Till We Have Faces
by C. S. Lewis
I know a Christian man--I am not sure I would call him a good Christian man, but I wont deny that he is a sincere one--who
raised his sons forbidding them to own or read books about magic, mythology, or science fiction. He was so strict about it
that when one of his sons (who rather liked sci-fi and fantasy) went out of town for the summer, he raided the boys bedroom
and threw out all his books. The same son later turned down a dying uncles offer to inherit a large library of imaginative
fiction, because he knew his father wouldnt let him keep it in the house. And it may be the same son again who, later in
life, would only read non-fiction because he had developed an aversion to any book that wasnt true.
When I heard this story, I was filled with sorrow; not least because I think some non-fiction is less true than a lot of
fiction. But I think C. S. Lewis could convey better than I can some of my reasons for feeling sorry. That great defender of
the Christian faith in an age of sovereign reason and godless intellectualism was also an avid reader, writer, and
interpreter of myth, tales of magic, and science fiction. He seemed to think that such tales are far from leading young
readers away from Christianity, and even farther from filling their heads with nonsense. Indeed, they are vital for young
people--especially the more intelligent ones. They teach the difference between right and wrong, the cycles of nature, the
relationships between creatures and between the creature and the Creator. Without them, a child may grow into quite an
intellectual, with a head full of knowledge, but a heart empty of concepts of transcendence; a spirit unable to imagine
anything mysterious or hidden; a soul unable to believe and, quite possibly, a mind unable to wrap itself around duties that
put the needs of others ahead of its own.
Lewis tales of magic include the world famous Chronicles of Narnia; his science fiction consists of the mind-blowing
Space Trilogy; and among his other books is the stand-alone novel Till We Have Faces, which is a retelling of
an ancient myth: the Cupid-Psyche myth, to be exact. This heartfelt, moving novelization is set in an ancient culture that
worshipped gods embodied in images of stone but existing independently of their images (remind you of the Dalemark Quartet?).
The basic story-line has a beautiful bride who is given to a loving husband...whose face she is not allowed to see. Her
curiosity, spurred on by the jealousy of her sister, brings about a heartbreaking calamity that may spoil the couples
happiness forever. Unless... Unless their love is redeemed by sacrifice...
Part memoir, part deathbed confession to a god both savagely like and mercifully unlike the idols the sister has served,
Till We Have Faces explores the destroying power of jealousy, the healing power of forgiveness, and the equally
destroying and healing powers of love. It is an uncompromising portrait of human nature in its struggle with God (or gods,
as the case may be), and will give readers of any religion a great deal to think about. And apparently C. S. Lewis never
considered "thinking" a bad thing--even for Christians!
Recommended Age: 12+
September 3, 2004
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