You are indeed teaching me about kinds of love I did not know. It is like looking into a deep pit. I am not sure whether I like your kind better than hatred. Oh, Orual–to take my love for you, because you know how it goes down to my very roots and cannot be diminished by any other newer love, and then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of policy and mastery, an instrument of torture–I begin to think I never knew you. Whatever comes after, something that was between us dies here.
In this retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid, C.S. Lewis writes from the perspective of Psyche’s oldest sister; Orual. She is a brilliant but hideously ugly woman who loves Psyche to the depths of her soul. In fact, her love is obsessive, jealous, selfish, and in the end, looks more like hatred than love.
Orual is writing this book as a complaint against the gods. She is bringing charges against them for being unkind, unjust, and inscrutable. They hide themselves from mankind unless they wish to punish and make them suffer and Orual is convinced that they have wronged her and taken everything from her.
The tendency most people have when engaging Lewis’ work is to search hard for the allegory. They think all of his works are very much like The Chronicles of Narnia in that there is direct symbolism for elements of the Christian faith. That is not what Till We Have Faces is like and if you go looking for it you will be disappointed.
That is not to say there is nothing of the Christian faith here. There is. All truth is God’s truth and it can be found in a myriad of places including this book. Who has not asked the question; “If there is a God, why doesn’t He reveal Himself in a clear and obvious way?” Or, “If there is a God and He is good, then why do people suffer?”
Those questions are universal and they appear in the pages of this novel. However, I don’t get the impression that Lewis was working hard to answer these questions for us, nor do I get the impression that this was the point of the novel. Rather, these questions, are the backdrop against which the story is played out. They provide the motivation for the protagonist.
What I took away from this story was Orual’s pride and selfishness. She consumes and destroys what she claims to love. She is utterly selfish in her motivations all the while claiming that she is sacrificing for others. She uses people and demands too much from them and then is furious when they do not meet her outrageous expectations.
In short, it is not just her face that is ugly. Her soul is ugly too.
I found it easy to judge Orual in her ugliness. That is until I realized that her ugliness is mine also. It is everyone’s ugliness because we all “love” the way Orual loves; selfishly.
There are a couple of scenes in the story where Orual is forced to behold her own hideous face in a mirror. It is meant to shame and ridicule her and you feel sorry for her. But the truth is, we all need to be forced to face our own ugliness of the soul.
In that way, the novel did in fact point me to God. He is the only source of true, good, and pure love and I can only love in a good and true way because He loves me first.