I haven't read many retellings. But Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis is one of the best you will find. And the best part? It's a retelling of the story of Psyche and Cupid. Greek mythology is my favorite!
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.
Orual (or-wahl): This is the woman telling the story. She's an extremely ugly princess with an extremely lovely younger sister. She spends the entire story trying to wrap her head around why the gods do what they do. She cannot reconcile their injustice with the blind faith and dutiful sacrifice she sees given them. She loses the only person who ever loved her to jealousy and rage and spends most of the book trying to come to terms with reality.
Psyche (sike-ee): The lovely and loved younger sister who leaves happiness in her wake. Her cause of anxiety is only her sister's willful disbelief in the kindness and mercy of the gods. Going against her better judgment for the sake of her older sister, she ruins her best chance of happiness and is born into legend.
I will leave all the other delights like the Fox (philosopher), the king (father), Batta (crone/nurse), Bardia (guard), and Ungit (a goddess) to you.
Like every good ancient history book, a grimy and barbaric setting. However, Glome is at peace with its many surrounding city-states and is able to rise above the petty quarrels in which the others are always ensued. This makes them all obliged to Queen Orual, and so some economic benefit is acquired. Even still, the people always retain the ancient Greek mindset and the desire to live barbarically and in subjugation to their gods.
Orual is trying to determine the nature of the gods her people serve so willingly. All she can see is the hatred and misery that their doings inflict, causing more by her own blind and foolish actions. The entire book is her story, setting yet another myth of the gods straight and accusing them for being so hard to find out. If it had only been simpler, she might not have caused so much ruin. Her version of love had destroyed something precious. It is while she is on trial with the gods that she come to this realization that inspired the title:
“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer . . . Why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”
5/5 stars. I know what you're thinking. Really? But yes. While this is a deep read, very much like the ancient tellings of the Greek myths themselves, I cannot recommend this book enough. Following Orual through her journey is enlightening to the struggle every Christian has. How can there be so much bad in a world with a good God? Watching her reach the end of her journey and seeing the results of her headstrong self-reliance is both tell-tale and a warning to the rest of us. I would love to discuss everything C. S. Lewis was thinking when he wrote this renowned classic, his last work. I saw this recently and it struck me as a thought he wove into the book.
And if this review isn't enough? Trust that you will love Lewis's message and storytelling devices, even if the read isn't your favorite ;)
So, how was the review? Have you read this book?! No? Okay. I'll be asking that question again next week, so . . . get on it ;) In all seriousness, though, how much does my promotion of this book appeal to you?