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C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces Chapter 2

             Chapter 2 of Till We Have Faces, the subject of the third of my reflections on Lewis’s novel, contains three important developments.

  • We learn more about the Fox’s beliefs.
  • Psyche is born.
  • The first words are uttered that compare Psyche with the gods and the concomitant danger of provoking the goddess Ungit’s envy.

            Those who know Greek philosophy better than I can correct me, but the Fox looks something like a Stoic.  According to my understanding, Stoicism, one of the Greek philosophical schools, believed that the universe was infused with reason and could be called God.  This would explain some apparent inconsistencies in the Fox.  On the one hand he tells Orual, “At death we are resolved into the elements” (17), which sounds like materialism.  On the other hand, when Orual counters that he trembles at the prospect of death, the Fox confesses, “That’s my disgrace.  The body is shaking.  I needn’t let it shake the god within me” (18), which seems to be pantheistic.  If he is meant to be a Stoic, this would make sense.  According to that philosophy, the elements into which we return at death are in some way divine.  The Stoics also could identify the universe and God with nature.  This would explain why the Fox often speaks of living according to nature, which is to live according to reason, the principle that rules the universe. 

            More importantly for Faces is the fact that Psyche is born in this chapter.  She is the daughter of King Trom and thus Orual’s half-sister.  Her name is actually Istra, which we are told, presumably in the language of Glome, means Psyche in Greek.  It is possible that Lewis chose the name Istra to remind us of Ishtar, the Babylonian equivalent of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility.  More to the point, we need to remember that “Psyche” is Greek for “soul”.  Clearly too, since Faces is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, Istra/Psyche is a central character in the story. 

            Psyche is beautiful.  The Stoic Fox’s highest praise of Psyche, whom he sees as the perfection of beauty, is that she is “according to nature” (22).  Hers is not only physical beauty.  It is almost spiritual, because it “makes beauty all around her” (22).        

            Psyche’s beauty is like that of a goddess.  Three times in chapter 2 the Fox compares her to the divine.  Her beauty makes him think that perhaps the royal family actually does have “divine blood” (21).  She is “as beautiful as a goddess” (21).  Finally, he claps his hands and sings, “Prettier than Andromeda, prettier than Helen, prettier than Aphrodite herself” (24).    

            This last praise of Psyche by the Fox provokes a negative reaction from Orual. “Speak words of better omen,” she warns.   She then tells us that, even though it was a summer day so hot that rocks were too hot to touch, she felt “as if a soft, cold hand had been laid on my left side, and I shivered” (24).  The Fox laughs it off by claiming, “The divine nature is not like that.  It has no envy” (25).  The passion of envy would be a sign of weakness according to the Fox’s Stoicism.  Orual does not agree.  “I knew it is not good to talk that way about Ungit” (25).  In her mind there are truths that go deeper than the Fox’s reason can grasp.

            Two matters in particular interest me in this chapter.  First, the Fox’s statement that Psyche’s beauty is greater than Aphrodite’s is in response to Psyche’s love for the Mountain, where the son of Ungit lives.  She says that one day she’ll marry the greatest of kings and he’ll build her a palace on the mountain.  Remember that Ungit is Glome’s version of Aphrodite, whose son is Cupid, the god of love.  Could there be a hint that there is danger in loving God?

            Second, is the Fox wrong that the divine nature has no envy?  The Israelites were commanded not to make or worship images because “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5), but jealousy is not envy.  We envy someone of something they have.  It is akin to coveting, which is prohibited by the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17).  Jealousy is a zealous guarding of what is one’s own.  We owe God worship; so he is rightly jealous of it.

            What do you think of the idea of God being jealous or envious?  Is there something different in this chapter that grabbed your attention?

4 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces Chapter 2

  1. I realize that CS Lewis intends to establish a relationship between mythology and Christianity but I have a difficult time with this.
    I’m puzzled with how we can switch back and forth between god and God so easily.
    I think I get it but it’s a stretch for me at this point in the story.
    I believe that God is neither jealous or envious.
    At this point I still consider Psyche someone who needs her sister’s better judgement and concern. And Orual is being protective of her sister even though this concern does encourage Orual’s ego.

    1. These are good questions, Mike. Lewis once said that the Incarnation was myth become history or fact. He believed that the stories of the pagan myths in an at times dark and indirect way pointed to the truth of the Christian faith.

      I think that you are right to question an easy movement between gods and God. There is a qualitative difference between monotheism and polytheism, not just a quantitative one. Remembering that the Old Testament was a world of many gods can help explain the concept of God’s jealousy. He alone was to be worshipped. To worship other gods was to break the covenant with him. It would later be compared to adultery in a marriage. He was Israel’s one husband and they should serve him alone. All too often for us jealousy is unreasonable and a sign of weakness or even paranoia.

      Let’s see what happens with Orual and Psyche, especially when Psyche begins to mature.

  2. I enjoyed this chap. (and your commentary) but anticipate your comments on chap.10 and 11! The battle between Orual’s reality and Psyche’s reality is my favorite part. I truly look forward to your thoughts on this.

    Oh Mike, I appriciate your honest reflection.

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