Once upon a time I loved reading C. S. Lewis. Now his works are a minefield. Like his old friend JRRT, I “cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations,” and CSL enjoyed allegory writing with great abandon. The Lion is Jesus; the Witch is the Devil! The Scientist is the Snake in Eden! I simply can’t go there any more.
But Till We Have Faces is different. It’s a brilliant retelling of the Psyche/Eros myth, from a point of view that baffles me: from a multifaceted, feminine perspective. How Lewis created this, I have no idea; perhaps he hinted in his dedication of the novel to his wife. I identify with the narrator, a strong-minded, loving sister – a woman who faced an incredibly misogynist world and persevered by her wits. Lewis stood the whole myth on its head by not focusing on beautiful Psyche, and therefore removing the supposition that beauty must always generate jealousy among women (we being, after all, just pawns to our emotions). I was nineteen when I read it, in a seminar entitled “The Oxford Christian Writers,” before my own “Great Schism” from Christianity. The book was a thing of wonder to me. And still it glows.
NOTE: JRRT’s wonderful complete quote: “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” This is probably why I wince less when reading Tolkien!