The Revelation of the Divine: Psyche's Lover Appears to Orual in Till We Have Faces
by Charlotte M Spurrill
edited: Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2002
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C. S. Lewis is known the world over for his Narnia books, however, he also wrote less-known but equally valuble books for adults, one of which is discussed here.
"A monster - the Shadowbrute that I and all Glome had imagined - would have subdued me less than the beauty this face wore"(Lewis, page 129). Like most mere mortals encountering the divine, Orual is overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence of Psyche's lover, a god. And perhaps beauty is always more frightening than ugliness; we can feel superior to the ugly, but the beautiful always seem superior to us. In this passage, found on pages 129 to 130 of C.S. Lewis' last completed book Till We Have Faces, we find many extremely interesting elements that are important to the story as a whole.
To begin with, it is interesting that the god is described as "a lightning that endure[s]"(129), a vivid description of the kind of supernatural light that one might expect to accompany a divine being. Lewis, a devout Christian, was no doubt thinking of John 1:4-9, or some other passage of Scripture that speaks of God in terms of light or in association with light. This description goes on to say "the look of it [is] the look of lightning, pale, dazzling, without warmth or comfort, showing each smallest thing with fierce distinctness"(129), however, "it [does] not go away"(129) as lightning immediately does. Moreover, "this great light"(129) is "still"(129), not moving, sparkling, flickering, or glittering as one might expect a light to move and change. Orual realizes that "in the centre of the light [is] something like a man"(129) whose size is indefinable. Most interestingly, this being seems to stand "on the water itself"(129), much like Jesus who also ignored the laws of buoyancy and strolled upon the Sea of Galilee. Of course, one might expect the apparition Orual sees to not only walk on water, but also fly, since one can tell by simply looking at him that he is clearly more than human.
Orual only "glimps[es]...the face; she cannot "bear it for longer"(129), since her "eyes...heart and blood and very brain [are] too weak"(129). It is so like Orual to be weak, though she ever tries to be strong. The most insurmountable obstacle baring her from true strength is her incorrect conception of what strength is. She never allows herself to love anyone but the Fox, Bardia, and Psyche, and what she fancies to be love is twisted--she tries to control them and is fiercely jealous of anyone else they dare to love. As the Fox says, "'there's one part love in [her] heart, and five parts anger, and seven parts pride'"(111). Since she will not allow herself to love freely, she makes herself brittle, and therefore weak.
Oddly, the god is not angry. He looks upon Orual with "passionless and measureless rejection"(129) instead of the anger one might expect him to look on her with. After all, knowingly or not, she has destroyed Psyche's happiness. Because of Orual's well-meant but disastrous actions, the god can no longer live in his blissful marriage with Orual's younger sister, yet he is not angry with Orual; he merely "reject[s], den[ies], answer[s], and (worst of all)...[knows], all [Orual has] thought, done or been"(129). Perhaps this is much worse than anger, as he in his beauty is much more terrifying than a monster in its ugliness would be. Of course, we are seeing this scene solely through Orual's possibly biased eyes. It is possible that the god has much kinder thoughts as he looks upon her, but Orual, confronted as she is by a divine being, can only see what is lacking in herself.
Apparently, there is a "Greek verse"(129) which states that "even the gods cannot change the past"(129-130). As logical as this assertion is, Orual must question whether it is true , because as the god gazes at Orual, he seems to change the past. Orual, in this changed past, "from the beginning, ...[has] known that Psyche's lover [is] a god"(130) and that
all [her] doubtings, fears, guessings, debatings, questionings of Bardia, questionings of the Fox, all the rummage and business of it, [has] been trumped-up foolery, dust blown in [her] own eyes by [herself]. (130)
Orual asks us "who read [her] book"(130) to "judge"(130) whether it has happened that way, "at least, ...in the very past, before this god changed the past"(130). Orual ends by challenging the gods--for "if they can indeed change the past, why do they never do so in mercy?"(130). This question is in character for Orual, who all her life has had an opinion of the gods which varies between and often combines fear, horror, disgust, derision, and spite.
Overall, this passage in Till We Have Faces is a beautiful piece of writing. It is an integral scene in the novel--before this scene, Orual believes she is saving her sister from the Shadowbrute or a "'felon'"(111), and after, Orual knows her sister is indeed married to a beautiful god, but no longer can live with him. As we read this passage, we must wonder what we would do if we were to encounter a divine being in a similar way. A change begins in Orual's heart, would a similar change begin in our hearts?
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Lewis, C.S. Till We Have Faces. Great Britain: Fount Paperbacks, 1956.