Friday, December 10, 2010

Books, read em!



It's a long review, with lots of thoughts and ideas, bravery encouraged.


"Till we Have Faces" by C.S Lewis

This is a modern retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. (Wikipedia link) The story however is told through the eyes of Psyche's older sister Orual.

C.S Lewis has been quoted saying, the story haunted him, which was one of the reasons I wanted to read it, the other reason this book was on my list, was my good friend and art hero Nick Bontorno said it was his favorite book. After reading it, I can understand only on a minuscule level why they both have these feelings toward it.

The book being a C.S Lewis book is filled to the brim with symbols and allegories, with signs of truths and nods at religious views and values, as are all of his books, but something happens when you use a pagan story in order to highlight christian ideas. It provides an environment for you to loosen up your "strict" ideas, and address them how I think an ancient Greek university would. Without judgement, without having to choose a side, it provides you a blank slate to come to conclusions you wouldn't have before considered. I think because of the pagan views, which are also religious the book allows you to stray but not far from the reverence of religion.
With that being said, I'm going to tell you about some of the ideas I got out of this book, since it is a myth you can just read quickly on wikipedia, spoilers aren't really an issue.

Orual is a "hobgoblin" of a woman, I mean that only in appearance, she is told many times in the book, of her ugliness and how if only she would have been born beautiful, how she could have been something. This really bothered me in the book, I was upset about how she was treated, she is admired for her thought and actions, but because she is physically unattractive, all of that feels like it doesn't matter. I related a lot to that, lately I have been trying my hardest to understand the objectification of women in the visual arts mostly. Its something that when its blatant its easy to pick up on, but there have been paintings and artists who I like and respect who do it subtlety, some of them might not even know or think they aren't doing it at all, it felt like that for Orual, that the men of the kingdom were showing her pity by feeling sorrow for her "looks"(with exception of her father, who was a major douche chill.) when they should have been acknowledging the beauty beneath her "mangled" outer shell. Why is a woman who is 100 pounds with no flaws pretty while the mother of 3 who has lived her life, whose trials and joys are apparent, not? (That is just one of the reactions I had to it, more of one that I personally might just get out of the book.)

The book is just filled with little ideas like that, though I feel the underlying message of the book would have to be the fact that Orual hated the Gods for stealing a loved one. Orual truly loved Psyche, she cared for her and raised her, she wished Psyche was her child. Psyche enlightened her life, she really enriched Orual's very existence. Psyche became her only reason for living, to protect, to guide, and to save her from sometimes, herself. There was this battle between the Gods and Orual for Psyche, but also a battle between who and what the Pagan Gods were themselves, which is what I alluded to earlier, the book gives you the ability to sort of pretend that God's many aspects and "faces" are individual Gods. ( I think that is basically what most Pagan Gods are, just different "moods" or periods of God. The God we perceive today is worlds apart from the one in the old testament.)

The short period of Psyche's life made me think of the Saviors, I felt some parrallels between the two in the book. It also allowed me to put myself in the place of Orual, how upset would you be if Jesus was born in your lifetime, and you spent all your days with him, watching him and listening to him, being a companion personally to him throughout his days on Earth, only to have him taken away? (in your mind prematurely) Psyche is sort of a Christ figure in this book, she brings light to many people, and is eventually sacrificed to the Gods for the people, she is given to the Shadowbrute, so the Gods will lift the famine and drought on the land. She accepts her fate, and welcomes it because of the belief she can help the kingdom. To have the one thing you feel has given your life purpose, taken away from you by a God whom you don't understand, love, or want. It makes me ponder on people who don't have the doctrine of our church, those who believe that our mortal existence is it. The rage and feeling of being wronged that rush through Orual I imagine is similar to those who have lost a loved one without a knowledge or testimony of a life after death. In this book, Psyche is really not heard of again, she is referenced all through-out but she has become a Goddess, while Orual is faced with a life without her, still debating whether or not her sister has become mad and deranged, perhaps an object of some cruel prank of the Gods. She is forced to continue her life "purposeless," with Psyche never far from her mind, but always far from her being. Orual dons a veil and becomes the Queen of her kingdom, she becomes one of the greatest rulers of the time, solving the problems of the lands, uniting kingdoms, enlightening her subjects, all behind a mask.

You can see there are just hundreds upon hundreds of ideas and themes in this book. I don't even think I can start to scratch the surface of this book. I think Nick told me he has read this book multiple times, and will continue to read it. I think that might become one of my goals as well. The book really is fantastic, it a book that needs multiple reads and a book that won't stop giving. I think the book has that ability to relate to anyone at any point in their life, as it is a tale of love lost, of faith renewed, of redemption, and to a life not wasted on the past. Also it's a fast read.

P.S I know that most of my friends and family are English majors, so tread lightly and understand, I am not.

4 comments:

Valerie said...

Embarrassingly, aside from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I've never read any C.S. Lewis.

This sounds fantastic, there is something so fascinating about the gods, particularly when written about by a Christian, because there is always some kind of undercurrent.

As for your feminist reaction to Orual, it seems that her mistreatment and its implications are an intended theme of the book, though your reaction in particular is pretty great, because it made you aware of how your awareness of women in art is becoming particularly strong. Every read is a dialogue between the text and the reader. I think we teach each other.

Very insightful review.

Lady Jane Grey said...

I need to read this book.

Valerie said...

Oh, by the way. Great title for the post. Really fitting.

Nick Bontorno said...

yeah! Good book. The end was trippy, I still don't know what happened. But nice review.