Saturday, January 02, 2021


I have just finished Till We Have Faces, and now begin to get why people consider it not only Lewis's masterwork, but even the greatest novel of the 20th C. Yet it is so easy, in complete contradiction to Lewis's intent, to think repeatedly of other people who really, really need to read this book. 

There is a dream/vision in the second part - very medieval, as in "Piers Plowman," "The Dream of the Rood," or Dante's Divine Comedy - in which Orual has many of her personal explanations of the relationships and motivations of her life from earliest ages turned on their heads. It is so easy to resort to those explanations of what relatives, early friends, bosses, and mentors did that we have cherished these many years.  For adult relationships I have already recognised how mixed the blame might be. 

But I flipped the narratives for stepfather, brother, and to a lesser extent a few others. I still cling to that 90%...60%...20% they did wrong, but am at least having a go at it. You should encounter the book in your own way and I will say little more.  But should you attempt it, reading the myth of Cupid and Psyche sometime before the last section of the book, or reading The Four Loves in advance or in parallel, or reading Aristotle and some Plato would be helpful.


Galen said...

I'm grateful for your friendly advice on Lewis, admire your perspicacity and perspective, and can tell that it's the product of many years of reflection.

I read "Till We Have Faces" hastily many years ago and made a complete hash of it. Usually I am immediately enchanted by Lewis' prose, whatever the subject, but this story hit my intellectual funny bone. It felt disturbing and I finished it out of a sense of duty, resisting all the way. Should have told me something.

I have read a little Plato and Aristotle since then, and will revisit "The Four Loves." Thanks to you I'm looking forward to re-reading "Faces" more receptively this time. Happy New Year!

Galen said...

PS I happen to be in the middle of "Studies in Words" - wonderful. Sorry for the double post.

james said...

I first read it when relatively young (early high school) and didn't have a full appreciation for how much self-deception is possible.

And yes, I also have recommended it to someone who I thought should read it, though not because I thought they were kidding themselves, but for the description of the aspects of the holy as both dark and light.