A Veiled Life in the Sandy Waste: Till We Have Faces (7)

Welcome to Week 7 of our discussion of C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces!  As we consider the events of Chapters 16-18, I’m looking forward to another opportunity to hear your insights into this unfolding drama.

Plot Summary

Once again, Orual creeps back into the palace unseen, but after this catastrophic encounter with Psyche, it is The Fox she is avoiding, as well as her father the King, for she is ashamed of her dealings with her sister.  When questioned by the Fox, she tries to reframe the wrath of the god of Grey Mountain as a natural disaster — rather than the supernatural disaster that it actually was.

Orual’s life begins to be lived on two levels:  on the one, a dogged determination to anesthetize all thoughts and reminders of her lost sister; and on the other, a realization that she has been “doomed to live,” but has the displeasure of the gods hanging over her along with her grief and loss.

When the King is fatally injured in a fall, Orual suddenly becomes Queen, mostly out of political expediency and practical collusion between the palace and the House of Ungit to keep the peace, but she finds that she can “queen it with the best of them.”  To establish her position on the throne and in the hearts of her people — and to fix a very tangled foreign policy issue — Orual challenges Argan, the sitting ruler of Glome’s long-time enemy nation of Phars, to a duel of swords.

Reflection

As I read Orual’s progressive absorption (and disappearance) into the role of The Queen, two major themes kept surfacing:

The Nature of Love

We’ve already begun to get a glimpse of Orual’s definition of love in her dealings with Psyche on the bank of the River.  Coercion, emotional blackmail, and insistence on complete agreement are all part of the sick package, and upon her return to the palace, Orual learns that The Fox, with all his rational talk, is more equipped to demonstrate true love than she.  When it becomes apparent that she is withholding information about her dealings with Psyche, he refuses to jeopardize their relationship by forcing her to divulge her secret.  Later, he apologizes for his own emotional outburst that accompanied his efforts to convince her not to challenge Argan, and, then, ironically, succumbs to Orual’s pressure to remain in Glome even after she has freed him from slavery.  It appears that C.S. Lewis is holding The Fox up as a mirror to Orual in order to put her true self on display — but she is blind to it.  She demonstrates her complete inability to comprehend The Fox’s capacity for love when she sees him seated by her father’s death bed:

“It was not possible he should love his old master.”

She’s forgetting, or course, that her hatred for The King is not necessarily universal, and that her own relationship with The Fox may feel very different from his perspective.  This complete inability to enter into the emotions of another person is clear again when she feels only her own joy (and none of his sorrow or ambivalence) when The Fox agrees to stay in Glome rather than returning, free, to his homeland.

Lewis scholar Gilbert Meilaender cites one of Lewis’s poems to demonstrate Lewis’s scorn for those who make others miserable in the guise of “loving” them:

“Erected by her sorrowing brothers
In memory of Martha Clay:
Here lies one who lived for others;
Now she has peace. And so have they.”

In a 1957 letter to Clyde Kilby (another Lewis scholar and professor of English at Wheaton), Lewis said that Orual is an example of “human affection in its natural condition, true, tender, suffering, but in the long run tyrannically possessive and ready to turn to hatred when the beloved ceases to be its possession.”

The Purpose of the Veil

It is not until page 180 that Orual confesses her resolve to go through life wearing a veil, but, to the reader, it is apparent that Orual has been in hiding for some time.  There is evidence for this in her actions and reactions:

  1. Her attempt to avoid contact with The Fox (177) and the fact that she never does actually disclose the entire story to him (and even less to Bardia).  Her barriers of secrecy and silence cost her the comfort she had formerly found in the relationship with her old tutor.
  2. Her literal closing of the door to Psyche’s room and the figurative closing of her mind behind an equally well-sealed door that refused to think of Psyche or to hear her name.
  3. All the grief of her loss of Psyche is barricaded behind a dam, a barrier that serves her well as long as nothing triggers the anguish, but which has to be carefully maintained by the distraction of work and then meticulously rebuilt after every episode of “weeping and writhing.” (184, 189)  Joe R. Christopher writes about a difference in tone in this section of the story.  Orual has “no religious visions” and she “works without hope . . . so that she may forget what she has done to Psyche and may forget the god which appeared to her then.”

Orual first wears the veil when she traveled to the Holy Tree so that she would not be recognized.  Her decision to be perpetually veiled is symbolic of her desire to be continually hidden, to be swallowed up in the duties and the identity of The Queen, presenting an outward appearance of decisive composure while grieving and bitter behind the mask.

Without pressing the point or making more of it than Lewis intended or the text supports, I think of Orual whenever I read  Paul’s discourse on Moses’ veil in II Corinthians 3.  Moses’ understanding of the ultimate significance of the Old Covenant was, at best, veiled and shadowy (I Peter 1:10, 11), and the Israelites’ veiled hearts were a symbol of unbelief.  The believer, on the other hand, is privileged with unimpaired spiritual perception: the ability to see the glory of God revealed in Christ, an unobstructed view.  Eugene Peterson masterfully describes this in the Message:

“With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us.”

. . . or, at least it can be if we are willing to take the risk.

Whether or not Moses’ veil proves to be a helpful metaphor, Orual reminds me that the believer comes before God unveiled, and she warns me of the dangers of damming up emotions, slamming the door on things I’d rather not deal with, and working hard to project an image that does not line up the the “me” that lives and breathes (and fails and falters) on this broken ground.

Some Issues to Ponder

If the lover is not healthy, neither is the love.
Orual’s story is a cautionary tale for all of us, but particularly, I think, for those of us who are mothers.  Open-handed love is so hard to practice when those precious people begin to make decisions on their own.

 Your Turn

When Bardia describes Orual’s decision to challenge Argan as “something out of an old song,” did anyone else think of Peter’s challenge of Miraz in Prince Caspian?  I love the “old songs” that I remember from the land of Narnia.

How are you feeling about Orual these days?  She is such a bundle of strengths and weakness, leveraging the psychological value of her veil to appear powerful, and yet reduced to a puddle of grief at the mere sound of the chains on a well blowing in the wind — because they sound like Psyche’s wails.

Be sure to share your insights on these and ANY topics that have come to mind in your reading so far.  Again, I’ll remind you that you are welcome to share links to entire blog posts if you have the time and inclination to write them — we’d all love to know what you’re thinking, and I know that my understanding and appreciation for the text is enhanced each week when I read the thoughts of other readers.

Next Time

Next Thursday (February 23rd), I’ll be here having read Chapters 19-21.  That will take us to the end of Section I!

Thank you for making this experience so fruitful and fun!

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Resources:

Bright Shadow of Reality:  C.S. Lewis and the Feeling Intellect. Corbin Scott

The Longing for a Form.  Essays on the Fiction of C.S. Lewis.  Peter J. Schakel, editor.

The Taste for the Other. The Social and Ethical Thoughts of C.S. Lewis.  Gilbert Meilaender.

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Michele Morin

I am a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. I have been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 27 years, and our four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, two teens still remain at home, and along with an incorrigible St. Bernard, we laugh, make messes, clean them up, and then start all over again. I love hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop me in my tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. I lament biblical illiteracy and advocate for the prudent use of "little minutes." I blog at Living Our Days because "the way I live my days will be, after all, the way I live my life." You can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

36 thoughts on “A Veiled Life in the Sandy Waste: Till We Have Faces (7)”

  1. Michele, I love how you said, “If the lover is not healthy, neither is the love.” Such a motivation to keep clean hearts before the Lord. I am enjoying your thoughts. I was reminded of a Proverb that speaks of how we put on a face for the world that is different from the reality in the heart. Can’t think of how it goes right now. 🙂

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  2. Oh that “open handed love” — our real praying as mothers doesn’t begin until they are adults, does it? — That memorial to Martha Clay gives a little perspective, doesn’t it? I want to love greatly, but I also want to love well. — Look forward to hearing more thoughts next week. 🙂 ((hug))

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  3. Your comments on the nature of Orual’s ‘love’ for her sister remind me of the story of Amnon and Tamar–where he thought he would die without her then after using her scripture says he ‘hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.’ (2 Sam.13) Human love can be so delusive, i.e. we may not so much agape the object as we love the way they make us feel…
    To want what is best for the object of our love rather than what best serves us is more of a God kind of love. God loved while we were yet his enemies…
    Thanks Michele, for all the footwork you did to bring out these other scholar’s insights on our reading!
    And I love the comparison you made with Moses’ veil in II Cor.3! A veil as a symbol of an unbelieving heart… It’s interesting to me that a hard heart not only keeps us from loving well but from receiving/believing we are loved well. Of course the two are dependent on each other. Lewis demonstrated this well in Orual’s case.

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    1. Oh, you’re so right — that ugly story always gives me the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I got when Orual drove that dagger through her arm . . .
      Those books I referred to have been in m library since my single days of living in Portland (Maine) and finding wonderful books on clearance in the Christian bookstore that was right down the street from where I worked. When I planned this study, I really thought that I’d be relying heavily on their input, but have been surprised to find their input more “scholarly” than I want to be (stuff about archetypes and Freudian blah blah blah) — and there’s just so much I want to say each week that I’ve not had room for them. I think they will also be helpful in sorting out all the details in the last four chapters.
      I’ve always loved that II Co. 3 passage, and I want to thank you, too, for breaking your thoughts up into several comments so that I can respond without losing track of any ideas. It’s been such fun to read along with you and to profit from your insights.

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  4. Dear Michele, Oh there were so many thoughts that came jumbling into my heart with this week’s reading! I was hoping you would mention which song you thought he referenced, because I wasn’t quite sure! However, I especially thought of Narnia as Bardia was giving Orual her final training before the duel. And while initially I thought my blog post would contain thoughts about Oraul and her veil, my heart led me a different direction. Thank you so much for opening your site for this study, and all of our comments. You are a great teacher! Here’s my offering for this week:
    http://raseasons.blogspot.com/2017/02/surprised-by-love.html

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    1. The “song” or legend that happened in Narnia came to my mind, and I do hope others will share if they had a different thought. I love it when an authors “worlds” converge in one of his books. Madeleine L’Engle was famous for having characters from one book or series just pop up in unlikely places so that you got the feeling that all the characters from all of her books met periodically for tea and to discuss their next meeting. I’ve been wondering what you’d address this week, Bettie, so I’m off to read . . . and to be blessed!

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    1. And, really, Orual goes into the fight with that same mind set (here I go again, looking ahead to next section . . .) She says something along the lines that she would be perfectly satisfied if she knew that she would be killed after five minutes of really brave fighting.

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  5. Did anyone have any thoughts on that point where Arnom enters all decked out in the creepy paraphernalia of the Old Priest, shocking Orual until she reassures herself that it is just Arnom and ‘there was no feeling that Ungit came into the room with him.’ (p.205, Chapter Eighteen)
    “And that started strange thoughts in my mind”.
    What were these strange thoughts she refused to follow? A recognition of the reality of divine power that she kept trying to ignore/deny perhaps?

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    1. Yes, especially since she had received so much rationalism from the Fox, dis-belief would have come readily to her. In our next section (is it cheating to talk about it now?) she says more about this, how Arnom’s reforms in the Temple cleaned things up, lessening the “smell of holiness.” Odd, really how Orual’s mind works with darkness and the smell of blood and death being linked to “holiness” in her mind.

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  6. “I had no notion how the remembered home looks to an exile”. Ahhh yes. I have lived in far flung places long enough to know this feeling. I love that Lewis expressed it here. In another sense, I suppose our hearts do always pine for ‘home’ when we have begun to love the Lord.

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    1. Thanks for taking note of that. Lewis suffered terribly as a child in the schools he was “exiled” to, and I wonder if that colored his thinking in that sentence. It would be interesting to do a study in Lewis’s writing around the idea of home.

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  7. I’ve been reading Christine Caine’s Unashamed and cannot help but see Orual’s veil as one of shame. Without faith and trust, without the leading of the Holy Spirit into all the truth there is, the veil of shame will always hold us captive: causing us to do and say and even think and feel what we so wish we wouldn’t. We (often without realizing it) become more and more a slave to fear.

    I still fall behind that veil, much too often, but I have a Friend who keeps unveiling me with His Truth. It’s that veil that causes me to sin because it tells me to hide and be ashamed of who I am and not to trust anyone, especially God, and essentially to believe that there’s something inherently wrong with me. My natural response to that veil is either to rebel (prove my worthiness in striving) or despair and flee (hiding in distrust): sin. But God is teaching me to recognize when the veil has been placed over me, so that rather than rebel or flee, I can turn to Him in trust to confess my sins, speak the truth against the lies of shame and pour out my grief and doubts and fears before Him that are rooted in the shame His sacrifice at the Cross has already freed me from.

    I think that’s why His Word says that eternal life is to know the One True God and Jesus Christ. The more He leads us into Himself – the Truth of who we are in Him -the more areas of our life we have that veil ripped off, until in heaven we stand before Him fully unveiled as the person He created us to be- finally truly free and firmly rooted in His love for us.

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    1. Thank you for making the connection between Christine’s book and Orual’s plight! She certainly was a victim of shaming – and also acted shamefully toward her sister. I love your reminder that we can safely unveil ourselves in the presence of God, find acceptance, and then turn our faces, unashamed, toward others. I’m really glad that you introduced this train of thought to the discussion.

      For anyone unfamiliar with the book that Anna’s referring to, here’s my review of Unashamed from last summer’s reading: https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/shame-filled-to-shame-free/

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      1. It is such an eye-opening book for me. I especially loved how she connected the 40-year journey of the Israelites through the wilderness with our own journey through the places in our heart that need to be freed and yoked to God.

        Today, my Daily MANNA verse included this from Galatians (MSG): “We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.”Sounds like The Fox: sticking it out with Orual, choosing compassion and choosing to see behind the exterior to what lies beneath: that which God has gifted us. This is something that God has been opening my own heart to, slowly and patiently. By being opened to see “a basic holiness” in those close to me (even unbelievers), I’m seeing more of God’s love for both me and them. I’m being unveiled from my own Pharisitical blindness to see that each one of us has been fearfully and wonderfully made and that God yearns to unveil each one of us … and that not one of us can do it without Him. He uses the wilderness to teach us that too and even where we turn away, He keeps pursuing. Having walked in flesh, HE knows like no other the depth of pain and shame (carried in the enemy’s lies) that presses us away.

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      2. The Fox is definitely a more complex character than meets the eye in the early chapters. And I appreciate your observation about the wilderness opening your eyes. Ann Voskamp wrote in The Broken Way that God does not take us into the wilderness to leave us alone, but rather to get alone with us. It’s a risky place to be, because we don’t always like what we see about ourselves, but it’s a way forward. Thanks, Anna, for these thoughts you’ve shared. There’s enough here to get you going on a blog post in any number of directions!

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  8. This is fascinating. C.S. Lewis has a complexity about his writing that I know would make me think deeply. I know I would enjoy this. (someday) Your insight about love “If the lover is not healthy, neither is the love.” and referring it to a mother’s love speaks truth to me. There are so many times I want to ask my sons ( even now that they are grown) “what were you thinking”? Setting them free to fly is a daily process of letting go. I always think I know best!

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    1. Yes, Mary. I often say that C.S. Lewis is responsible for teaching me how to read s-l-o-w-l-y. I get frustrated when I read his heavier stuff, love every minute of it, but then can’t reproduce the argument on my own. And we’re certainly in the same space in this journey of giving our boys roots and wings. It’s such a discipline to let them make their own mistakes and yet remain available for consultation (but only when they ask . . .).

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  9. Michele, I haven’t been in on this discussion (am visiting today from both Women With Intention and Coffee & Conversation!), but I’m a sucker for anything Lewis. 😉 And background on this book or no, this hits me hard: “the believer comes before God unveiled, and she warns me of the dangers of damming up emotions, slamming the door on things I’d rather not deal with, and working hard to project an image that does not line up the the “me” that lives and breathes (and fails and falters) on this broken ground.” Thanks for jump-starting my thinking today!

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  10. Living behind a veil or hiding our true selves from others as well as keeping them at a distance is a recipe for disaster. I’m sure that Lewis is building to a climax in this epic tale for Orual. I’m not familiar with the story, but have enjoyed reading and learning from your review of it and thoughts that you bring to light, Michele! Thanks for all the hard work you do for your readers!

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  11. When I read Til years ago, it was my least favorite only bc I didn’t understand it. When i read again, I’ll have your notes at the ready! My eldest studied it at USC of all places – blessed! I taught Perelandra many years in HS – I’m sure you’ve read that classic. Thanks, Michele! (I want to be a healthy lover!)

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  12. I’m really bummed that I wasn’t able to participate with this one due to everything going on in our lives right now! You all seem to be having such a great time. I hope you do this again as I will definitely try to take part! Thank you so much for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com this week!
    Tina

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  13. Thanks for this rich reflection. One thing that impacted me on this section was how blind Orual was to her true condition and how much we can be like that as well if we rely only on our own perception or those of others who are like us. Only can God’s Word show us the truth. It is a bit of a paradox that she was blind to the truth of her interior world, but sought to so carefully keep hidden her exterior appearance. Again, Lewis seems to nail the truth of how we can be tempted to live our lives.

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    1. Actually, I think there are a number of parallels between Orual’s flight from the gods and C.S. Lewis’s own entrance into the Kingdom of God “kicking and screaming.”
      And you’re so spot on with your thinking that we have to be vigilant about our own interior life and self-knowledge. May God continually keep us congruent using the mirror of His Word.

      Liked by 1 person

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