"Now we see in a glass dimly, but then face to face."
Long before C.S. Lewis created the land of Narnia and wrote his many books exploring Christian faith, he was fascinated with Greek mythology. Till We Have Faces is Lewis’ reworked story of the Cupid and Psyche myth, which has come down to us in modern times as Beauty and the Beast. It was a story he began as an undergraduate and was to become his favorite work when he completed it years later.
Lewis took the throwaway character of the beauty’s jealous sister Orual and made her the focus of the story. Orual has raised her sister princess Psyche from birth. She loves her sister possessively and is filled with bitter anger over her own physical and spiritual ugliness. She puts a veil over her face to hide from the world and in outward actions she is all that a ruler should be. But she knows the truth:
"I would set out boldly each morning to be just and calm and wise in all my thoughts and acts, but before they had finished dressing me I would find that I was back in some old rage, resentment, gnawing fantasy, or sullen bitterness. I could not hold out half an hour . . . I could mend my soul no more than my face."
Lewis writes lyrically and with compassion but he doesn’t duck the darker issues at play. Orual, denied physical beauty and the easy love and acceptance that comes with it, blames the gods for their faithlessness, and, in trying to hold tight to the one person she truly loves, she becomes the jealous instrument for Psyche’s destruction.
Till We Have Faces is a rich and wondrous book that may be read simply for entertainment or to soothe the reader's soul.