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.