Though I am always nudging readers to see The Great Divorce as C.S. Lewis’ most genius work of fiction, Till We Have Faces truly is a remarkable novel. It is the dying-days journal of Orual, Queen of Glome, who sues her capricious gods for their unfairness to her. The writing is elegant, the portrait is intimate, the transformational element is intricately tied to the psychological development in Orual’s tale, and the fictional world is complete. I know of many people who resist Lewis’ work, but admit that Till We Have Faces is among the 20th century’s important novels.
And, despite this, in more than 900 posts, I have never really blogged about Till We Have Faces. I have several hours of lectures about the novel, and get to teach it twice this semester–once at The King’s College, and once at Signum University, with two weeks in each class for discussion. These teaching times have included several close readings of texts. Moreover, Till We Have Faces is critical to my research into C.S. Lewis’ theology. And, despite all this, I have struggled to talk about Lewis’ only work of “literary fiction” for the blogging community.
Part of this hesitancy, I think, is that I don’t fully understand the novel. Unlike some work that is obscure or poorly written, each time I have read the book I have deepened in my knowledge. Over time, some questions have settled in for me:
- How does Till We Have Faces connect to the rest of Lewis’ fiction?
- How do we read TWHF in the midst of Lewis’ life?
- What is the novel’s relationship to the cross–an event that will come later in the secondary world that he has created?
- How is the critical moment of transformation in the text related to Lewis’ theological understanding of human experience and God’s character?
- How can there be “love that is not love?”
But there are other questions that still gnaw at me. When reading, I can often intimate the answers to them. When I set the text down and look around, though, I have trouble talking about these ideas that seem to slip away from me. Here are some questions I keep asking myself:
- What does it mean that Orual says, “I am Psyche?”
- There is a tremendous amount of gender play in the book. How are these integrated into Lewis’ understanding of sex and gender roles when he wrote the book? Are they even coherent?
- It is clear to see how Psyche is a Christ-figure; what is the role of the Shadowbrute?
- Beyond that, what is the speculative logic behind the god figures in the universe of the text?
- I understand Orual’s dream-vision and Psyche’s temptations in the way they relate to the story of Cupid and Psyche that went before, but some of the details about how they connect to Orual’s awakening are confusing to me.
- What does the title mean?
I have decided not to worry too much about all the limitations I have in reading Till We Have Faces. As good wood matures and grows richer in colour, I trust that the novel will also deepen inside of me. But I have decided to share some of the things that I have discovered over my years of reading the text. I hope that these thoughts this spring can strengthen the reading of those who love this novel, and encourage people who enjoy literary fiction or Lewis’ other storytelling to pick up Till We Have Faces for the first time.
So over the next few weeks, I am going to include some thoughts about the Till We Have Faces. Some of these are about background reading, such as Lewis’ writing life and the novel’s journey to publication. Others are reflections on the text, such as a word study on “cruel” and a thoughtful post about “Orual and the King of Glome.” I hope you can join me in this series, reading and talking about what some consider to be C.S. Lewis’ crowning literary achievement, Till We Have Faces.