Till We Have Faces

(Fiction; G. Bles, 1956; repr., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980)


C. S. Lewis set his final novel, Till We Have Faces, in a pagan, polytheistic world of his own imagining, but like John Milton before him, Lewis, an intently Christian author, meant to justify the ways of God to men. The novel opens with one of the most audacious beginnings in literature, an opening to rival the ending of the Book of Job, in which a suffering soul confronts the heavens with an accusation and invites the reader to judge the nature and legitimacy of mortal complaint. A retelling of the Cupid/Psyche myth, the tale is narrated by Psyche’s older, unattractive, dutiful sister, whose account of events—how her sister came to be sacrificed to the god and how she herself became a powerful queen—appeals to our ideal of fairness in the face of inhuman fate. Lewis’s visceral telling and moment-to-moment drama narrated with pitch-perfect lyric intensity carry his readers from wonder to wonder. In a crucial scene, when Psyche breaks her covenant with her lover god, lighting a lamp so she can at last see if he is, as foretold, a monster, Lewis’s manifestation of the god is so immediate and palpable that it’s literally hair-raising. Few, if any, other writers have so convincingly embodied an encounter with the divine.

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