Till We Have Faces
C.S. Lewis’ greatest and least-known work is his final novel, Till We Have Faces. We just finished studying this work in my AP Literature class, and, even after years of teaching it, I still finish in awe of this amazing writer and his incredible story.
If you are like most people, you’ve never read this book, maybe even never heard of it. I don’t want to give too much away, but I do want to whet your appetite. This is far too good a book for readers to miss out on!
This novel is a combination of everything Lewis loved, and it is his fiction writing at its most glorious and most mature. Based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche, the novel’s protagonist is Psyche’s oldest sister, Orual. The novel is a first-person account, detailing Orual’s complaint against the gods and her eventual retraction of that complaint.
This novel, Lewis insisted, is a parallel, not an allegory, like Narnia or the Space Trilogy. It doesn’t fit into neat boxes in its connection to Christianity. And yet, this is an even greater apologetic, in my opinion, than Mere Christianity. As Orual rails against the gods – who seem to torment her and mock her throughout the first part – we see humanity. Orual is incredibly intelligent, strong, able, and she loves deeply. But she is blind to the truth. In her hatred for the gods, she cuts herself off from everyone – her disconnect with others symbolized by the veil she wears over her face most of her life. She views life through the “veil”, sure that she is correctly interpreting reality, but actually becoming more and more blind with every passing year.
Her understanding of the world and the gods is limited, and yet she sets herself up as the gods’ accuser, as the victim, as God Himself.
She finally discovers (spoiler alert!) that she has been lying to herself her whole life. That the Truth can only be seen when she is honest with herself, when the veil is removed, when she accepts, like Job in the Old Testament, that God is God and she is not.
This book is so rich – an incredible work of literature and an incredible reminder of who we are before a holy God. If you have not read this – get it! Read it. If you have read it – read it again! I find some new nugget of truth and beauty every time I revisit this story.
“To say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or nothing less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” (Till We Have Faces, 294)