonder why it's not more popular. C. S. Lewis has spun a marvellous story and got me to look at the original myth in a whole new light. It felt as though it was an ancient myth, but it also felt modern at the same time. The language is easy to understand and very absorbing.

In short, this is an excellent book (I love how I've been finding a lot of excellent books since coming to Japan). It's not only an entertaining tale, it's also a story about love, what it is, and what it is not.

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