Till We Have Faces (2): Longing for the Grey Mountain

I have invited the readers who visit Living Our Days to join me in reading C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, and to return here each Thursday for a discussion.  If you’re just joining us, you can find the reading schedule here.  

Approaches to C.S. Lewis’s brand of fiction vary widely, ranging from “This is a great story, and I love it.  Please leave me alone and let me enjoy it,” to those who seek a point-by-point application for every possible allegory.  Wherever you fall on this spectrum, it’s clear that Chapters 1-3 set the stage for many of the major themes that permeate the book.  Even if you have not yet started to read with us, this short summary of the first three chapters may serve as a teaser to get you started!

Plot Summary

In the semi-barbaric kingdom of Glome, in a time before the fall of the Greek empire, there lived a homely princess named Orual.  Her mother has died, and the king remarries and fathers, to his dismay, yet another daughter, making three in all.  Transfixed by the baby’s beauty and good nature, Orual raises and dotes on the child who grows in beauty and goodnessand is beloved by the people.  The young Princess Psyche is rumored to have healing in her hands, and chapter three ends with an ominous sense that the jealousy of the middle daughter (Redival), two years of poor harvest, and the onset of an epidemic of fever may, together, signal the end of happy times for Orual and Psyche.

standing

Reflection

The word “standing” reached out from Romans 5:1,2 and chose me for its own this year,

 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

and it leaves me wishing that Orual (and her present day sisters) could see and know this God who “has always wanted to do” good for us, to be “all together” with us so that we would see the wide-open door which He has already flung aside in welcome.

With her opening paragraph, Orual makes it evident that she is (and has long been) at enmity with the gods.  She has concluded that the gods hate her, but clearly, she is not in a position of unbelief:

  • She recognizes but disregards their power to do her harm, and describes Ungit as a “very strong goddess,” (pg. 4).  Dressing traditional Christian concepts in pagan clothing, C.S. Lewis portrays Ungit as a nature goddess and Ungit’s son is the “god who lives on the Grey Mountain.”
  • She acknowledges that the gods have knowledge that is unavailable to humans, “and gods do not tell,” (p. 33).
  • As a child, even the smell of Ungit’s temple was frightening to her, and she continues to refer to it as a smell of holiness, “the Ungit smell,” (p. 11).

By contrast, Psyche seems to have been drawn since childhood toward the Grey Mountain:  “When I’m big,” she said, “I will be a great, great queen, married to the greatest king of all, and he will build me a castle of gold and amber up there on the very top,” (p. 23).  Even when she succumbs to the fever, her delirious ravings are all about the Grey Mountain.

In the midst of these two polar opposites stands The Fox, a Greek slave who has been assigned to tutor the girls.  Spouting rational explanations for all the mysterious actions of “the gods,” and insisting that all the murky evidence for the numinous all around them is “just lovely poetry,” he still trembles before the mystery of death, and fails to convince anyone with his reason-based protests. Throughout the book, we will see that Orual continually struggles to reconcile the teachings of The Fox with the teachings of Ungit’s priests.

C.S. Lewis, in his writing, frequently ties the distant hills to the sense of longing that formed the backdrop to his formative years — “sehnsucht” he called it, a German term that manages to convey deep yearning and nostalgic longing.  The theme permeates much of what Lewis wrote, and at this point in the novel, the longing is tied to the distant hills and their “otherworldliness” that draws Psyche. Of course, C.S. Lewis was famous for having said,

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Some Issues to Ponder

  1. Do you see any similarities between Orual’s devotion to Psyche and the people of Glome’s failure to look beyond Psyche to the god of Grey Mountain?
  2. Lewis used the term “myth” not as an opposite to the word “fact,” but instead to label a device of meaning-making. For instance, he referred to “the myths of the Bible,” referring to the stories and themes we all know.  Converting to Christianity at the age of 31, Lewis found that Christ “is the reality which all myths are suggesting.”  In Miracles he refers to “a long preparation [of all previous myths which] culminates in God’s becoming incarnate as Man, so . . . the truth first appears in Mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History.”  He believed most myths were initially theological; for instance, that all nations’ myths of blood and sacrifice arose from “initial revelation,” all pointing toward the same truth of Christ crucified.   Do you find Lewis’s portrayal of Christian concepts in a strange context to be helpful — or distracting?
  3.   Lewis scholars claim that his wife, Joy Davidman, was quite influential in the development of Orual’s character.  This does give insight to the amazing ability of a nearly lifelong bachelor to develop the interior landscape of a strong female character.  But . . . then there is Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew. And Mrs. Beaver.  And Lucy Pevensie is no slouch either!  Any thoughts on this?
  4. How are you pronouncing Orual’s name as you read?  I’ve always said “Or-oo-all” which is a bit awkward.  Anyone saying “you” for the middle syllable?

Your Turn

I hope that you will share your thoughts on the first three chapters in the comments below.  I will be thrilled if you choose to link up your own blog posts for all of our benefit and enjoyment!

Next Time

On Thursday, January 19th, I’ll be here having read chapters 4-6.

I hope you are enjoying the experience of exploring this beautiful, complex, and compassionate story.

//

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

63 thoughts on “Till We Have Faces (2): Longing for the Grey Mountain”

  1. Do you know, bizarrely, I cannot find this book on Kindle or as a book… I have no idea why. Amazon.com.au only does Kindle, doesn’t do hard copies, but everyone knows cs lewis. I’m trying in the christian book store.

    >

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    1. Hooray! I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say about it all. I had a great conversation yesterday (in real life — not on the internet –if you can believe it!) about Lewis’s use of images in his writing, whether he intends for us to be poking around and looking for parallels for everything or whether we should enjoy the great story and be blessed by glimpses of Light as they come.

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  2. Well, here goes, I guess I will be the first to link back to the blogpost I wrote about this first week’s reading by Lewis, (and hope that I do it correctly! ha)

    https://raseasons.blogspot.com/2017/01/sun-of-my-soul-thou-savior-dear-it-is.html

    I am so enjoying this book! Thank you for guiding us in the discussion, Michele. I have always appreciated Lewis’ viewpoint that Jesus “is the reality which all myths are suggesting.” It seems that I usually end up finding the parallels in things that I am reading, whether the author intends it or not, and finding a deeper beauty in God’s creation because of it. Oh, and I guess that I am one of those who is pronouncing “Orual” with a “you” in the middle! 🙂 –Blessings to you!

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    1. O may no earth-born cloud arise
      to hide thee from thy servant’s eyes.”
      –John Keble

      Yes and amen! I enjoyed and resonated with your post this morning. Poetry has a way of piercing to the heart and uncovering longings hidden there. I love the way a poem can give me words to express what is in my heart unexpressed. Thank you for this post.

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      1. Thank you for this introduction, Michele. I am not a great fan of mythology but I did love the Narnia stories and their powerful analogies so I am hanging in here to try to understand how such a ghastly fearful character as Ungit can have about him the smell of holiness! I’ll admit to being repelled by him and very unsure where this analogy is heading but it’s good to have a guide who’s been there! Thanks for your encouragement to read this book.
        I do very much need to dwell in Romans 5:1 (and in fact have been there already this week with this awareness) The Message version said it all in a new and grabbing way. Thanks for passing that on! A little further down it says this:

        “Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. ” This is incredible to fathom and a real fight of faith for me…. I thank you for pointing me here.

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      2. Oh, my goodness, what beautiful and pertinent words about sacrificial death and being “at odds with God.” I can’t help but grieve for those who, like Orual, feel as if they have become unloveable to God. Thanks for hanging in there with this story — I’m put off by the darkness as well, but I always find that C.S. Lewis’s metaphors shine a light for me to “look along” in order to see a bigger truth.

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      3. OK, I’ve got to go get my hymnal and spend some time with those lovely words. And, yes, I’ve also found that poetry unlocks things with its spareness of words and richness of meaning.

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  3. Well, I had to sit down and read the book cover to cover (couldn’t put it down!) first. Now as I am reading it again I see things I didn’t see the first time. (Glad I read it through first). I am struck by the King’s need to control EVERYTHING and to cover Orual’s (pronounced “you” in the middle) face. She learns to hide her face to avoid ridicule. The use of masks in the story is significant – I’ll be watching for that this time through. Interesting that everyone has their own ideas of the gods and who they want the gods to be. Reminds me of those that want their own version of God and build their religion on their own ideas instead of the Word.

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    1. Yes, I also like to get the big picture first and then focus on the details with that in mind, Linnea. You’ve certainly made a boat load of excellent points here. That veil of Orual’s haunts me, and we will certainly be talking more about that. And we are certainly guilty of trying to re-make God in our own image, and to fit our need of the moment.

      Isn’t it fun to have different details stand out in subsequent readings?

      On a completely unrelated topic, I’ve been reading Extravagant Grace and am having some of my thoughts about God (and sin) challenged, so thank you for sharing that book with me!

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  4. Michele, I love that we’re word-twins this year! Thank you for sharing that verse with me on my site–I love it too. 🙂 I’m not reading the book, but as I was reading your post, in my mind I was pronouncing it “Orall” (Or + all, but southern-like — without a pause.) Which means that’s probably not the right way at all, haha. 🙂 xoxo

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  5. Hi Michele!
    I love how you are leading this! Your discussion questions reminded me that I need to not read the material too far ahead of your questions. The first time I sat down to read, I read through the first six chapters and have a delicious feel for the whole of them and yet a bit spottier memory of the specifics. As a result, I only take a stab at responding and be sure to reread 4-6 for the next time and stay more current with you. (I had extra reading time when the book came and just jumped in!!)

    What struck me re. the first question is how easy it was and still is to look to anyone or anything other than (rather than) the Lord for the very things our heart most desires. I am not sure if you have read John Eldredge and Brent Curtis’s book, Scared Romance, but if so then you will recall that he wrote about “less wild lovers” that we pursue rather than God who is the wildest lover of all.

    Re. your second question…I find it helpful and intriguing to consider now, but when I was younger in my walk with Him I am well aware that it would have been a distraction that took me down un helpful rabbit trails.

    I heartily agree about the impact of Joy on his heart and life. The depiction is certainly evident in the movie, Shadowlands, but this very week I had a dear friend call whose husband died a few months ago. The day was what would have been their 19th anniversary and flowers that were sent from her daughter-in-law had opened up such a source of pain that she was nearly hysterical and wondered if she were losing her mind because she felt she could not take it any more. I asked her if she had read A Grief Observed and she had not so I shared some of the anguished words C.S. penned after Joy’s death and was reminded afresh of the impact she had on his life and how God used her in his life.

    I pronounced her name “Or-u-all” and realized I could have been off, but didn’t let my uncertainty get in the way!

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    1. I love this insight about pursuing other loves, and, not I’ve not read that book, but it sounds great. A Grief Observed is also one of my favorite Lewis books, and I especially love his raw honesty about feeling abandoned by God with the door “bolted and double bolted.”
      Thanks, Pam, for weighing in, and I’m looking forward to this journey through the book with you!

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  6. This is my first time reading this book. I wish I had time, like some of the others to read it through first and then come back and read it a second time. I’m a fast reader by nature and I’m sure I miss things.

    In response to your questions:
    1. I was glad at first that Orual had the opportunity of a loving relationship (with Psyche) but as the story progressed I saw more of what I think you’re alluding to here. Psyche becomes Orual’s whole world. I think, just as the people of Glome were blinded by Psyche’s beauty and made her out to be a god, I think Orual was equally blinded by who she wanted Psyche to be, rather than seeing her for who she truly was.
    2. I’ve always enjoyed allegory and all forms of storytelling really. Jesus was the greatest storyteller of all. I think stories in any form can be helpful.
    3. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joy helped him with the development. But I also think that it’s entirely plausible that God gave Lewis the insight he needed in character development the same way He gave him insight into spiritual things.
    4. It’s funny you should ask this . . . I often think about the way I pronounce things in my mind when reading books with strange character names. I’ve been pronouncing it OR-E-EL which I’m certain isn’t right at all!

    Thanks for leading us, Michele. Your insights and the responses from the other make the reading so much more enjoyable!

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    1. There’s lots more to come with our discussion of Orual’s controlling and obsessive brand of love. And about allegory/metaphor as well! Thanks, June for sharing these impressions here. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming discussions!

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  7. Michelle, thanks for doing this discussion and for sharing your thoughts. I’m listening to the audio again. I think I need the hardcopy to catch the exact quotes better. The one I’m listening to says Or oo all. And I think it shows the superstition that surrounds faith. I remember having family members who thought no one should write or underline in a Bible or put it on the floor or stack anything on top of it. They didn’t read it, but they handled it with special reverence. And I think it shows how we humans think we want a god we can control and that makes us feel good. That we are our own god. We want what serves our purposes and what pleases us.

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    1. I have similar memories of superstition about the Bible that went way beyond the respect which, of course, we should use. And I’m glad you mentioned that superstition because there are times when we have the same kind of fearfulness about God that the people of Glome had with their gods — the fear that the jealous gods would snatch happiness away.
      Good points, Deb. Thanks for sharing them!

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  8. I’m just going to hang out here on the fringes and learn from you Michele. YOU were meant to to be a book study leader. I love your word for the year and can’t wait to follow your journey this year.

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      1. I have never read Till We Have Faces before, and I don’t love it but I can’t stop reading it either. I think my brain is mush right now and it’s hard for me to extrapolate the allegorical aspects in the way I need to.

        Having said that, I also do love it and continue to read because I want to understand Orual (This might be my Australianness but my mind is pronouncing that oh-RU-al but with a short O {which I can’t explain to the Americans because we’re already divided by a common language} )

        I may not comment much, but I’m still in the game.

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      2. 🙂 “Divided by a common language” Well said.
        If I understand C.S. Lewis and his fiction at all, it seems to me that he emphasized story FIRST — and I think I remember reading that he objected to the idea that his stories were primarily allegorical. So, I say read the story and enjoy it, and if something shines through between the cracks, then enjoy that, too.
        Your pronunciation of Orual is much easier to say. I’m tending to think OR-u-all as I read (which is fine because it’s silent), but which makes for a funny diphthong-y thing between the second and third syllables.

        Glad to know that you’re still in the game.

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  9. Michele, I appreciate your visit. Although, I know who C.S. Lewis is I’m not an avid reader. I never have been and then after I became a mom then my attention became even more diverted. I read to the kids but I couldn’t find time to devote to anything more for myself than reading magazine articles. Your post series looks interesting and I’m sure those who love to read will actively participate. OH yes, I wanted to point out the blog hops you share in your left side menu are not clickable and for those who are not familiar with these but would like to learn more can’t visit these sites. So, you may want to add the URL to these images so others can find their way to them. 🙂 Have a good week and again, thank you for stopping by today! 😉

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  10. Michele, as much as I wanted to join in on this book read, I knew it would be more than I could take on this month. But … such good sharing! It is so true, our hearts long for more than this world can ever offer. And I am so grateful He satisfies us. Blessings!

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  11. Michele,
    This is my favourite statement from your post that Lewis said. It’s soooo powerful and true!
    “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
    ~Sherry Stahl
    xoxo

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  12. Michele, I’m stopping by from Inspire Me Monday and have not been reading along in your CS Lewis series. However, you’ve intrigued me! You’re an excellent book leader and this year is my first year teaching high school English to 9th and 10th grade. I’m envious of your book study abilities! 🙂 I do not have time to read this series with you, as I’m reading lots of new material ahead of my students, but will check in from time to time. I find I learn regardless! Thank you so much!

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    1. I’m envious of your job! What fun to introduce great literature to kids who are old enough to appreciate it and young enough to establish good reading habits for life! Your students are blessed to have you in their lives.

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  13. Hi, Michele! I’m coming in from Unite Linkup, so I haven’t been reading the book. But I am a fan of C. S. Lewis. I had never heard of this book before, but it sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out sometime. Thanks for the intro! 🙂

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  14. Great word for this year, Michelle! My word for this year is bold …I know God is drawing me in areas where I’d rather shrink back. 🙂 I read Till We Have Faces several years ago when my oldest was in high school. It’s classic Lewis … telling truth through ancient stories. What a great idea for a book club!

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  15. Till We Have Faces sounds like something I want to read. C.S. Lewis books are some of my favorites. Thank you for these thoughtful questions and for the teaser and thank you for joining us each week at Grace and Truth. I hope you’re having a great day!

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  16. I’m a little late to the party, but looking forward to tomorrow’s post. I was immediately drawn in to the story. Although like several others, repelled by the idea that Ungit could be called “holy.” I look forward to getting to know Orual better and, as a first time reader, look forward to seeing where it all goes. Blessings!

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