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C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (Chapter 3)

            Chapter 3 of C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces continues two important themes.  First, there is the increasing attribution of divinity to Psyche by word and worship.  Second, the discussion between the Fox and Orual concerning the gods takes a couple of interesting turns.

            Redival, Orual’s sister and Psyche’s half-sister, sneeringly calls Psyche a goddess, bowing down and pouring dust on her head.  It is dragged out of Psyche that a woman had asked her to kiss her child because it would make her beautiful because of Psyche’s beauty.  When Psyche kissed the child, the woman worshipped her.  Significantly, she laid a branch of myrtle at Psyche’s feet.  Myrtle was sacred to Aphrodite.  On top of this, we find out that Psyche had been worshipped several times.

            The worship of Psyche by the people becomes dangerously popular when she nurses the Fox back to health.  Even the Fox wonders whether she might have healed him according to some special power of nature.  In the depths of a severe plague, the people demand that she come out to touch them that they might be healed.  Upon seeing her beauty, the people cry out, “A goddess, a goddess,” and one woman even declares Psyche is “Ungit herself in mortal shape” (32).  More offerings are made to Psyche, including pigeons, which were “specially sacred to Ungit” (p. 32).

            As in the previous chapter, Orual is distressed by the worship of Psyche because, “The gods are jealous.”  Once again the Fox repeats, “The divine nature is without jealousy.”  This time he adds that the gods Orual is thinking about are not real but “are all folly and lies of the poets” (28).  Not only is the Fox denying the truth of the religion of Glome, but it seems to me that there is also a denial of the imagination as a source of truth.

            In spite of their differences, the Fox and Orual appear to agree on one point of theology—the gods do not communicate well with man.  The Fox states, perhaps ironically, “It’s not easy to find out what Ungit thinks” (28).  Later, Orual says that only the gods know whether those touched by Psyche were healed and “gods do not tell” (33).

            Faces is a story about the relationship between the human and the divine.  From two of the main characters’ perspectives (the Fox and Orual) the mystery or secretiveness of the gods is a fact and, apparently, not a very helpful one.  Remember that Faces is also Orual’s complaint, but the silence of God is a biblical theme too. “To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit” (Psalm 28:1).  We are utterly dependent upon God speaking to us, and yet, at times, he does appear silent.  Most mysteriously of all, there is no voice from heaven when Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

            How do you understand God’s silence?  Is there anything else in this chapter that you think is important?

5 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (Chapter 3)

  1. I wonder if threaded through the story there is some of Lewis’ own journey of coming to and growing in Christ. In the biography I’ve read, it seems that he came first through his head and reason, and then the heart was next to be touched.

    1. It would be good to think about this. It does seem that many scholars believe this about Lewis, but I am not convinced. Surprised by Joy, his autobiography, points to the intense longing that he felt, which is what he calls “joy” that led to his conversion. Also, his early book The Pilgrim’s Regress is an apology for Christianity, romance and reason; so the heart was there too. Of course, 25 years of maturing in Christ must have led to profounder insights and experiences.

    2. Melody,
      I’d say if we can’t trust that this is the case there would be no value in reading his account of this story. When I think about artistic expression by serious artists, even if I disagree with their ideas, I know that their entire life journey is contained in their work. Even a picture of a basket of fruit has a thread of the painters life experience.
      In case it does, I don’t mean for this comment to sound edgy.

  2. As I read this part of the story I became frustrated with the worship of Psyche as well. I guess I felt this way because she did not necessarily refute the claims of goddess. Herod’s death came to mind in Acts 12 when people said “the words of a god not a man” and God killed him because he did not give praise to God.
    Honestly, God’s silence is difficult.

    1. Thanks, Doug. There is a kind of naiveté with Psyche. She seems to naturally love the gods and is drawn to them, especially the god of the mountain, but she doesn’t seem to take seriously the worship and therefore doesn’t see the danger that Orual does. As I said earlier, I think that we’ll need to look for maturation in Psyche.

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