A Myth Retold
C.S. Lewis's book Till We Have Faces is about the myth of Psyche and Cupid. However, in the original tale Psyche is a very naive girl who is greatly influenced by her two wicked older sisters. In this rendition of the tale, Psyche's sisters are not evil and Psyche is not a mindless fool as she has been portrayed in earlier tales. Setting
The story takes place in the kingdom of Glome. Glome's social perspective is not surprisingly, a male dominant society and values woman as only child bearers, keepers of the homestead, or as a marriage treaty with neighboring kingdoms to attract new power and influence to the kingdom. The people of Glome are deeply religious to the Goddess Ungit, and offer human sacrifices to her, including the sacrifice of Princess Psyche.
In the eyes of the king, and the people of Glome, Orual appears to accept her ascribed role. Her lack of physical beauty sets Orual apart from the other woman of her society, her appearance allows her to write her own modes of acceptable behavior. Orual operates on two levels, one to satisfy her needs and the other to appear conforming to her father's wishes and expectations. For example, after Psyche had been offered to Ungit, Orual felt the need to bury her sister. Orual, to be somewhat pleasing in the eyes of her father, kept her visit to the Holy tree a secret so prevent the wrath of her father. C.S. Lewis hints that Orual is a different sort of woman while he discusses her love for Psyche. Orual said "I wanted to be a wife so that I could have been her real mother. I wanted to be a boy so 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." In the middle of all these desires is a statement that is easily overlooked. To secure the love of Psyche, Orual wants "... to be a boy so she could be in love with me." The idea that she has a desire to be a boy suggests the possibility of assuming roles that are normally ascribed to men. With the king on his deathbed, Orual attends the affairs of state in his place. She has advisors but they do not do the thinking for her, Orual achieves a certain amount of independence. The postscript to Orual's story, attached by Arnom, priest of Aphrodite, assets to her success of becoming an independent woman. Arnom praises her in the context of princes. She is compared to men and is found to be either equal or superior. Orual does not resemble the woman of her time; she is not beautiful, passive, or stupid. She is a thinker, a writer, a monarch, and she is independent. The aspects of Orual's independent personality are not to be used as literary devices. How Orual ruled her people and used her throne is a model for woman of the twenty-first century.
Because we read this book from the author, Orual's, point of view, we only see Ungit as she chooses to present her. Although Ungit herself does not appear in this book as a person, Ungit is the cause of Orual's heartbreak and she plays a major role in Till We Have Faces. Ungit is the goddess of the mountain in Glome, she has a temple where the subjects of Glome come to worship her and offer sacrifice. Ungit is in the form of a rock, a "faceless rock" that is covered in sacrificial blood from time to time. Orual has a great dislike for Ungit, she sees Ungit as the cause of her sorrow over the loss of her sister after the princess Psyche is offered as a peace offering to the goddess. Later in the book, during Orual's reign as queen, she replaces the faceless rock with a beautiful statue, figuring that the people might be able to connect with a beautiful goddess and not a lifeless rock. The statue of Ungit helps her appear less forbidding and almost beautiful. However, Orual still carries a great dislike for the goddess all together.
Summary of the Plot
Till We Have Faces takes place in the kingdom of Glome in...