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Connie

Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

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This book is a retelling of the Greek myth of Psyche and Cupid--C.S. Lewis style. Yet this was unlike any other C.S. Lewis book i've read. The hubby felt like there must have been a heavy Tolkien influence. He described it as "C.S. Lewis through a Tolkien lens." I can't say i disagree. It has such a different feel than some of his other books.

I really enjoyed this story, and the hubby couldn't put it down. It is told from the perspective of Psyche's older sister, Orual. It has great characterization and is just overall a great retelling of this story. I would recommend this book to anyone.

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As you read this book, post some of your thoughts. I'd like to hear your ideas on different types of love; "you too shall be Psyche"; the face of Ungit; the new priest; whether you think Oural was as ugly as she perceived; how do Ungit's rites compare with our own; how can something be both blessed and accursed; etc.

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This was on sale at Audible several weeks ago, and i took that opportunity to buy the audio of this book.  I have finally been able to listen to it, and it is just as good the second time through as it was the first.

 

There are so many things one could discuss with this book.  I feel like i totally get the selfish vs unselfish love that is a big theme in this book.  This time through i was struck by the idea of Orual as both Psyche and Ungit.  There is the part of the book where she is told "you too shall be Psyche" and then there is the part where she comes to feel that she is Ungit.  My thoughts on this are that this is where the title of the book comes in--till we have faces.  In the mortal realm is where we are striving to do and to become.  But are we striving to become Psyche or Ungit.  Which face will we choose.  It made me think of Alma 5--have you received His image in your countenance.

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There is quite a bit to discus with this book. I can see how your thoughts address some of my questions.

 

Selfish vs unselfish love:

What's the difference between the two in the book?

Do you agree with that distinction?

Is unselfish love really just a myth?

 

You too shall be Psyche:

It sounds like you pit Psyche vs Ungit as archetypes, is that accurate?

Is it really a vs? or is it better described as the Goddess and the Initiate (the mortal becoming a goddess)?

What was Oural's face like before? Is her "ugliness" really a statement that she's not pleased with her face (in contrast to the Psyche she wants to be and the one it finally becomes)?

 

Ritual:

Why is there so much ritual in this book? This is the sort of thing you would expect in a world-building book but this isn't really one of those kind, so what does it contribute to the themes of love and becoming?

How can something be both blessed and accursed?

Is the new priest creating a counterfeit (or false-face) of Ungit worship? How does he fit in with the book's themes?

 

I'm between books at the moment, so I think I'll pick that one back up and come back.

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As far as Psyche is concerned, i can see the mortal becoming a goddess that you mention.  But as far as Orual herself is concerned, i think it is a versus.  Within Orual, Psyche seems to represent her more spiritual/divine nature whereas Ungit seems to represent her human/selfish nature.  This is shown particularly when she goes on her "I am Ungit" rant.  It almost seems as if she decides her physical ugliness is representative of the "ugliness of her soul," and she has to decide if she will follow her selfish nature or become a "partaker of the divine nature."

 

The symbolism of this book is so subtle, and there are so many layers.  This is the type of symbolism that is so dependent on what the reader himself brings to the table.  So it's really interesting to see what other people think of it and what they get out of it.  This is the type of book one can read over and over and get something new out of it every time.  I'm really interested in your questions on ritual.  That's not something i noticed this time around.  I will have to think about it.

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Psyche is a pretty clear Christ figure. I think it surpasses the generic messiah-trope. She is believed to have healing power - even going so far as to take the population's sickness upon herself. This of course is simply a foreshadowing for when she atones for the kingdom and land. The method of sacrifice is naturally a tree (cross/tree are interchangeable in the post-gospel New Testament). She is both flawless and accursed (in the Old Testament anyone who is hanged on a tree is accursed, making crucifixion especially hateful). Despite Orual seeing the gods as cruel, Fox viewing them as a myth surpassed by philosophy and learning, and her father's blatant disregard for all things pious, Psyche is drawn to her own sacrifice. She is the goddess in human form. Hers is the journey that every mortal takes to become divine.

 

The nature of the sacrifice is sacramental to the extreme. It is metaphor, myth, and literal all rolled together, enmeshed in such a way that to parse out one from the others becomes impossible. Psyche will be consumed by the god-who-is-also-a-beast. Psyche will be married to the same divine brute. Psyche will die. None of this makes any sense to Orual. She sees only ritual. For her, the holiness of Ungit's temple is the smell of blood and incense. It is not the sacrifice or the ritual but the forms (in a Greek sense) that she recognizes, so she is almost as blind as Fox in such matters.

 

I wonder if Orual is really as ugly and she thinks herself. She admits that there's only one top-quality mirror in the palace and the only time she sees herself in it is after she is severely beaten. Her father speaks of her being homely, but their relationship makes such assessments questionable. The captain seems to be the best indicator of the truth, and his overheard remarks are the only reason why I'm on the fence about this.

 

I'm about a third of the way through it. I'll have more as I go along.

 

In the meantime, read Oaks' talk Love and Law and see if you view this story any differently.

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I love this thread because this is one of my favorite books!  You guys are bringing up things I never thought about before...which is why this book is a classic and one of my favorites!

 

What I love about is probably the most obvious (or does it just seem obvious because it's what I needed?)  The overall theme...Orwall starts the story to complain about how the Gods had mistreated her so badly and realizes in the end that she simply misunderstood the whole time.  One of my favorite parts is near the end when she asks the Fox, "So the Gods are not fair?" 

 

And says, "Oh no, my child, where would we be if they were."

 

That's paraphrased, but close enough.  

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Mordorbund,

 

I had a discussion about the question of whether Orual is as ugly as she thinks she is with my husband.  I brought up the point you made about the mirror and what she overhears the captain say which incidentally is said not long after the episode where she is severely beaten.  My question was, does it matter? She is absolutely convinced that she is ugly, so does it really matter whether she is or not?  My husband's answer was, yes, to a certain extent it does because of her ability to not be able to see beyond the proverbial nose on her face... to "create her own reality" as hubby put it.  What do you think, mordorbund?  Does it really matter if she is as ugly as she thinks she is?

 

 

LiterateParakeet,

 

Thanks for sharing.  I liked that part too.  I believe the word used was "just,"  "Are the gods not just?"  Other parts i liked, particularly at the end, were when she is told "you are also Psyche."  I felt like he was saying you are also loved just as i loved Psyche.  And i like the conclusion she reaches about never feeling like the gods answered... "God is himself the answer."

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I wonder if our readings of Oural's looks comes from our genders. Not too long ago, someone mentioned in a thread that complementing his wife is followed by her insulting herself. "You look good in those pants." "ugh- my hips are spilling over." Things like that. I've observed the same when women get together. There's some rule that you can't be comfortable in your own skin. For men, this is frustrating. Even if a woman doesn't believe a complement, she doesn't have to use Arachne's false humility for fear of offending. This form of mock humility is simply ingratitude and the woman doesn't see it that way. If you're paid a complement, simply say "thanks" and move on. Consider this: I bake you a cake (generic you - I don't even know if you're guilty of this stereotype) and a friend comes over to visit. "That's a lovely cake" she says. You reply, "sure, if you like crispy edges and miscolored frosting." I don't know anyone who thinks you're being modest with this statement. You are downplaying something that is genuinely delicious. A simple "thank you" is appropriate here, or you can even give credit where it is due, "Thanks, mordorbund made it for me". Humility is not defined for me by denying my talents but by acknowledging God as the giver. Joseph in Egypt is an excellent example of this. "You can interpret dreams?" "No, Pharaoh. I'm not very good. You should find someone else." Nope, Joseph responded that God interprets dreams and has blessed him with that gift. "Thanks Pharaoh. God sure has been kind to me."

 

I completely blame this tangent on you :). But back to the case at hand, does it matter whether Orual's ugliness is reality or merely perception? Initially, I was going to side with you that it doesn't. The key is that she feels "less-than". Her looks separate her from others, the inherent flaw in herself. Psyche experiences this as well, but not when looking at other people. She feels her shame in the presence of gods. Orual should experience this too, but instead she is focused on comparing herself to others. It is the ungodly sorrow that we heap upon ourselves when we should have godly sorrow instead. Too often we feel a gulf between ourselves and others (they are so much better than I) when the real gulf (the awful gulf) separates us from God!

 

So you're probably correct that it doesn't matter whether the ugliness is real or imagined, simply that she is focused on it. Notably, after seeing the god, she permanently veils her face (like an apron of fig-leaves if you will). Her attempts to fix herself are miniscule compared with what Ungit will do, but it's a start. At least now she's actually doing something about it.

 

On a different note, the old priest and the new priest. The old priest follows this theme of becoming, transforming into the god he has so long followed and impersonated. In his presence Orual is certain of the unseen divine (and hates him for it because he is so entwined with it). She has no such feelings with the new priest. Is the new priest a sham? Is he more political than spiritual? Is the difference just from a lack of experience with the divine (the old priest was, indeed, quite old)? That is, was the old priest like this once or is this priest in fact completely different?

 

Who does the king think veiled Orual is?

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Haha.  I think you're right about the gender thing.  I had thought of that too.  I think that's why i went to ask my hubby about it.  I would have never even thought to ask the question.  As a woman, i took it for granted that she was most definitely ugly.  LOL.  But now i'm thinking you're probably right and this is just part of her misperception of things.  I'm loving discussing this with you.  Thanks for your comments.

 

"Who does the king think veiled Orual is?"  I actually wondered that myself.  And now i'm wondering if there are any clues as to what it is the king fears most.  I'll have to go back and skim some of those parts and think about it.

 

Old priest vs new priest.  There are definitely some things to think about there.  I'm inclined to think they are completely different just based on Fox's relationship with the old vs the new.  That's probably really slim evidence because, you're right, there is the age difference to consider.  But there's also the fact that the new priest allows the new statue of Ungit.  And then you get the whole old statue vs new statue.  I was really interested in the scene where the woman comes to offer and pray to Ungit and uses the old statue.  Orual asks her if she always uses the old one and why she doesn't use the new one.  I forget what the woman replies (i'll go look it up).  You'll have to tell me what you think of that part when you get to it.

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The old statue vs the new statue is something I haven't fully resolved in my mind either. Is it a form of apostasy? Changing the ordinances or form of worship? Or are the gods in this change as well? After all, if the culture has been hellenized (through Fox) enough that the old forms have lost their meanings, the gods will have to work within the new culture. Perhaps the rationalized symbolism has always been there (you should read how Josephus describes the symbolism of the temple, for him it is all related to nature and the sky) and that is getting focused on  because that is what's recognizable (for us we learn from the best books because all have not faith - when people find out I don't drink alcohol they usually tell me "I should probably drink less anyway"; they respect the love I have for my family; these are things that they can already relate to. These are true aspects of the principles. There's also the aspect of revelation, living prophets, and priesthood keys, but the unfamiliar doesn't come until it is more familiar). My love of ritual compels me to think they're looking at it wrong (the priest spoke as though the myth, the story, and the rites are all one and the same for Psyche), but the respect I have for the "differences of administration" gives me pause before coming down hard against the new ways.

 

I thought it was interesting that the statue of the goddess Psyche was veiled when we meet her. It brings us the corn king story for a bit more messianic typography while also tying Orual into the story (showing that she too is Psyche). When the old king screams that he knows who veiled Orual really is, I initially read that as meaning Ungit (the blank face, whose different aspects are viewed differently by worshipers). In this reading, I'm wondering if maybe the king thinks it's deified Psyche come back from the dead. Regardless, he sees the face of a goddess (perhaps coming to punish him for his sins).

 

Do you think Redival got to see Psyche's palace? Do you think she saw it as in the original myth (as a real thing), and not as a passing vision like Orual saw it?

 

Orual's love is shown to be deficient because it is really a possessive drive leading to her jealousy. We even discover Redival's jealousy coming from a similar "selfish" love as you term it. Is the love of the gods any different? Aren't they extremely jealous of their creation? Doesn't their love drive them to transform the characters into what they (the gods) want and not necessarily what the creation desires?

 

We only got to see a partial judgment scene where Orual gets to present her charge to the gods, only to discover that it was the tantrum of a child. If we saw a full, final judgment (and bringing some Christianity into their theology) who would be saved? and who would be damned? Psyche? Orual? Redival? the king? Fox? Barda? the Soldier (his name escapes me)? Based on what you've learned of the gods in this story, what does it take to enter into the bliss of the dead and what does it take to enter into the misery of the dead?

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Do you think Redival got to see Psyche's palace? Do you think she saw it as in the original myth (as a real thing), and not as a passing vision like Orual saw it?

 

Orual's love is shown to be deficient because it is really a possessive drive leading to her jealousy. We even discover Redival's jealousy coming from a similar "selfish" love as you term it. Is the love of the gods any different? Aren't they extremely jealous of their creation? Doesn't their love drive them to transform the characters into what they (the gods) want and not necessarily what the creation desires?

 

We only got to see a partial judgment scene where Orual gets to present her charge to the gods, only to discover that it was the tantrum of a child. If we saw a full, final judgment (and bringing some Christianity into their theology) who would be saved? and who would be damned? Psyche? Orual? Redival? the king? Fox? Barda? the Soldier (his name escapes me)? Based on what you've learned of the gods in this story, what does it take to enter into the bliss of the dead and what does it take to enter into the misery of the dead?

 

Reposting because I'm curious about these discussion questions.

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I've decided....Til We Have Faces is my favorite book.  I find myself returning to it again and again, certain I don't understand it all, but loving it all the more because or inspite of that.  Though it is a mystery to me, it is also a comfort.  

 

I realize this discussion is two years old...and I feel completely out of my league here...I can't resist commenting because after all...this is my favorite book.  :)  

 

Reposting because I'm curious about these discussion questions.

 

 

Do you think Redival got to see Psyche's palace? Do you think she saw it as in the original myth (as a real thing), and not as a passing vision like Orual saw it?

 

 

If we think of the story as an allegory (and since it is C.S. Lewis, how can we not?) then, I would have to say yes.  I think that she did get to see it.  I think in a vision of some sort also, because I think that there would be some sort of "test"...if you accept the vision then more will be added to you, and if not, then no more.  Based on the original story, it seems that Redival did not accept the vision either.

 

Orual's love is shown to be deficient because it is really a possessive drive leading to her jealousy. We even discover Redival's jealousy coming from a similar "selfish" love as you term it. Is the love of the gods any different? Aren't they extremely jealous of their creation? Doesn't their love drive them to transform the characters into what they (the gods) want and not necessarily what the creation desires?

 

 

 

I sympathize with Orual. Yes, I suppose, her love was selfish, and she definitely struggled with jealously....but I think much of this was due to genuine misunderstanding and a certain "childishness" that we all have.  I mean it sounds like Orual was a wonderful queen, very kind, generous and wise.  But like all of us, she had weaknesses, blind spots, that kept her from seeing things as they truly were.  When I read this book, I'm reminded to wonder what are my blind spots?

 

When you ask if the love of the gods are different?  It depends.  From what I understand of the Greek Gods, yes I think they were selfish, and transforming humans into what they wanted regardless of what was best for the humans.  

But, what we know of Greek Gods is only what we are told through the eyes of humans, so naturally we transfer to them our own weaknesses in an attempt to understand their mysteries.

 

If instead of Greek Gods we consider gods as Heavenly Father and Mother, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost....then we know (at least intellectually) that they seek only our best good, and that their love is not in the least selfish.  (You can't be more unselfish than sacrificing your own son -- or your own life.)  

 

But do we really understand this in our hearts?  This is what I love about this book.  I think we are all as Orual.  We don't see clearly, no matter how much we may think we do.  We are but as children.  In moments of pain we cry out, "Why did God allow this to happen to me?"  some ask, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?".  Because we are human, and we are like children, in that our understanding of the universe is limited.

 

Should the Gods their creations what they desire?  It is tempting to say yes, but anyone who has worked with children knows that adults cannot always give into the desires of children, for their own good.  

 

We only got to see a partial judgment scene where Orual gets to present her charge to the gods, only to discover that it was the tantrum of a child. If we saw a full, final judgment (and bringing some Christianity into their theology) who would be saved? and who would be damned? Psyche? Orual? Redival? the king? Fox? Barda? the Soldier (his name escapes me)? Based on what you've learned of the gods in this story, what does it take to enter into the bliss of the dead and what does it take to enter into the misery of the dead?

 

 

I love this question.  

Psyche...as you said she is a Christ-type in this story, so there's really no question about her being saved.  

Redival--what we know of her is so limited, it's hard for me to make a guess about that.  I'm curious, what kind of wife was she (to that darling prince/king)? What kind of mother?  What sort of person did she become?  I don't have enough information about her to guess.

 

The Fox and Barda -- remember the conversation between Orual and the Fox, when he says she can expect mercy but not justice.  In surprise Orual asks, "Are the Gods not just?" 

 

Fox: "Oh no child, where would we be if they were"  (paraphrased)

 

I think the Fox and Barda though they saw the world very differently, each did their best to do what was right as they saw it.  It reminds me of Corrie ten Boom and her sister in law (?).  In The Hiding Place, Corrie tells how she felt it was okay to lie to Nazi's in order to save lives.  Her sister in law (SIL) felt that one must always be honest, and God would bless them for it.  

 

As the story unfolds, we can see that they were both right.  Each were blessed and protected.  The SIL was jailed and then escaped through miraculous intervention (as were the Jewish people she was hiding).  Corrie helped a lot more people, and while she did end up in a concentration camp, her whole book is witness that God was with her during that time.  This tells me that both were blessed for trying their best to "do right" according to their understanding of what was right.

 

I see the Fox and Barda as both being blessed/saved under this same principle.  They were both good faithful men, who gave themselves to those around them.

 

The King...my knee jerk reaction on him is to say no, no, no...let him burn because he was physically abusive.  I don't have much patience for that.  But then I remember that Barda said the king was good to his soldiers and other men, that he just didn't "understand women" or something to that effect.  Not that that is an excuse, but violence may have been an accepted part of their culture . . .  so I have to think that perhaps...just perhaps, the king could be forgiven eventually . . .  though I see him as less deserving than any of the other characters.

 

The solder?  I'm not sure who you mean.  Redival's old boyfriend that became a leader in another land because of his "deformity"?  He's very prideful. It's not fair to judge on just one scene, but in my heart I put him in a lower place than the king because he seems truly selfish and prideful.

 

Orual...I saved her for last because I think she represents all of us.  Yes, her love was selfish perhaps, but not intentionally so.  She did the best she could acting on her understanding of how things were.  Yes, she made mistakes.  I just wanted to reach into the book and shake her when she saw the things she saw, but still didn't believe Psyche's story.  I like to think I would have believed her....but then my accepting nature makes me vulnerable to other weaknesses and delusions.  My husband would not have been like Orual.  He and I talk about this all the time.  I call him The Polar Express Boy (like the book/movie, I swear my husband could take an amazing train ride, stand at the North Pole and still say, "Perhaps it's just a dream."....and yet once he is converted, he is solid.)  

I can't judge Orual harshly, because I identify with her to much.  Sure I would have accepted Psyche's story more readily, but I would and do make the same kinds of mistakes as Orual in other ways....I have blind spots that have caused me to rant and be angry with "the gods" on more than one occasion.  I worry that those same blind spots keep me from truly seeing and understanding the people I love.  

 

So yes, I think Orual would be saved....because if there's no hope for her what hope is there for any of us?  

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