Retelling Book Review: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

&lTill We Have FacesTill We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A friend recommended this as his favorite retelling when he found out I liked them, and another friend seconded his suggestion. I acquired a copy from Paperbackswap soon after, and then, of course, let it gather dust on my shelf until something brought it to my attention. This time, it was the Into the Forest Goodreads group (fairy tales and retellings) choosing it for their May/June “group read.”

I have read four of the seven Narnia books, and getting through them always feels like a bit of a chore. Something about the writing style feels so distant to me. So I was surprised by the intimacy of Lewis’ writing here, which maintained a “classical” feel without being impenetrable. I liked the character of Orual, and the way she told her story, and I related to the love she felt for her younger sister, and the way in which the line between protectiveness and possessiveness became blurred. I didn’t really mind the allegorical nature of the story, or the way it stood in as a potential metaphor for Christianity vs. atheism, although I did think it was somewhat strange to use the character of Cupid, a “pagan” deity, to stand in for a monotheistic God. I kept expecting the “God of Israel” to make an appearance!

What makes me most uncomfortable about this story is not its exploration of “profane vs. sacred love,” but its implication that to be beautiful is to be godly and to be ugly is to be at the mercy of baser emotions. If Orual essentially came to “realize” that she had been “jealous” of Psyche all along, and had been in the wrong for most of her life; and if Psyche is the one who has been lucky enough to see the face of God and find herself beloved of God, can we avoid a message that one who is ugly in appearance is also ugly in heart, only dressing up her motivations as nobler ones? Or that to be beautiful in appearance is to be good and “pure” of heart? These are conclusions that don’t sit well with me, despite the beauty of this piece’s writing and its insight into the human psyche — no pun intended.

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