C.S. Lewis novel fills a void
If you love “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis as much as I do, perhaps you have read the last sentence of “The Last Battle,” the seventh and final book in the series: “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.” And perhaps as you close the book and set it aside, you wish the same thing I wish, that there could be one more Narnia story, one more Narnia book in which every chapter is better than the one before.
“Till We Have Faces,” which Lewis published in 1956 (the same year he published “The Last Battle”), is not another Narnia book, but it may be the next best thing. Written for adults, and thought by Lewis to be the best of his novels, “Till We Have Faces” is the story of two princesses in the kingdom of Glome, Orual the ugly and Psyche the beautiful. Orual says of her sister, “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.” Psyche, who loves all the people of her father’s kingdom, goes out among them to bless their babies and heal their sick; the people, who at first call her a goddess and love her in her return, later call her the Accursed and blame her for all the troubles in the land – famine, pestilence, drought, rumors of war, marauding lions and the king’s failure to produce a male heir.
Orual loves only Psyche, and is willing to do anything to save her when the king and the priest of Ungit decide that she must be sacrificed in marriage to the Shadowbrute who lives on the Grey Mountain. “If there is a real Shadowbrute,” Orual thinks, “and I cannot save her from it, I’ll kill her with my own hand before I’ll leave her to its clutches.” Bardia, the captain of the guards of Glome, teaches Orual to fight with a sword. She persuades him to take her to the mountain by horseback to find out what has happened to Psyche, and to rescue her if she is still alive.
In planning her quest, Orual fails to consider Psyche’s feelings or just who the Shadowbrute truly is. The consequences are disastrous and irreversible. Orual finds that her quest has just begun, and that the rest of her life will be consumed by it. “Now that I’d proved for certain that the gods are and that they hated me, it seemed that I had nothing to do but to wait for my punishment,” says Orual. “It is a strange, yet somehow a quiet and steady thing, to look round on earth and grass and the sky and say in one’s heart to each, ‘You are all my enemies now.'”Even if you are not a fan of “The Chronicles of Narnia” (maybe talking animals and perky English schoolchildren aren’t your cup of tea), you should read “Till We Have Faces” because it tells the story of Orual, who learns the true meanings of love and selfishness, and mercy and justice, even as she becomes a warrior and a queen.
Will Woolfitt, who writes poems and short stories, works at Weber’s Books and Drawings in Breckenridge where this title can be found.
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