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Author Topic: Till we have faces--an opinion  (Read 8376 times) Average Rating: 0
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scamandrius
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« on: January 20, 2009, 07:54:19 PM »

This is mainly for Ebor who asked me to share my thoughts on C.S. Lewis' Till We Have FAces.    Well, here they are;  take them for what they are worth.

I teach mythology and I love to do so.  The quality and nature of the stories are such that they are always repeated, no matter how inventive we claim to be.  What are our stories besides the old ones retold with new emphases or symbolism?  Such is the case with this book.

I've read this myth in its locus classicus, the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, a late Roman writer who tells the story of a man transformed into a pig observing the rites of Isis.  he wonders the world absorbing the cultures around.  In his travels, he encounters the myth of Cupid and Psyche.  I will not summarize teh plot here as anyone who wishes can find a synopsis of it anywhere on the internet. 

C.S. Lewis deals extensively with the topic of love in his books, both fiction and non.  He does much the same here.   One of the things that I think is very important to remember that no matter how much our society tries to excuse or even sanction certain vices or sins because of love (e.g. legitimizing homosexual practice because the parties are "in love"), that love itself can be in error.  But how can that be?  Isn't God love?  Of course, we Orthodox say that God is not Love in essence but that love emanates from God because of His essence.  But this Love is not rooted in some mere romantic fashion.  In his dialogue, the Symposium, Plato argues through Socrates that love is, ultimately, communion with God.  I think we Orthodox would agree with that with some minor modifications.  Is not our purpose on earth to grow in Christ to become Christ like, i.e. theosis?  Is that no less than true communion with God?  Of course it is.  So when we say God is love, we have to be careful and realize that when we use this stock phrase, we mean nothing less than becoming one with God according to His essence and leaving behind our mortal corruption, where even love can go astray.

Love can go astray in three ways 1) mode, 2) degree and 3) object.  As a society today, we see love itself as unassailable that cannot go astray, but it can. It is possible to love too much (degree) just as it is to love too little.  It is possible to love onself (error of object) in place of loving our neighbor.  It is possible to love someone upon certain conditions (mode) rather than unconditionally.  Of course, reading through 1 Cor. 13, provides a better summary. 

Orual's sins and faults are many, but her great sin is that she loves herself so little but compensates (massively) by loving her younger and more beautiful sister, Psyche.  She hates herself so much that she veils herself, essentially dehumanizing herself and forsaking God's gift of creation.  When Psyche is taken away, Orual immediately questions the rationality of believing in the gods, because gods must be equivocal to what is good always.  She reduces the gods to her sense of fair play.  A question I often ask my students after we read tragedies such as Oedipus Rex or Antigone or Prometheus Bound is whether gods can ever be moral in the eyes of mortals?  Of course, my students answer that they cannot.  Why?  Because we operate by a sense of fair play, that you get what you deserve.  A good person doesn't deserve to have such horrible things happen.  Then I ask my students whether or not they really want life to be fair-that you should get what you really deserve at all times.  That means, should you steal, something is stolen from you, when you lie, you are lied to, when you cheat, you are cheated, etc.  Then, they immediately change their minds.  They realize that the bad they do far outweighs the good they do in this life.

Orual demands fair play--she wants to write the rules of love on those conditions.  But even if we read 1 Cor. 13, we see that love is not based upon a system of fair play or comes even close to it.  It is based entirely on sacrifice.  But Orual refuses to sacrifice without being compensated--such is not love.  Cupid wants his lover on certain conditions--such is not love.  Bardia counsels and loves Orual so much that he forsakes his own wife and children--such is not love.  In the end, everyone is dehumanized because of their lack of love or errors in the name of love so that even though people can still see their faces (with the exception of Orual who has veiled hers), they are nothing more than illusions.

There is book called I love therefore I am and I cannot remember the author for the life of me, but the focus of the book is how we are called to love to be truly human.  For most people, being truly human is making mistakes and saying "that's OK."  But that is not our Orthodox belief.  Christ came, incarnate, taking on our flesh to make us truly human and thus so that we can unify with him in theosis.  Failing to love, we fail to be human.  Failing to be human, we fail to be divine.  Every time we fail in that, we become a little less human and keep falling, but thanks be to God that we can raise ourselves up and pick ourselves up again when we slip and fall.  Orual, realizes that after she slips so many times to the chambers below the Pillar Room and upon learning the folly of her misguided love, picks herself up and continues until she dies.

I loved this book. It was a great gift for Christmas this past year.  I think that this will take its place in my top 10.

I don't know what you wanted me to say in particular, but I hope, Ebor, that there is something for further discussion.
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2009, 08:15:11 PM »

Weird....our "book club" at church is reading it for our next meeting...
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2009, 08:48:21 PM »

scamandrius,

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on "Til We have Faces". This book is a favourite of mine, too; probably my favourite of all Lewis' writing. It touched me in ways that I couldn't really articulate and you have done it for me. Again, I thank you and, just so you know, I'm going to be quoting you!!  laugh
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2009, 10:35:51 PM »

Great.  Something else on my "must read" list. Embarrassed  Ecclesiasticus 12:12
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« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2009, 02:29:59 PM »

Thank you very much for posting this, Scamandrius, and I'm glad that you enjoyed the book.  Lewis thought that it was his best work.  It is also one that I have seen some persons use to show that he was not Christian because he wrote about "pagan gods/demons".  *sigh*  I assure you that I did not think that you were going to go that route at all!   Smiley

One thing that comes out with Lewis' work is the point of just "What IS Love?"  As you wrote so well, it can go wrong in many ways, but it seems like for many, and this could be part of the problem of English having the one word, "Love" is a nebulous word that is applied to a variety of feelings and emotions.

Your thoughts on the idea of fair play in the book also reminded me of a quote from "Babylon 5":

"I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe."
 Smiley

I'll try to have something more thought out to post later, if that's OK.  Till We Have Faces is a difficult book, but very rewarding, I think.

Ebor

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scamandrius
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« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2009, 02:33:32 PM »

Your thoughts on the idea of fair play in the book also reminded me of a quote from "Babylon 5":

"I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe."
 Smiley


I love B-5; it's one of the best shows ever written.  And that particular quote is where I got my line of thinking from.

Glad you liked what I wrote. 
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« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2009, 03:06:45 AM »

Ok, "book club" happened tonight with interesting mixed opinions.

1) A couple gave up by Chapter 8, saying that a good writer should have captivated the reader by Ch. 8, which Lewis did not in this case.  I (along with others) just retorted that they gave up too soon and should have either a) read the the summary of the myth at the end or b) read the original myth beforehand or c) not given up so easily.

2) I read the whole thing and thought it was interesting, but it didn't really grab me as profound.  A few interesting things about Orual's life, Psyche not seeing her "husband" and the concepts of fairness and love you mentioned, but I didn't really dwell on them.  It seemed more to me like a fantasy novel that wasn't that entertaining, with the strong pagan elements rather apparent.

3) The woman (Xenia) who suggested the book to read in the first place really liked it.  Xenia is usually rather quiet, but elucidated the plot and her thoughts rather well.  She emphasized her view of Orual not realizing all of her "mistakes" in life until the very end - finally "getting" it.  She said that while reading it, she was rooting for Orual to NOT do what she decided to do in most circumstances, but her overall opinion of it (Xenia's) was that WE can not know "the gods" face-to-face until we ourselves really have faces...and we don't since they are just beyond our (mere mortals') comprehension.  Orual had to accept the answer she got from "the gods", which wasn't what she expected.  I brought up your (Scamandrius's) point of "fairness", which the group had some welcome to.

4) One of the biggest fan's though, was Vincent Rossi (goes to my parish, former HOOM/CSB member).  He went into Lewis's history of involvement with Tolkein, earlier reading of the myth and constant longing to re-vist the myth.  Well, Lewis finally got to it, and while Lewis may have been criticized previously for writing "lightweight" faire, he finally hit the mark in this book, doing a masterful job of retelling the classic myth, with some serious Christian themes.

Anyways, I'm not the best writer, losing my train of thought often and probably have already forgotten much of what I intended to write even though it's only been less than 4 hours since our group discussed this.  I hope this was helpful.
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« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2009, 03:09:19 AM »

Btw, our book club decided that our Lenten selection would be...........







....Revelation (as in all or any to discuss in whatever translation/version one wants) since the Typicon DOES INDEED prescribe some readings during Lent, even if it is from services not normally done (due to being mid-week or whatever).  I've forgotten already what they are.  I'll re-visit this thread if I get the info again.
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« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2009, 07:06:10 AM »

Till We Have Faces is an excellent book. I gave it to some friends a few years ago as a wedding gift. They are lovers of classical literature and of C.S. Lewis, and I thought the subject quite fitting.
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« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2009, 09:22:07 PM »

This is mainly for Ebor who asked me to share my thoughts on C.S. Lewis' Till We Have FAces.    Well, here they are;  take them for what they are worth.

I teach mythology and I love to do so.  The quality and nature of the stories are such that they are always repeated, no matter how inventive we claim to be.  What are our stories besides the old ones retold with new emphases or symbolism?  Such is the case with this book.

I've read this myth in its locus classicus, the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, a late Roman writer who tells the story of a man transformed into a pig observing the rites of Isis.  he wonders the world absorbing the cultures around.  In his travels, he encounters the myth of Cupid and Psyche.  I will not summarize teh plot here as anyone who wishes can find a synopsis of it anywhere on the internet. 

C.S. Lewis deals extensively with the topic of love in his books, both fiction and non.  He does much the same here.   One of the things that I think is very important to remember that no matter how much our society tries to excuse or even sanction certain vices or sins because of love (e.g. legitimizing homosexual practice because the parties are "in love"), that love itself can be in error.  But how can that be?  Isn't God love?  Of course, we Orthodox say that God is not Love in essence but that love emanates from God because of His essence.  But this Love is not rooted in some mere romantic fashion.  In his dialogue, the Symposium, Plato argues through Socrates that love is, ultimately, communion with God.  I think we Orthodox would agree with that with some minor modifications.  Is not our purpose on earth to grow in Christ to become Christ like, i.e. theosis?  Is that no less than true communion with God?  Of course it is.  So when we say God is love, we have to be careful and realize that when we use this stock phrase, we mean nothing less than becoming one with God according to His essence and leaving behind our mortal corruption, where even love can go astray.

Love can go astray in three ways 1) mode, 2) degree and 3) object.  As a society today, we see love itself as unassailable that cannot go astray, but it can. It is possible to love too much (degree) just as it is to love too little.  It is possible to love onself (error of object) in place of loving our neighbor.  It is possible to love someone upon certain conditions (mode) rather than unconditionally.  Of course, reading through 1 Cor. 13, provides a better summary. 

Orual's sins and faults are many, but her great sin is that she loves herself so little but compensates (massively) by loving her younger and more beautiful sister, Psyche.  She hates herself so much that she veils herself, essentially dehumanizing herself and forsaking God's gift of creation.  When Psyche is taken away, Orual immediately questions the rationality of believing in the gods, because gods must be equivocal to what is good always.  She reduces the gods to her sense of fair play.  A question I often ask my students after we read tragedies such as Oedipus Rex or Antigone or Prometheus Bound is whether gods can ever be moral in the eyes of mortals?  Of course, my students answer that they cannot.  Why?  Because we operate by a sense of fair play, that you get what you deserve.  A good person doesn't deserve to have such horrible things happen.  Then I ask my students whether or not they really want life to be fair-that you should get what you really deserve at all times.  That means, should you steal, something is stolen from you, when you lie, you are lied to, when you cheat, you are cheated, etc.  Then, they immediately change their minds.  They realize that the bad they do far outweighs the good they do in this life.

Orual demands fair play--she wants to write the rules of love on those conditions.  But even if we read 1 Cor. 13, we see that love is not based upon a system of fair play or comes even close to it.  It is based entirely on sacrifice.  But Orual refuses to sacrifice without being compensated--such is not love.  Cupid wants his lover on certain conditions--such is not love.  Bardia counsels and loves Orual so much that he forsakes his own wife and children--such is not love.  In the end, everyone is dehumanized because of their lack of love or errors in the name of love so that even though people can still see their faces (with the exception of Orual who has veiled hers), they are nothing more than illusions.

There is book called I love therefore I am and I cannot remember the author for the life of me, but the focus of the book is how we are called to love to be truly human.  For most people, being truly human is making mistakes and saying "that's OK."  But that is not our Orthodox belief.  Christ came, incarnate, taking on our flesh to make us truly human and thus so that we can unify with him in theosis.  Failing to love, we fail to be human.  Failing to be human, we fail to be divine.  Every time we fail in that, we become a little less human and keep falling, but thanks be to God that we can raise ourselves up and pick ourselves up again when we slip and fall.  Orual, realizes that after she slips so many times to the chambers below the Pillar Room and upon learning the folly of her misguided love, picks herself up and continues until she dies.

I loved this book. It was a great gift for Christmas this past year.  I think that this will take its place in my top 10.

I don't know what you wanted me to say in particular, but I hope, Ebor, that there is something for further discussion.

Nice analysis. I had not thought of it this way.  Some scattered thoughts: the work can be viewed in many ways, and I had read it as an exploration of the relationship between faith and mystery, justice and wisdom. It has been some years since I read it.  Orual stands out as a wise ruler and her father a fool. She refuses to have faith, and is a figure of mystery, like the gods behind her veil.  She, too, is hidden, sometimes silent, and this can terrify men because they cannot tell what she is thinking.  She cannot see, she will not see, she is angry because it will not happen.  I agree that she feels the gods are unjust.  I can't remember much more.  I remember thinking there were elements of the parable of the prodigal son worked into it, but I am dissatisfied as I try to remember how I came up with that idea. It has been too long, and your post makes me want to read it again. Too many books, too little time....
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