27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2003
Myths are often a distillation of human experience and knowledge, pared down to an easily digestible story that is both memorable and instructive. No less so here, as Lewis takes the tale of Cupid and Psyche and adds a small change to the basic tale - but that change reverberates and focuses the message that Lewis is imposing on the tale, a message about what love is versus what many normally think it is.
Lewis sets the tale in the `barbarian' country of Glom, with a King obsessed with getting a son, and thereby cursed with three daughters. Orual is the supremely ugly one, Psyche just as beautiful as Orual is ugly, and the third sister is the personification of greed and petty jealousy. But it is Orual that the book follows, down deep into her basic outlook about herself, her relationship with the Gods, and most especially how her feelings for Psyche and her sense of propriety cause her to commit blackmail in the name of love. Lewis clearly shows that love that does not place the desires of the loved one above any personal sense of right/wrong/duty/honor is not a true love, but rather the product of selfishness, of the `I know what's best for my love' syndrome.
But this is merely the beginning to the layers of philosophy present in this book, as it calls into question not only if there are gods, but just how mortals can or must perceive them if they exist, and how much `God' is present in everyone. Masks are a symbol here, from the veil that Orual takes to wearing, to those masks used by the priesthood when performing their embassies for their god, to the masks that everyone presents to the outside world. Also covered is the value of good deeds versus an irredeemable sin, what vital tasks man is burdened with during his short lifetime, and even the value of philosophy as a field of study. All this and more is hidden underneath this apparently simple story, with little direct exposition of these ideas until this last portion of the book, which is written as a dream allegory.
The characterization of Orual is excellent - she is person you can recognize and feel with, and her dilemmas are ones we all have faced, though perhaps not in such grandiose terms. Psyche, the King, and Fox, the sister's Greek slave teacher, are drawn with enough depth to understand their motivations, and provide the proper environment so that each person's actions are understandable and the plot action inevitable.
I did feel that the last section of book went a little too far in the way of symbolism and philosophy, that perhaps a more action-oriented explication of the points Lewis was trying to present in this section would have been better. But this is certainly a book that is good for more than one reading, with a timelessness to its messages, and told with skill and great thought.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
C.S. Lewis was of course the author of the "Narnia" children's stories, the moral comedy "The Screwtape letters" and a number of other novels and books about religion, most of them told from a more or less openly Christian perspective.
This brilliant retelling of the legend of Psyche and Cupid is unusual for C.S. Lewis in that it considers the relationship between human and divine while stepping outside his Christian perspective. It is also possibly his best novel.
The story reads as a memoir written in her old age by Queen Orual of Glome, who had been eldest of the three daughters of the previous King. Orual herself is wise but ugly, and loves her beautiful younger sister Psyche in a way which is genuine but fierce and also jealous.
During a famine, The priests advise the King that there is a curse on the land and to lift it he must leave his daughter Psyche chained in the wilderness as a sacrifice to the gods. Orual is frantic and offers herself as the sacrifice instead but neither the King nor the priests will hear of it. Psyche is left chained in the wilderness, and when she is not there the following morning everyone assumes she has been killed. Instead, however, Cupid the God of Love takes her as his wife, refusing to let her see his face.
In the original legend, Psyche is allowed to receive a visit from her two sisters, who are consumed with envy at the sight of the luxurious home which the God has given Psyche, and trick her into shining a light on her husband while he sleeps. Furious at this disobedience, the god condemns her to wander the earth in great misery.
This version is similar, but with two key differences: the first is that Orual cannot see the beautiful house which Psyche believes she is living in. To Orual's senses Psyche is living in the open air and dressed in rags. Orual's motives in persuading Psyche to shine the lamp on her sleeping husband are far more complex and less unequivocally evil.
The second difference is that, where in the original legend the Gods cause the malicious sisters of Psyche to die soon after their betrayal of their sister, in Lewis's version Orual survives her father and becomes Queen. Indeed, Orual's struggle to rescue her country from the mess in which her father left it provides some of the most powerful scenes in the book. (I'm not giving away anything here: the narrator introduces herself in the first pages of the book as Queen of Glome and makes quite clear that she is describing the events of her youth from the perspective of old age.)
When she starts the narrative, Queen Orual is writing it as a complaint against the Gods who have mistreated her and slandered her. By the end of the book Orual's perspective has changed.
This is a magnificent and deeply moving story. If you like the Narnia books, think of it as Narnia for grown-ups.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2001
This is an extraordinary work. Compelling, thought-provoking, haunting... in my 20-odd years of reading, only Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights' can surpass this for sheer hypnotic power, and both books have similarly fascinating central characters in Heathcliff and Orual respectively.
Not typical CS Lewis fare, but in my opinion (and, apparently, in his) this is the best of his output.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2000
This book is another of Lewis's stunning works and it offers something just a little different to the reader. It is a delicately told story of the classic myth surrounding Cupid and Psyche, yet it's beautifully written narrative will leave you pleasantly haunted for a long while after putting the book down. You will almost certainly be able to identify yourself in the main character 'Orual', which is perhaps why this book is so engaging, and the lessons taught with such subtelty by Lewis will not fail to leave an impression. It is a tale about love and redemptive love, of overcoming perceived failings in yourself and of the fine line between total adoration and jealousy. To give a plot synopsis could never do this powerful tale any justice. For anyone who loves mythology or is just interested in something a little different, this is a hugely un-discovered book that i only wish more people have read.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2001
Lewis said that this was one of his favourite works, and I must agree that it is very good. Take it for what it is, a brilliantly written piece that involves the reader. There is plenty of imagery, irony and strong allegorical meaning that needs to be understood to be full appreciated.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2009
This is a beautiful and wise book, most loved of CS Lewis' work and his personal favourite, if I recall correctly.
Whoever wrote the synopsis should have thought more carefully. I had forgotten the myth of Psyche when I began the book, and the realisation, halfway through, of what was about to happen was electric. Further, thinking of the narrator/sister as 'ugly and jealous' completely skews the picture.
I can't recommend this book highly enough, and think it's a great shame it was allowed to go out of print, especially during this current revival for all things Lewis and the popularity of the Screwtape letters and so on.
Buy a copy. Read it, share it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2012
[NOTE: I am reissuing my Amazon.com reviews on Amazon.co.uk. This review was originally published on Amazon.com May 16, 2000]
TILL WE HAVE FACES, is, simply put, one of the most beautiful books I have read. Its depths are enormous, its truth fantastically illustrated, and the author is completely given over to the character. If you are reading this for Lewis's style, don't. In an amazing feat of creation, Lewis used his God-given gift, and has completely come into Orual's mind. This is some of the best characterization I have ever read, with Lewis completely laying down his own style, and yielded to that or Orual. Although that may be disquieting to some, it reveals the true creative power God gave that fine Christian brother. He immerses us into her world, told from her eyes. The book is very, very deep, demanding several rereadings.
The plot of the book is a daughter is born to a king, named Psyche. He already has two other daughters, Orual and Redival. Her older sister, Orual, becomes very loving of her. Yet this love is exactly what it ought not to be: a selfish love. Psyche, seemingly a goddess in the eyes of the people, must be taken to sacrifice to the god of the grey mountains. Orual is very distraught. They take and leave her. Then Orual, along with another character named Bardia, go up to the mountain, and Orual finds Psyche, in love with the god of the mountain. Orual, being blind (although not physically), cannot see the palace. In the end, she has Psyche, who loves with selfless love, the truest and deepest and most real of all loves, look upon Eros, the god of the mountain, and Psyche is exiled because of her sin against the god. She was not to look or cast light upon him, but she did for Orual's sake.
The king is an impotent ruler, and only after Orual takes over the kingdom does Glome become something of a powerful place. All things considered, Orual really does help Glome politically and financially, and is a much better ruler than her father was. He is an abusive man, and is an evil father. He cares nothing of his daughters, and wishes for a son. He especially resents Orual for her ugliness.
The Fox is a Greek philosopher brought into educate the girls as well as help the King. Redival is least interested. He examines through the Fox the rational point of view. The Fox can never live up to his beliefs, and is constantly violating them. He is out of balance, placing to much on reason and logic and not enough on faith. He greatly influences Orual.
Redival is a selfish one, and wants what is best for her. This is exactly what not to be.
Orual: A much more complex character, and the narrator of the book. She loves with a jealous love, a love tainted by sin and ungodliness. She wishes Psyche for herself, and she cannot understand why she must go away. The book is about how she moves away from that selfish love and into the love of Jesus Christ. She is also marked by ugliness, and later starts wearing a veil to hide herself. After many years, people begin to think her wearing the veil for, ironically, great beauty, or something more mysterious, no face at all. This is representative of her spiritual life. She is ugly because of the taint of sin. Yet, because she is made in the likeness of God, the beauty that God gave her can be placed through. But as long as she remained uncured, as long as she remained [unstilled] hidden away, she could not come face to face with God. How could she when had no face. She refused to acknowledge her selfish love. For much of her life she worth both a physical and a spiritual veil. Only when old age approached, did she set down an account of the "evils" done to her by the gods in Part I. Then, in Part II, she lays down her veil, and begins to examine her life, and in the end comes to peace with God.
Psyche is the mostly Godly character, full of selfless love for others. It is she that is Orual's love. There is much to learn from Psyche.
In this book, we have what Lewis wrote in his nonfiction The Four Loves. These were written and published about the same time, and he had met Joy Davidman, who was to be his wife. Erotic love, that had so long passed him by, had suddenly and out of nowhere appeared on his doorstep. So love weight heavily on his mind during this period of his life. To have a deeper appreciation of this book, read both this and his The Four Loves, because basically he tackled the same subject in two separate genres: fiction and nonfiction. In that book, he says friends and lovers are essentially different, although bound by the same reality. Friends are friends because they have a bond, yet they are not whole concerned with the other. They are comrades, and do things side by side. Lovers are intensely interested in the others, looking at each other, not working side by side. This is illustrated in Orual's relationship with Bardia. Bardia, a prime solider, is a close friend of her, and the closest to a sexual relationship she ever obtained. Yet he is married, and so Orual cannot know erotic love as did Redival and Psyche. She is friends with him, and will not destroy his family. In this way, God is helping her to the point where she will drop the veil and let him put a face on her. Through the course of the years, she is showing more character in her relationship with Bardia than in her relationship with Psyche. She will not destroy the man she loves although she did destroy her sister's happiness. Already God was gently prodding her to a more real and honest place with him.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2001
Most reviewers point out that Till We Have Faces is different from most of Lewis' other works, and they are correct to do so. It is a haunting book. It delves into the darker side of human life. The story is of a princess born with a hideously ugly face. Her sister is born beautiful. The ugly princess eventually becomes queen, and she hides her face behind a veil-- never to show it again in public. Rumors eventually begin to spread that she is a beautiful woman and that she hides her face for fear that she will stir jealousy in the hearts of some of the gods. The book is quite mind boggling. It is Lewis' most often over-looked novel for some reason, but it should not be. I highly recommend it. Also recommended: "Castle of Wisdom," a Christian book by Rhett Ellis. It's rather strange, but it makes for an entertaining read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2010
I stumbled upon this book about 20 years ago. I loved it from the first time I read it. Everytime i read it I find new points of view to see this story from. It is such a beautiful book and you just don't want to put it down. love it!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2013
Other reviewers have provided sufficient detail of the content of the book and many of the reasons that the book is worth 5 stars. I would add the following couple of points:
Firstly it is a real eye-opener with regard to a general lack of self awareness. In the first part of the story the heroine writes wholly from her own point of view; she sees herself as the unlucky one or victim and sees her own actions as motivated by love. In the second section she hears from others and has her eyes opened to the reality that her motivation was often selfish and that she had been blind to the suffering of other people. I was reminded of the Johari Window and the need to have friends who know you well and are able to speak the truth to you. "How can we meet the Gods face to face until we have Faces?" and are prepared to drop the mask.
Secondly I found the story method struck home to me very personally. When I read it the second time I could not bear to read again the part when Psyche is forced to disobey (which leads to her downfall). And the recognition by the Queen that "I am Ungit" is just profound. The format is in my view much more powerful than any moralising or apologetics.