Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. San Diego: Harcourt, 1956 [1984], 313 pages.

I enjoy reading books that have been recommended by people I know. Sometimes I like them, sometimes I don’t. However, I almost always benefit from reading them if for no other reason than I come to know a little better the person who suggested the book.

When someone tells me that a book was meaningful to them, that they enjoyed it, or that it changed them, and I follow-up by reading that book myself, I have connected with that person on a much different level than if I had coffee with them or sat in Sunday School with them.

Thus, when I noticed on Barry Creamer’s blog profile that Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold is one of his favorite books, it immediately went to the top of my to-be-read “on deck” stack. I have had the book in my library for years, but it never seemed to work its way to the top of the stack.

Although we rarely seem to make contact, I consider Barry to be one of my most precious friends. I think he is the best preacher of our generation, I admire his commitment to family and church, I am challenged by his understanding of the history of ideas, and,… well, you get the idea. He is an amazing fellow and I looked forward to engaging a book that is one of his favorites.

Thus, I came to the book with pretty high expectations. During the first 100 pages the book fell a little short of those expectations and I found myself wondering just why Barry thought so highly of it. It was interesting, even intriguing, but it was not spectacular. However, I could hardly put the book down during the final two-thirds of the book. I would not go as far as did the New York Herald Tribune when it proclaimed the book, “The most significant and triumphant work that Lewis has yet produced” but I certainly understand why they would think so. It is a great book and without reservation I give it an enthusiastic recommendation.

In Till We Have Faces Lewis reworks the myth of the Psyche and Cupid. It is a compelling story of Love, and Love’s imitators (desire, dependency, etc). Lewis’ adaptation is complete with vibrant characters, an absorbing plot, and many layers of meaning for those who can’t resist the temptation to explore and deconstruct them.

I expect this book to be on my list of favorite books read in 2007. And, I am planning to re-read it soon so it may very well appear on my list of favorite books read in 2008. Lewis once said that if a book was not worth reading multiple times, that it was not worth reading even once. This book has joined the Kevin Canon of books that I periodically re-read.

I hope that you will choose to read it also, and then drop back by to let me know what you think of it.

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Here are some of my favorite quotes from Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold.

It burned me from within. It quickened; I was with book, as a woman is with child.
~ page 247.

The one sin the gods never forgive us is that of being born women.
~ page 233.

Yet it surprised me that he should have said it; for I did not yet know that, if you are ugly enough, all men (unless they hate you deeply) soon give up thinking of you as a woman at all.
~ page 131.

But if the lords were glum, the common people in the streets were huzzaing and throwing caps in the air. It would have puffed me up if I had not looked in their faces. There I could read their mind easily enough. Neither I nor Glome was in their thoughts. Any fight was a free show for them; and a fight of a woman with a man better still because an oddity–as those who can’t tell one tune from another will crowd to hear the harp if a man plays it with his toes.
~ page 217.

“We’ve had scores of matches together. The gods never made anyone–man or woman–with a better natural gift for it. Oh, Lady, Lady, it’s a thousand pities they didn’t make you a man.” (He spoke it as kindly and heartily as could be; as if a man dashed a gallon of cold water in your broth and never doubted you’d like it all the better.)
~ page 197.

I had known Redival’s tears ever since I could remember. They were not wholly feigned, nor much dearer than ditchwater…. It’s likely enough she meant less mischief than she had done (she never knew how much she meant) and was now, in her fashion, sorry; but a new brooch, much more a new lover, would have had her drying her eyes and laughing in no time.
~ page 63

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