Thursday, June 14, 2012

Till We Have Faces

by C. S. Lewis
1956, 300 pages

It is hard to describe the beauty of this book. Let me start by noting that Thomas Bulfiinch's retelling of the original Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche (which you can find at is only about  seven pages. C. S. Lewis's reworking of the story is roughly forty times longer, but never lets the reader go.

Why is the book so compelling? The main reason is how creatively Lewis uses the myth to show us ourselves. He does this by making a minor character both the narrator and the focus of the story. After all, most (or all?) of us make ourselves both the narrators and the focus of our own stories, even though we are also ultimately minor characters in the much greater story of good news that God has told in Christ and continues to work out today.

I had never had any exposure to the original before I read C. S. Lewis's summary in the Introduction. The Greek myth has two themes. The first focuses on Psyche's struggles to survive the goddess Venus's jealousy of her beauty (just as Snow White is helpless before the envious queen in her story). The second has to do with Psyche's complex relationship with the god Cupid, and her struggle to trust him (as Adam and Eve failed to trust God in the garden of Eden, and as Israel failed to do in the wilderness during the exodus).

In C. S. Lewis's version, the narrator is one of Psyche's jealous sisters named Orual - jealous of Psyche's beauty, desperately craving Psyche's love, suspicious of others' jealousy of Psyche, and unwilling to believe that a god could really love her. It is as if the story of Cinderella were told by one of her stepsisters, but that stepsister both loved her and envied her. Imagine how that sister would regard the passionate love of the prince for Cinderella, and how she might react to it even after the "happily after after" wedding.

Aren't many of us prone to that same love/hate relationship with others - perhaps in our family, perhaps in the church family - who walk so close to God that it seems too good to be true? Even more, when our relationship with God in Christ is a rich source of strength and love for us, don't we find that many around us can be skeptical? Don't we see in the media an eagerness to debunk the faith of prominent Christians?

C. S. Lewis shows us that, ultimately, what is going on is jealousy. The gritty beauty of the story that I referred to at the beginning came from my desire to see what the god in the story - and the true God of history - can do with and for those who feel such jealousy without, at least to begin with, the love that should go with it. In the end, the story should also remind us of the parable of the prodigal son, and provoke us to ask whether our relationship with God is based on jealous self-interest (think of the elder brother), or - by the grace of God - love and trust in response to His passionate love for us.

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