Monday, May 08, 2017

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

I don't even remember why this book was moved up to the front of my queue. But I asked Dr. BB if he had it and he had it on his Kindle, so this weekend while my job was sitting quietly and occasionally giving my mother-in-law sips of water, I read Till We Have Faces.
I have traditionally disliked Lewis books. Most of this is because I am a heathen, so many of the religious allegories fly over my head and I'm left scratching my head trying to figure WTH just happened, but some of it is because I think Lewis thinks he's cleverer than I think Lewis is.  Anyway. For reasons that are mysterious to me at this exact moment, although I'm sure there are reasons, I read this book.

Plot: This is a retelling of the Psyche/Cupid myth in a per-Christian world told through the eyes of Psyche's older sister, Orual. 

Philosophy: There are a lot of BIG questions in this book. The first scene that really caused me to sit up and pay attention was an interesting look at utilitarianism. If you accept human sacrifice as a thing (and why not?), the questions it raises are quite interesting. Self-sacrifice is interesting, right, because you are martyring yourself for others. But if you are extraordinary, shouldn't you sacrifice someone with inferior inabilities?  Or does it matter?  Does it matter if you sacrifice one extraordinary person or five average? And that was the first philosophical debate.

Mythology: Let me tell you about the Lewis twist. In the original myth, Psyche's sisters were jealous of Psyche's relationship with Cupid and she tricked the god on the advice of those jealous sisters and   then Cupid cast her aside. In this telling, Orual is actually uncertain for a time if her sister is a goddess, is mentally ill, is being taken advantage of by a vagrant, or if she's dead.  And Orual makes decisions with incomplete knowledge. And those decisions have consequences and those consequences have consequences. Orual is writing the story of her life, angry with the gods, angry that her life has been full of mysterious unknowables and without love since her sister had been taken away from her.  And it will force you consider your own relationship with deities, even as you sit next to your mother-in-law's deathbed, occasionally giving her sips of water.

I don't like this book. I think it pontificates. I still think Lewis thinks he's much cleverer than he is. But it struck a nerve with me at this moment in my life when I am making decisions based on incomplete knowledge, when I'm a punching bag for people who are angry about circumstances beyond anyone's control, but who refuse to acknowledge that maybe their god is not a benevolent god, and when I look around at a world with so many ancient beliefs that have led to a political morass so deep I don't see a way out. 

So I don't know if I recommend this book. But it felt cathartic to read it right now at this moment in time when I needed ethical dilemmas to relieve me from the very real dilemmas sitting in front of me. So take that for what it's worth.

1 comment:

  1. Fun Fact: CS Lewis and his brother Warnie were pals with JRR Tolkien and Charles Williams at Oxford. They all read and discussed their stuff at regular meetings, and called themselves the Inklings.

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