I just ended a three year period in which I read nothing by CS Lewis. This had several causes, but the primary one was a professor at my first college who was, in his own words, a renowned CS Lewis scholar. Everything in his classroom somehow came back to Lewis. Everything. He even managed this in our American multi-ethnic literature course while reading Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, and Amy Tan.
I'm glad I picked this book up from its lingering place on my old bookshelf at my parents' house.
Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. The tale comes from the perspective of one of the Pysche's half-sisters, given the name Orual. She is ugly, lonely, and loves Psyche as her own child. I won't go into the plot, but I'll tell you that it's unexpected. It grows a little forced in a few places, but generally works itself back into a natural flow.
Orual is a character that can (and probably will) be both pitied and censured. Her life is full of sorrow. She is motherless and her father is tyrannical. Her only comfort is her friendship with her Greek tutor, called the Fox for his reddish-hued hair and beard, and her half-sister, Istra (also called Psyche). Her father's kingdom, Glome, falls on hard times and an offering must be made to appease Ungit (the name given to Aphrodite). Psyche is this offering. The next part of the story follows just like the myth, with one notable change--Orual is not jealous of Psyche, but rather jealous for her. She wants her sister back home, to belong to her again. Instead, they are separated, and Orual desperately tries to possess the love of everyone she knows
It is only in the end that Orual finally confronts the ugliness in her soul--her selfishness, sense of entitlement, and the hurt she has caused others through a possessive, destructive sort of love--and is able to see her sister again. After confronting and casting out the ugliness in her soul, she becomes as beautiful as Psyche, even though her features do not change. The only tragedy that remains in the last few pages of the novel is that Orual became beautiful only in her last few days.
Till We Have Faces is a novel about finding one's identity--finding a face, in a sense--but it is not cliché the way self-discovery stories tend to be. I think this was a good return to an author who was a favorite during childhood, and I'm glad I didn't let my overzealous professor turn me away from CS Lewis' works for good.