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Psyche and Eros find themselves wrapped in new telling of old myth by C.S. Lewis
Reviewing Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
This month’s review will be a short one on a short but delightful work. C.S. Lewis’ retelling of the Psyche and Eros myth, Till We Have Faces. It is one of Lewis’s less well-known accomplishments, but an accomplishment nonetheless and well worth the read.
For those unfamiliar with the old Greek lore, the tale of Psyche and Eros deserves a quick retelling. It is a simple story: A maid is born whose beauty rivals that of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who in jealousy commands that the girl, named Psyche, be cursed to marry a monster.
Compliant, Psyche does marry the "monster", but with one complication: Eros, Aphrodite’s son, had already fallen for Psyche’s beauty. He, therefore, tricks his mother and takes the monster’s place in the marriage bed. Eros, however, fears discovery and so commands his bride that she must never see his face. He only ever comes to her in darkness.
Enter Psyche’s jealous sisters. When they discover Psyche’s blissful condition, they dare her to bring a torch into the bedchamber and glance upon her lover’s face. The conflicts that follow nearly destroy Psyche, but ultimately result in her apotheosis – the transformation of her mortality into divinity, and Psyche becomes a goddess.
There are potent themes here of just the sort that were among Lewis’s favorites: Love, and glorification. There are splintered images of the Gospel in the Psyche myth, images I last month introduced under the term general revelation.
A full retelling of Lewis’ reworking of Pysche is too much for my one page this month. For that, I urge you to read the book! A brief justification of my claim, above, will do.
Consider first of all the issue of Holy Love: What is sin but a silly caricature of God’s moral perfection! Vain pride is love turned inward, my trying to find my satisfaction in myself rather than in God. Lustful jealousy is my trying to find my fulfillment in some other poor mortal, I the leach sucking out from him or her all the self-actualization I can get when the store of God’s plenty had lied near at hand. We encounter both in Psyche, and hence in Till We Have Faces. These sins can overcome and damn the mortal soul, both ours and those of our victims, but God is unwilling to let the soul get away that easily.
Which brings us to the second issue, that of salvation and glorification. God the Son has betrothed himself to any who believe on Him; He united Himself to humanity so that humans might become partakers of the divine nature. Through Him, all who believe become, to use the same term above, gradually glorified, or transformed into persons who will dwell in bliss, perfected, in God’s presence forever. The old pagans would have called such an immortal a god; the Christian understands that there is a distinction between a created divinity, filled with God’s glory and upheld by His power, and God the uncreated Creator, who gives all good things. Lewis plays with this theme.
One warning for those who have been tantalized by this review: If you look for the above just by reading Till We Have Faces, you might be disappointed!
Lewis, like any other author, is a person you must get to know. His imagery is like a songbird in a forest: Anyone can hear the robin sing, but not just anyone can see the robin hiding in her nest. To see Lewis’s images, as well as hear them brooding beneath the surface of his works, requires you familiarize yourself with the layout of his ideology, a gem you will find primarily in Mere Christianity and specifically in Beyond Personality. Again, this holds for any skillful author, and not just Lewis. Perhaps we shall deal with Mere Christianity next month. Till then, as always, I await your comments.
Matt Bell is a graduate student in the Intelligent Systems Program at the University of Pittsburgh, and a regular columnist for The Pitt Standard. He is obsessed with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien both, and will be facilitating a book study on two of Lewis’s works under the Chi Alpha chapter this spring.