Book review: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C. S. Lewis

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 posessively 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. Goodreads say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.

I can’t quite remember why I picked this book, I remember this was when I was still doing my masters in Seoul and I went through my second obsession on Narnia and thought that I must, at the very least, read another work from Lewis that is completely different from Narnia. In all honesty, it was easy to found one, seeing that Lewis  does not exclusively wrote children’s books. But, I wanted something that is not too complicated, something I could enjoy because I already have an interest first; this is where this book comes in. Although I’m not a fan of Cupid and Psyche’s love story (if one is to call that a love story), I thought it would be interesting to see someone like Lewis doing a retelling of a famous work before him.

Now, cover-wise I think this book could do with better cover artwork; this one was just too bland and boring. It didn’t do the story justice, but I guess this is one of those times when the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, actually applies.

Brilliant. Through and through!

Just from reading all seven books in the Narnia series, I believe that Lewis is such a complex writer. He would write about something, but it would contain and mean a lot of other things. I can’t speak for Lewis (obviously), but reading the retelling of Cupid and Psyche, I really didn’t expect to be reading about faith, feminism, unrequited love, and most important (for me, at least) the struggle that is to be a woman.

I came reading this book to see a different take on Cupid and Psyche, but I came out feeling energised by the adventures (for lack of better word) of Orual; her fear of Ungit and eventually her anger for the gods, her love for Psyche/Istra and Bardia, her struggle in becoming the Queen of Glome, and eventually her realisation of everything as the book comes full-circle. I first read the book feeling nothing but pity for Orual, and then anger, and I came to sympathise her, and eventually I came to understand and accept everything, much like Orual did throughout the book.

It was brilliant and interesting because as you read Orual’s voice, you feel as your own. It was so simple, and yet so captivating and beautiful. I was applauding Lewis the whole time I was reading the book. It was complex but it wasn’t confusing. It was tragic but calming also. It was everything I had hope for and more.

Judging from my Narnia reading experience, again, I always think that Lewis tends to have a tendency of favouritism over his characters. In this book, although he didn’t blast Istra for blindly believing in Cupid (even without knowing for sure if he was indeed Cupid) or Redival for being vain (as I was lead to believe in the first part of the book), Lewis completely favours Orual more.

It was an interesting experience to get inside the head of a character such as Orual.

Orual is a sister, a mother, a Queen, a lover, and someone who defies the gods. To see so many of Orual’s identities in this book, overlapping one and the other is such a rich experience that I had enjoyed so much. Orual came off as a pretty pushy kind of character, always thinking that she is more important than Redival or that her love for Istra was the best love there is, but then to see her going against the gods and then seeing her read her plead her case before the gods with such raw emotions and honesty, it was fulfilling and I felt that that was the high note of the entire book.

Lewis might want the readers to take something out of Orual’s realisation of the existence of gods, but I took the most from Orual’s realisation when she stopped reading her book and/or letter (it changes during that particular part) before the gods.

Do you like The Chronicles of Narnia?

Do you like Greek mythologies?

Do you like retelling of famous stories?

If you answered yes to one of the questions above, then I seriously recommend this book!

Title: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold

Author: C. S. Lewis

Genre: Classics, Fantasy, Fiction

Goodreads link



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