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C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, Chapter 7

            Chapter 7 of Till We Have Faces narrates the last conversation between Psyche and Orual before Psyche is sacrificed.  It is crucial for understanding both Psyche and Orual, their beliefs concerning the gods and the character of their love.   Ironically, even though this is Orual’s account of her complaint against the gods, Psyche comes off much better than her older sister.

            At the very start of the chapter Lewis introduces a central theme of Faces.  Orual comments that Psyche was comforting her “as if it were I who was the child” (67).  She wants to have Psyche continue to be dependent on her, as she was when she was a small child.  Only when Psyche weeps at the thought that she might just die slowly because there is no god of the Mountain is Orual pleased.  Why is Orual pleased?  Psyche “was a child again,” whom Orual could comfort, which was why she had come.  Orual admits, with shame, that for her this was a kind of “sweet misery” (70).  Orual’s is a possessive love that wants the other to depend upon her.  For this reason, Orual is pained by Psyche’s action which “was so unlike the sort of love that used to be between us in our happy times” (67).

            It is a different kind of love, because Psyche’s love is different from Orual’s and probably was so from the beginning.  This comes out in a discussion about the Fox’s teaching.  Orual gets carried away expressing her anger at the King’s treatment of them.  Psyche’s response shows that she is a better disciple of the Fox than Orual.  Sounding like the Fox and with solid Greek philosophy, Psyche declaims concerning those who were mistreating them, “They will be like that because they do not know what is good from what is bad.  This is an evil which has fallen upon them not upon me.  They are to be pitied” (68).   

            While grudgingly admiring Psyche’s courage, Orual can’t help but resent it.  She describes Psyche’s manner as “queenly,” which she feels is “cold” and addresses her as “child” again (68).  While still using her childhood name for Orual, “Maia,” which connotes “mother,” Psyche speaks of Orual and the Fox as friends.  Orual complains to herself, “Why must she say bare friends?” (69)  Friendship, the most valued human relationship in ancient Greece, is not good enough for Orual.  Earlier Orual had said that she wanted to be Psyche’s mother, lover, full sister, and to own her as a slave so that she could set her free (23).  In other words, she wanted to be everything to Psyche, making her totally dependent on her. Friendship is a relationship between equals.  Orual will have none of it.

            The different character of Psyche’s love comes out in several ways.  Rather than bemoaning the injustice of her fate, she is concerned for others, even Redival who had betrayed her.  Most importantly for the story, Psyche loves the gods.  Both Psyche and Orual believe that the Fox, in spite of having much of the truth, doesn’t have all of it.  The clean, clear air of Greek reason doesn’t touch the earth, upon which cities are built and from which food and danger come, “things growing and rotting, strengthening and poisoning, things shining wet” (71).  Before Psyche can say it, Orual agrees that reality is like the House of Ungit.  For Orual too the gods are real, but they are “viler than the vilest of men” (71).  Infuriating Orual, Psyche counters that the myths may misrepresent the gods or, more profoundly, that the gods may do these things but that we don’t understand them.  With eagerness in her voice Psyche asks, “How if I am indeed to wed a god?” (71).   

            Psyche is not only a disciple of the Fox but also of the Priest of Ungit.  There is mystery.  The way to know the truth may be in admitting that we don’t understand everything and trusting in the gods.  Psyche’s faith nurtures a sacrificial love.  She cares for the people of Glome.  “How can I be the ransom for all Glome unless I die?” (72)  All love is a kind of death, she reflects.  Leaving Maia and the Fox for the sake of love is a kind of death.  To leave her home, lose her virginity and bear a child are all deaths.    In a beautiful passage, reflecting Lewis’s own experience of joy that led him to Christ, Psyche confesses that she has always longed for death and to go to the god of the Mountain (74-76). 

            In exasperation, Orual wails, “Is it nothing to you that you leave me alone here?  Psyche, did you ever love me at all?” (72)  She even resents that Psyche mentions loving the Fox.  Orual’s love is a selfish love that, like the gods, wants to devour the beloved, except that she is not a god and can’t demand what they demand.  In the end she admits, “It was as if someone or something else had come in between us.  If this grudging is the sin for which the gods hate me, it is one that I have committed” (75).

            In reading this chapter, I thought of human love and our relationship with God.  Our original sin was an attempt to be like God (Genesis 3:1-7).  If not submitted to God, our loves, yes, even our beautiful loves, become perverted by our demonically-inspired aspirations to divinity.  We need people to need us.  We need to be the most important thing in their lives.  We want to be their God.  They become food to feed our insatiable need to be divine.  God’s rightful demand to be the center of our lives is resented.  Is this not the ugliest sin of all?  If not converted by God, is not our love like Orual’s?  Deep down, do we not have the face of Orual?

            What do you think?

4 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, Chapter 7

  1. Insightful—-the need to be needed! How ugly the face of selfish love. How many times have I resented God’s agape or expected others to fulfill only what God can fulfill?
    It was easy for me to see Psyche as the one to admire. She gave and loved completely! My favorite part was her longing for heaven. It tasted sweet, pure and fresh! Orual could not understand that longing or love and neither can people who are like her. That thought leads me back to self reflection: How am I like Orual? How can I be more loving like Psyche?

  2. Orual’s self-view has been interesting to follow. She wants to have a high view of herself as someone good and of admirable character. She needs to have it. She continues to find ways of making some of her worst moments and decisions look like they were motivated by something admirable. She tells herself lies in order not to have to face the truth about herself. You see flashes of truth that go through her thinking, but she is always able to put a positive spin on it. She has a deep need to keep her self-view high.

    I think she says a lot to me about being truthful with yourself, even when it’s painful. I, too, want to strive to be like Psyche, not Orual.

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