Welcome to Week 5 of our discussion group around C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. I haven’t taken time to figure out how many of us are reading through the book together, but I have become aware that as many of us are reading and sharing our insights, there are also many who are following along with the discussion with the plan of reading the book in the future. Having said that, thank you for your great thoughts, and let’s get started with the . . .
. . . Plot Summary (Chapters 10-12)
It truly was Psyche, standing alive and in good health on the far side of the river!
Leaving Bardia behind, Orual forded the river with plans of rescue and reunion, but was confronted instead with a riddle to be solved: Should she trust her eyes — which showed her nothing but rags and wilderness — or should she believe Psyche’s account of an invisible palace and an unseen god who is now her husband? Unable to sway Psyche from her resolve, Orual re-crosses the river for the night, but, in the early twilight wanders back to the river and glimpses Psyche’s palace through the mist — but only for a moment. Was this a lifting of the cloud from her mortal eyes — or a trick of the gods? Bardia reluctantly weighs in with with a truth statement that Orual was unwilling to reach on her own, but which strengthens her resolve that the time has come to confront the gods.
If ever we doubted that these two sisters see the world through differing lenses, Orual and Psyche’s meeting Beyond the Tree draws the difference large! Big-Sister remains in her adversarial position against the gods and has framed her account of all the happenings as a “charge against the gods” (117). With multiple metaphors (“two bits of a broken bone”; “a rasping together of two worlds”) (120) Orual makes it clear that she feels that the gods have stolen her sister away from her and her world, and that the land beyond The Tree is a dreadful place. In the midst of their stand off, she admits that she hates “all these cruel, dark things,” (124) that she wants no part of it, and she begs Psyche to come back to “the real world” (125) with her.
Bearing witness to Psyche’s tale of life among the gods brought to mind C.S. Lewis’s real-life indicator for one’s having been in the presence of God:
“The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.”
According to Psyche’s experience, what Orual insisted on calling the “real world” grew pale beside her sighting of the West-wind. Humans appear as pale as lepers beside deity, and her only awareness of her self (as a mortal) was that we are “small” and “dirty” by comparison (111). Psyche described her husband coming to her in “holy darkness” (137), which amounted to an appalling condition of secrecy and horror to Orual.
Once again, Lewis puts words in Bardia’s mouth that are truer than Bardia knows. Did anyone else catch his shadowy allusion to the Professor’s assessment of Lucy’s sanity in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? As it was with young Lucy, so it is with Psyche:
“One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.” (LWW 48)
Some Issues to Ponder
Orual saw no palace, tasted no wine, witnessed no banquet, and ultimately dismissed the only vision she was granted of her sister’s new world. Looking back to Chapter 9 and Orual’s journey on horseback up The Mountain where “the whole colored world with all its hills was heaped up and up to the sky,” I’m wondering about the glimpse of happiness she had then and the voice that came to her “like frolic” saying “Why should your heart not dance?” Was this another invitation — rejected out of pride and self pity? Psyche repeats the invitation almost verbatim a few pages later, including herself in the merriment: “Why should our hearts not dance?”
A glimmer of a New Testament story popped into my head as Orual was trying to decide if her vision of the palace was “real” or merely the mockery of the gods. For a few blissful minutes (or seconds?) Peter discovered that he could walk with Jesus on water, and he found that his feet were dancing on the swells of that stormy sea — until doubt put an end to the dance. Years later, near the end of his life, I wonder if Peter was thinking of that evening as he wrote words of encouragement about believing without seeing to scattered believers being tested by fire. Was he recalling the momentary, inexpressible, and glorious joy of walking on waves, of joining Jesus in a watery dance of faith?
Orual is willing to “dance” only on her own terms.
She has defined happiness as a return to the way things were.
She has seen that Psyche is happy in her new life, but this new happiness is unacceptable to her.
Orual has given a name to her resolve to end this happiness . . . and she is calling it “love.”
Orual could not sleep during her night on The Mountain. She listed physical discomfort (the cold and the lay of the land), “the Riddle” that was plaguing her mind, and then she mentioned “Another Thing” that kept her awake. Any thoughts on what that other thing was?
Psyche’s face was painted on her journey up The Mountain: “It made my face stiff till it didn’t seem to be my own face.” The god who comes to Psyche under the cover of darkness refuses to let his face be seen. Orual has been limited and defined for her entire life by the appearance of her face. C.S. Lewis is dropping hints about the odd title for this story, but we don’t have all the pieces yet. Any thoughts on this puzzle?
Have you ever been on the receiving end of Orual’s brand of love? Do you ever find yourself re-defining love to justify something you think needs to be done?
Since there are only two chairs in every room — the chair of faith and the chair of unbelief — I am challenged by this tale of two sisters to be very careful before making the decision to sit anywhere else but in the chair of faith.
Next Thursday (February 9th), I’ll be here having read Chapters 13-15 and will look forward to meeting with you again.
If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.
I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.