Posts Tagged ‘Psyche’

I discovered ‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S.Lewis through the wonderful review of Eva from ‘A Striped Armchair’ (Thanks, Eva J). I have wanted to read it for a while but I was not able to get hold of a copy. Luckily, recently I was able to get a copy. I also had a wonderful reason to read it – the delightful ‘Read-a-Myth’ challenge hosted by Jo from ‘Bibliojunkie’ and Bina from ‘If You Can Read This’. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think about it.


What I think


‘Till We Have Faces’ is a retelling of the Psyche-Cupid myth. The first thing I had to decide before starting the book was whether I should read the original myth first. Though I had a sketchy knowledge of the original story, I thought that if I read it again, I will appreciate Lewis’ retelling better. I had a beautiful graphic novel version of the original myth – it was called ‘Stolen Hearts : The love of Eros and Psyche’ – which was lavishly illustrated, which was also tempting me. But after thinking about it for a while I thought I will read Lewis’ version first, because I wanted to get the new perspective first. So I read ‘Till We Have Faces’ first and then I read the graphic novel version.





I liked Lewis’ retelling of the original myth. He had taken many liberties with the story – it was similar to how a novel is sometimes converted into a screenplay and how major liberties are taken with respect to the plot arcs, points of view and the importance given to different events. Lewis does all that to the original myth which results in a story which is very new and very fresh. The story is told from the point of view of Orual, the elder sister of Psyche. The action happens in the country of Glome, a barbaric pre-Christian world, not in Greece. The divine and magical elements in the story are all described in such a way that the reader can assume that they didn’t really happen, but they were really there only in the imagination of different characters. This was probably Lewis’ way of making the story more realistic to a twentieth century audience. The story also sheds interesting light on the differences between actual events and our memory and feelings about them, how our points of view prevent us from seeing reality the way it is and how myths originate from real stories and how they get transformed across ages into something unrecognizable from their original forms. I liked the major characters in the story – Orual and Psyche – and the minor and important characters –  the Fox and Bardia. The Fox is a Greek slave who is also the teacher of Orual and Psyche and his sense of humour and the pearls of wisdom he comes up with, time and again, are some of my favourite parts of the book. I loved the book till around 190 pages (when Psyche’s husband Cupid leaves her) and liked it till around 250 pages (which is the end of part one). I felt that the story in the last fifty pages was a bit weak, as Orual recants what she had told in the earlier part of the book and tries to see reality from a new perspective.


After reading ‘Till We Have Faces’ I read the graphic novel version of the original Psyche – Cupid myth. It was published by a company called Campfire and it was gorgeously illustrated. I loved the original myth – in some ways I liked it more than the C.S.Lewis version. But I also liked the way Lewis has given more prominence to the minor characters in his version (in the original myth Psyche’s sisters are jealous of her and bring her misery. In Lewis’ version, Orual’s character is fleshed out and her motivations are complex). My favourite characters from the original version I read, in addition to Psyche, were Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, Zephyrus the western wind, and the narrator of the story Demiarties. (The Psyche-Cupid story is told by Demiarties to her student Aspyritus, who is a teenage girl in love with a boy). One of my favourite scenes in the graphic novel happens in the end after Demiarties has told the story and tries to answer one of Aspyritus’ questions about it. It goes like this :


Aspyritus : It is a wonderful tale, Lady Demiarties. But I’m still trying to see how it applies to my situation with Promilion and his mother. Am I to perform some grand task to prove my love for him?


Demiarties : So you want a moral to the story?


Aspyritus : Quite.


Demiarties : You are still young Aspyritus, and I certainly don’t want to regale you with a when-you-get-older-you’ll-understand speech. This is the secret. Anyone can fall in love. Falling in love is easy. It happens every single day. It is easy to fall in love when things are happy and wonderful. But it is also easy to fall out of love. The ultimate goal – of any person – is to find true love. But true love cannot be found. It has to be forged. Think of it like a sword. Hephaestus forges a sword by pounding it between the hammer and the anvil. That is what makes it strong. The soul is like the sword. We are made strong through hardships, struggles and challenges. It is easy to fall in love with someone when things are perfect. But true love is formed through adversity. True love is letting someone see you at your worst. False love will run at the first sign of trouble. But true love will pick you up, dust you off, and convince you to keep moving forward. True love will suffer through all and endure the rough times. It suffers the lowest of lows, but it also achieves the highest of highs. You cannot have mountains without valleys. You cannot have light without darkness. If your love with Promilion is meant to endure, then problems will help develop it from infatuation and attraction to the one true love.


I liked very much what Demiarties said – that true love cannot be found but it has to be forged. It made me remember something similar that Erich Fromm said in his book ‘The Art of Loving’.




I will leave you now with some of my favourite lines from ‘Till We Have Faces’ and some beautiful pictures from ‘Stolen Hearts’.


From ‘Till We Have Faces’


“Are there no things, but what we see?”


      “You don’t think – not possibly – not as a mere hundredth chance – there might be things that are real though we can’t see them?”

      “Certainly I do. Such things as Justice, Equality, the Soul, or musical notes.”

      “Oh, Grandfather, I don’t mean things like that. If there are souls, could there not be soul-houses?”

      He ran his hands through his hair with an old, familiar gesture of teacher’s dismay.

      “Child,” he said, “you make me believe that, after all these years, you have never even begun to understand what the word soul means.”

      “I know well enough what you mean by it, Grandfather. But do you, even you, know all? Are there no things – I mean things – but what we see?”

      “Plenty. Things behind our backs. Things too far away. And all things, if it’s dark enough.” He leaned forward and put his hand on mine. “I begin to think, daughter, that if I can get that hellebore, yours had better be the first dose,” he said.


The 80-20 rule


On a great day the thing that makes it great may fill the least part of it – as a meal takes little time to eat, but the killing, baking and dressing, and the swilling and scraping after it, take long enough.


Men and Women


      “Do you tell me a strong man’d break under the burden a woman’s bearing well?”

      “Who that knows men would doubt it? They’re harder, but we’re tougher. They do not live longer than we. They do not weather a sickness better. Men are brittle. And you, Queen, were the younger.”


The Brightest Colours and the Deepest root


Perhaps in the soul, as in the soil, those growths that show the brightest colours and put forth the most overpowering smell have not always the deepest root.


Reality and Dreams


      Of the things that followed I cannot at all say whether they were what men call real or what men call dream. And for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream. But things that many see may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are shown only to one may be spears and water-sprouts of truth from the very depth of truth.


From ‘Stolen Hearts’


Psyche flies with Zephyrus the West wind to her new husband’s abode







Psyche becomes a goddess



And they lived happily ever after 🙂




Have you read ‘Till We Have Faces’ or ‘Stolen Hearts’ or another version of the Psyche-Cupid myth? What do you think about them?

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A beautiful passage from the book I am reading now – ‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S.Lewis. It is a retelling of the love story of Psyche and Cupid. I am reading this as part of the ‘Read-a-Myth’ challenge hosted by Jo from ‘Bibliojunkie’ and Bina from ‘If You Can Read This’.

Of Psyche’s beauty – at every age the beauty proper to that age – there is only this to be said, that there were no two opinions about it, from man or woman, once she had been seen. It was beauty that did not astonish you till afterwards when you had gone out of sight of her and reflected on it. While she was with you, you were not astonished. It seemed the most natural thing in the world. As the Fox delighted to say, she was “according to nature”; what every woman, or even every thing, ought to have been and meant to be, but had missed by some trip of chance. Indeed, when you looked at her you believed, for a moment, that they had not missed it. She made beauty all round her. When she trod on mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver. When she picked up a toad – she had the strangest and, I thought, unchanciest love for all manner of brutes – the toad became beautiful…I wanted to be a wife so that I could have been her real mother. I wanted to be a boy so that she could be in love with me. I wanted her to be my full sister instead of my half sister. I wanted her to be a slave so that I could set her free and make her rich.

– From ‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S.Lewis

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