Monday, September 1, 2008

Myth's Many Visages: Our Discussion of C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces

"The complaint was the answer...I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"
--C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

First of all, this is Nick substituting for Nancy since she was out of town last Saturday. So any problems with what is written should be directed towards me. 

In our latest get together, we discussed C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces, which is a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche story found in Greek mythology. It's one of Lewis' lesser known fictions, and though it's palpable, philosophical, and interesting, you have to keep in mind that the story's rising action, climax, and falling action is more psychological than physical.

One of the first things we talked about, which Ben brought up, is that Lewis' note at the end of the novel where he summarizes the Cupid & Psyche myth is inaccurate. According to Lewis, Cupid kills her 2 sisters, yet Ben--who studied this myth while completing his MA--pointed out that Psyche is responsible for her sister's deaths. We talked about how that error, though not pertinent to Lewis' story per se, does hurt some of his credibility as a writer. I know it ruined Ben's enjoyment of the novel. I've since thought about what we said, and the only explanation I can come up with (other than either Ben or Lewis is wrong) is that, like any good myth, multiple versions of the story possibly exist. Thus Ben and Lewis may be working from different primary sources. I'm curious to see what the rest of you have to add concerning the issue. 

We did talk about the idea of myths being born out of multiple stories when we discussed how Orual's legend as a queen grew b/c of her military conquests along with the mystery surrounding her veiled face. The idea of stories, of histories, being living things that take on different forms over time is something that we haven't really examined in depth before. We hit on the idea briefly when we read The Alchemist and Haroun and the Sea of Stories but not until we talked about how the people viewed Orual and her accomplishments as queen did we spend a substantial amount of time on how we as people craft narratives over time to shape our notion of what we need stories to say. I imagine the theme will present itself in our next book, In Cold Blood. 

Also, another interesting thing that we haven't talked about in several months is the idea of the unreliable narrator (I think we discussed the concept with Vonnegut's Bluebeard as well as with The Autobiography of Malcolm X). Orual is essentially giving us her autobiography. And in so doing, she describes several fantastic scenes that we as readers can either accept as reality or dismiss as the ruminations of a crazy woman. We decided that accepting them makes more sense when you consider that one of the recurring themes in Lewis' writing is that the spiritual world is much more real than the physical one. Also, the book fits together much better if you accept that her encounters with Psyche and others who no longer inhabit this world are real, not concocted. 

We poured into this book from several different angles, and it's hard to re-construct our conversation as well as I'd like. But something else that I personally enjoyed about Lewis and this book in particular is the poeticness of the writing. I mentioned that reading this was like reading poetry except since it's a novel and I've read it before, it didn't require the patience that one needs for most poems. Lewis strings together some very sonorous phrases that I was able to enjoy even more than the story's action. 

Well, that's all I have. Feel free to add to/edit this blog as you see fit. See ya in the comments section!

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