I can’t be certain since this is only the first time I’ve read it, but I have a strong suspicion Till We Have Faces is one of those books that reveals something different as you read it in different seasons of life. It’s a philosophical book, but the philosophies it explores are so entwined with the characters and their actions that you rarely feel like you’re being lectured on them. I would say this is a good example if you’re a writer who struggles with the “show don’t tell” rule when it comes to your story’s theme.
In Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis reimagines the myth of Eros (or Cupid) and Psyche from the point of view of Psyche’s older sister, Orual, an old woman looking back on her life, making her complaint against the gods for their mistreatment of her and the sister she loved. If you’re unfamiliar with the myth, the basics are: Psyche marries Eros (not knowing he is a god), but is forbidden to see his face. Her sisters, jealous of her happiness, question why her husband would make such a demand, suggesting he must be some kind of monster to not want her to look at him. At their prompting, she sneaks a lamp into his bedroom one night. She stares, in awe of his beauty, until oil from the lamp drips and wakes him. He exiles Psyche for her betrayal, and eventually she goes on to complete a series of arduous tasks for Aphrodite to try to redeem herself.
The plot itself is straightforward and simple, with Lewis sticking to the myth’s outline. Where he expands the story is in the depth of his exploration of the psychological motivations and fallout that surround Psyche’s betrayal. There’s so much to unpack from it, I don’t wonder that Lewis reportedly considered it his best work. It’s a story of perception, perspective, and love, in its most beautiful forms and its ugliest. I think it would be an excellent book club pick—it’s just begging to be discussed and analyzed at length.
All in all, I give Till We Have Faces 4 stars, and I look forward to rereading it again someday and seeing how time influences my perspective on it. I strongly recommend giving it a try.