Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis is the repackaged myth of Cupid and Psyche, told through the perspective of Orual, Psyche’s older sister. Set in the city-state of Glome, a small, primitive kingdom, the tale begins as an accusation against the gods for their injustice against Orual. She opens the narrative with glimpses into her life as the ugly princess under the cruel rule of her rash and wildly moody father, the King of Glome. When Orual’s mother dies, the King marries again, and the new queen also dies in childbirth with Istra, her beautiful daughter. Orual and her faithful tutor, a Greek slave nicknamed “the Fox,” raise Istra as lovingly as a mother and grandfather, and every day Istra, called Psyche by the pair, becomes more enchanting. So enchanting, in fact, that the people of Glome decided she must be sacrificed to the gods.
Orual’s complaint continues, not only because the gods take Psyche from her physically, but they seem to take her emotionally as well. Psyche seems delusional, and so Orual takes drastic action to get her back, resulting in unintentionally devastating consequences and a life lived in the shadow of colossal grief and haunting injustice. But as she nears the end of her life, Orual will have her chance to register her accusation and discover the truth of it all.
This critically acclaimed work was considered by both CS Lewis and his contemporaries to be the best thing he ever produced, and having read Lewis extensively, I have to agree. The writing is undeniably beautiful and expertly reminiscent of the classical style Lewis purposely emulates. The story was so compelling that I finished the book in four days. And, in contrast to the original myth, in which Orual betrays Psyche purely out of jealousy, Lewis creates a layered and sympathetic main character whom the reader can easily identify with in her reactions, emotions, and decisions. I loved Orual as a narrator. She displays all the unreliability, skewed perspective, and fallibility of human nature even as she displays its best qualities. And the end? The catharsis, revelation, redemption; it is brilliant and magnificent.
If you are a Lewis fan and haven’t picked this one up, you are doing yourself a disservice. From its imaginative and original take on classical Greek mythology to its weaving in of a eloquent Christian narrative, Till We Have Faces very well could be Lewis’s magnum opus.