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Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis

C. S. Lewiss book Till We Have Faces is about the myth of Psyche and Cupid. However, in the original tale Psyche is a very naive girl who is greatly influenced by her two wicked older sisters. In this rendition of the tale, Psyches sisters are not evil and Psyche is not a mindless fool as she has been portrayed in earlier tales. Setting The story takes place in the kingdom of Glome. Glomes social perspective is not surprisingly, a male dominant society and values woman as only child bearers, keepers of the homestead, or as a marriage treaty with neighboring kingdoms to attract new power and influence to the kingdom.

The people of Glome are deeply religious to the Goddess Ungit, and offer human sacrifices to her, including the sacrifice of Princess Psyche. Character Description In the eyes of the king, and the people of Glome, Orual appears to accept her ascribed role. Her lack of physical beauty sets Orual apart from the other woman of her society, her appearance allows her to write her own modes of acceptable behavior. Orual operates on two levels, one to satisfy her needs and the other to appear conforming to her fathers wishes and expectations.

For example, after Psyche had been offered to Ungit, Orual felt the need to bury her sister. Orual, to be somewhat pleasing in the eyes of her father, kept her visit to the Holy tree a secret so prevent the wrath of her father. C. S. Lewis hints that Orual is a different sort of woman while he discusses her love for Psyche. Orual said I wanted to be a wife so that I could have been her real mother. I wanted to be a boy so she could be in love with me. I wanted her to be my full sister instead of my half sister. I wanted her to be a slave so that I could set her free and make her rich.

In the middle of all these desires is a statement that is easily overlooked. To secure the love of Psyche, Orual wants … to be a boy so she could be in love with me. The idea that she has a desire to be a boy suggests the possibility of assuming roles that are normally ascribed to men. With the king on his deathbed, Orual attends the affairs of state in his place. She has advisors but they do not do the thinking for her, Orual achieves a certain amount of independence. The postscript to Oruals story, attached by Arnom, priest of Aphrodite, assets to her success of becoming an independent woman.

Arnom praises her in the context of princes. She is compared to men and is found to be either equal or superior. Orual does not resemble the woman of her time; she is not beautiful, passive, or stupid. She is a thinker, a writer, a monarch, and she is independent. The aspects of Oruals independent personality are not to be used as literary devices. How Orual ruled her people and used her throne is a model for woman of the twenty-first century. Because we read this book from the author, Oruals, point of view, we only see Ungit as she chooses to present her.

Although Ungit herself does not appear in this book as a person, Ungit is the cause of Oruals heartbreak and she plays a major role in Till We Have Faces. Ungit is the goddess of the mountain in Glome, she has a temple where the subjects of Glome come to worship her and offer sacrifice. Ungit is in the form of a rock, a faceless rock that is covered in sacrificial blood from time to time. Orual has a great dislike for Ungit, she sees Ungit as the cause of her sorrow over the loss of her sister after the princess Psyche is offered as a peace offering to the goddess.

Later in the book, during Oruals reign as queen, she replaces the faceless rock with a beautiful statue, figuring that the people might be able to connect with a beautiful goddess and not a lifeless rock. The statue of Ungit helps her appear less forbidding and almost beautiful. However, Orual still carries a great dislike for the goddess all together. Summary of the Plot Till We Have Faces takes place in the kingdom of Glome in a male-dominant society. Orual, Redival, and Psyche are the princesses of Glome. Orual and Redival are products of the Kings first marriage and when the King marries again, he hopes for a son.

The Queen dies in childbirth with a baby girl, Psyche. The King hires a tutor, a Greek man called The Fox, and the Foxs duties are to teach the girls until the King has a son whom he will then teach logic and philosophy. Redival is a vain and selfish girl and desires to acquire no knowledge and would rather spend her time in front of a mirror admiring her own beauty. The Fox, Orual, and Psyche are left together and the Fox teaches Orual philosophy and logic. When Psyche grows older she is very beautiful and some of the townspeople mistake her for a goddess, this strikes a cord of jealousy in Redival.

About this time, the land of Glome is suffering a summer drought. Redival tells her father that the cause of the drought is because Psyche is being worshiped instead of the goddess Ungit and that Ungit is extremely displeased, thus the lack of rain. The Priests of Ungit learn of Redivals theory and decide that Psyche must be given as a sacrifice to the goddess in hope that it might rain again. Orual is devastated when they take Psyche to the holy tree and leave her at the goddess disposal. A few days after the ceremony, Orual journeys to the tree to cover the body of her dead sister.

Once Orual arrives at the tree she can not find any trace of Psyche, and she proceeds to search for the remains of her sister. Orual is in for a surprise when she finds Psyche alive and very well. Orual visits with Psyche and finds her very much at peace with the whole situation; Orual is then irritated instead of relieved. Psyche proceeds to tell Orual of her husband, a man whom loves her deeply and whom she loves with all her heart, and has never seen the face of. This strikes Orual as odd and convinces her that he must be a thief hiding in the hills posing as a God and deceiving her sister.

Oruals love for Psyche develops into selfishness, she no longer loves Psyche, and she is co-dependant on her. Orual does not see her love as corrupted until later and the reader is somewhat sympathetic towards Orual until we learn of the distortion of her love. Psyche welcomes Orual to her palace and Orual only sees a pile of rocks. The wine that Psyche gives Orual tastes like water from the river to Orual. During the visit the reader feels almost certain that Psyche has somehow lost her mental faculties and is living in a dream, at the same time we forget that Orual is the one telling the story.

Orual tries to persuade Psyche to leave this fantasy and come back to the real world with her. However, Psyche refuses to leave with Orual. Orual visits Psyche again and tells her that her husband is nothing more than a thief posing as a god and Orual threatens to commit suicide unless Psyche light a lamp when her husband arrives and look at his face, hoping that Psyche will see that she is being deceived. Psyche is heartbroken and torn between love for her sister and love for her husband. Psyche takes the lamp and promises to light it. Later that evening, Psyche lights the lamp only to find that it is Ungits son, the god of the mountain.

When Psyche views the face of the god a voice tells Orual Now Psyche goes out into exile. She must hunger and thirst and tread hard roads. Those again whom I cannot fight must do their will upon her. You, woman, shall know yourself and your work. You also shall be Psyche. This prophesy becomes the theme in the remaining portion of the book, Orual will come to gain knowledge of herself and become Psyche. Orual returns form the mountain and she begins to wear a veil to conceal her face, she feels that are wearing a veil she is making a treaty with her ugliness.

Despite Oruals success at reigning as Queen and changing her external identity by wearing a veil, there remains something inside of her that is not so easy to change. The old sense of guilt and pain is still just beneath the surface. Orual also preforms the four labors preformed by Psyche, although Oruals tasks are psychological rather than physical. Psyche is told to sort a massive pile of seeds, a task that is nearly impossible, some friendly ants help Psyche with her task, while Orual sets about sorting her self, the good and the bad.

The second task is to gain wool from man-eating sheep, Psyche gathers the wool off of some bushes nearby that wool has been snagged on. Orual sets about trying to gain a new conscience. In the third task, Psyche has to obtain a bowl of water form the river Styx; an eagle that takes the bowl and returns it to her full of river water assists her. Orual, in turn takes her book and fills if with the poisons of her hate for the gods. The final task is to go the underworld and bring Ungit the beauty of the Goddess there in a box.

Psyche sets for the underworld and is commanded that she must not speak, she travels through the underworld and is tempted with images and holograms of her sister and the Fox. After Psyche gains the box of beauty from the Goddess of the underworld, the voice of the god again spoke to Orual and told her You are Psyche. This, of course was a period of several decades between Psyches exile and Oruals vision. In fact, by the time of Oruals vision she was an old woman and died shortly after the vision.

Theme In reading C. S. Lewis Till We Have Faces we find that there are numerous themes developed that are traditionally found in the realm of a myth. For example, the timeless devices of sacrifice and spilled blood are a common feature in ancient myth and are also found throughout Lewiss retold myth. One unique thing that makes Till We Have Faces a valuable read, is how fully the theme of belief affecting perception is developed. The reader who attempts to find Lewiss Christian message in this work will be sorely disappointed. The story Lewis tells is not an attempt to use myth in order to subtly introduce and explain Christianity.

In short, the theme of Till We Have Faces is self-exploration. Just as Orual had to sort herself out and find the ugliness in her soul, perhaps we as Christians are supposed to find the ugliness in ourselves and discard of it so we can become souls with divine natures. Contributions to the Theme Orual also performs the four labors preformed by Psyche, although Oruals tasks are psychological rather than physical. The sorting of seeds, for example, becomes an introspective look at her motives while writing. Her sorting involves separating who she thought she had been from who she actually was.

More specifically she begins to see her own self-centeredness and how it corrupted the quality of her love. Psyche is assisted with the help of friendly ants to sort the seeds. The second task of gaining the wool of man-eating sheep is also a psychological task for Orual, who attempts to steal a clean conscience by her own merits. In a dream Orual sets about the task but rams trample her. Psyche, on the other hand, gathers the wool from the bushes where the wool is caught. In the third task, Psyche must obtain a bowel of water from the river Styx.

Orual reaches Ungit, who also is veiled, and she reads her complaint, and in turn must hear her own complaint as she reads. Orual discovers her own jealousy and possessiveness as she reads. Orual realizes that all of the charges she made against Ungit are offenses that she herself is guilty of. The final task is to go the underworld and bring Ungit the beauty of the Goddess there in a box. This too is a psychological task. Orual searches deep inside herself and recognizes the ugliness within; such recognition is the first step towards making herself more beautiful.

This beauty is described as being a soul with divine nature Orual realizes that the fundamental purpose of human beings is to reach a union with the divine or divine love. Orual has a vision, and in this vision she watches Psyche set about her tasks and the many temptations and images of herself, the fox, and others that tempt Psyche. By reading Till We Have Faces, it is my belief that C. S. Lewis wanted to inspire the reader to search ourselves and motives and find the ugliness and try to purge ourselves from it. Till We Have Faces is not so much about a classic myth but about the heartbreak that we suffer from our own corruption.

Redivals corruption caused Psyche to be sacrificed and Orual to be unhappy. But was Redival really corrupt or perhaps she felt rejected that her older sister preferred to spend time in the company of Psyche, ignoring Redival, and that is why Redival tried to dispose of Psyche. Oruals corrupted love caused Psyches misery and separation from her husband. However, perhaps C. S. Lewis wanted to show the reader that when we sin, we suffer loss and separation. Psyche doubted her husband and disobeyed him by looking at his face, which is why she was cast away from him, to purge herself of her transgression.

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