Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold  
Till We Have Faces(C.S Lewis book) 1st edition cover.jpg
1st edition cover
Author(s) C. S. Lewis
Cover artist Liz Demeter
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Mythological novel
Publisher Geoffrey Bles
Publication date 1956
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold is a 1956 novel by C. S. Lewis. It is a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, which had haunted Lewis all his life,[1] and which is itself based on a chapter of The Golden Ass of Apuleius. The first part of the book is written from the perspective of Psyche's older sister Orual, and is constructed as a long-withheld accusation against the gods. The book is set in the fictional kingdom of Glome. The people of Glome have occasional contacts with those of Greece, allowing for an interplay between the Hellenistic, rationalistic world-view and the powerful, 'irrational', and 'primitive' one.[citation needed]

The book is a fictional treatment of Lewis' non-fiction book The Four Loves.


Plot summary

The story is a re-telling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, from the point of view of Orual, Psyche's ugly sister. The first book begins as the complaint of an old woman who is bitter at the pain and injustice of the gods. Although Orual is indeed unattractive, she loves her beautiful half-sister Psyche obsessively, and when Psyche is sacrificed to the "God of the Mountain", who correlates to the Greek Cupid, she feels as if the gods have stolen her sister from her. In an attempt to rescue her sister, she fails, except for a brief moment, to recognize the beautiful castle in which her sister lives, and brushes off what she saw by claiming she could have been mistaken. She proceeds to urge her sister to look at her husband for fear that her sister had married a monster, although Cupid had specifically forbidden Psyche to do so. When Psyche obeys Orual, the God of the Mountain banishes her. After suffering for years with the knowledge that she inadvertently destroyed her sister's happiness (during which she had become a just and victorious queen — though one clinging and ravenous for affection), Orual hears a recounting of the tale which depicts her as having deliberately ruined her sister's life out of envy. In response, she writes her tale in hopes that it will be brought to Greece, where she has heard that men are willing to question even the gods.

Orual begins the second part of the book by declaring that her previous argument was false, that she has no time to revise it properly, but must amend the book before she dies. After at first finishing her book, she considered it time to end her miserable life. However, she has various mysterious visions and her dreams parallel the tasks given to Psyche in the myth. In the end, she has a dream in which she is entitled to present her complaint to the gods. Re-reading her work, she realizes that her love for Psyche was unduly possessive, and that her actual motivation for urging Psyche to look at her husband was jealousy — not of Psyche, but of Cupid/the God of the Mountain, who had, in her eyes, stolen Psyche's love. This realization allows her to meet and reconcile with Psyche. The text ends in the middle of a sentence: "Long did I hate you. Long did I fear you. I might—", and is followed by a note from another character (Arnom, priest of Ungit/Aphrodite), who describes that she had been found dead at her writing table, presumably mid-sentence as evidenced by way the words written after "might" looked on the page on which her head fell as she expired.


The idea of rewriting the myth of Cupid and Psyche, with the palace invisible, had been in C. S. Lewis's mind ever since he was an undergraduate, and the retelling, as he imagined it, involved writing through the mouth of the elder sister. He tried it in different verse-forms during the period when he still considered himself primarily a poet, so that one may say that he had been "at work on Orual for 35 years," even though the version told in the book "was very quickly written." In his pre-Christian days, Lewis would imagine the story with Orual "in the right and the gods in the wrong."[2]

Origin and evolution of the title

Lewis originally titled his working manuscripts "Bareface," most likely in an effort to bluntly suggest Orual's physical ugliness, which is a haunting and ironic contrast to the beauty of other characters in the story, namely Psyche, Cupid, and Aphrodite, who are arguably the most beautiful in all of mythology. The use of the word "face" in the title is also a reference to the original myth, in which Psyche was not allowed to see Cupid's face so that her intimate encounters with him would be veiled in the bare nakedness of darkness. The working title "Bareface" also ironically suggests the emptiness of identity.

Gibb, however, rejected the title "Bareface" on the ground that readers would mistake it for a Western. In response to this, Lewis commented that he failed to see why people would be deterred from buying the book if they thought it was a Western, and that he thought the working title cryptic enough to be intriguing.[3] Nevertheless, Lewis began considering an alternative title on February 29, 1956, and chose "Till We Have Faces", which references a quotation from the book by Orual, "How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?"[4] He defended his choice of title by describing the novel's importance to the human condition in a letter to Dorothea Conybeare, explaining that the idea behind the title was that a human being must become real before it can expect to receive any message from divine beings; "that is, it must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask."[5]

In popular culture

Steve Hackett named his 1984 album after the book. Hackett was influenced by Lewis's work, also having a song about "Narnia" on his 1978 album Please Don't Touch.[citation needed]

The band Over the Rhine named their first album, released in 1991, Till We Have Faces, after the C. S. Lewis book.[citation needed]

The band Noise Ratchet released their debut full-length, Till We Have Faces, in 2002 with the name of the album and a song therein named after the C. S. Lewis novel.

The band The Subtle Way has an EP and title track called "Until We Have Faces" named after the C. S. Lewis novel.

The Christian band Red named their third album, released in 2011, Until We Have Faces, after the C. S. Lewis book.[6]


  1. ^ Schakel, Peter. (2003) Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. Retrieved on August 5, 2008.
  2. ^ Lewis' letter to Christian Hardie, 31 July 1955, cited at Hooper, Companion (see IX) 251
  3. ^ Hooper, Companion (see IX) 252 16 February 1956
  4. ^ Hooper, Companion (see IX) 252
  5. ^ Constance Babington Smith, Letters to a Sister from Rose Macaulay, 1964, 261; also at Hooper, Companion (see IX) 252
  6. ^ http://theaudioperv.com/2010/12/27/red-announce-new-album-until-we-have-faces-due-february-1st/
  • Till We Have Faces is in print, ISBN 0-15-690436-5
  • Myers, Doris T. (2002). Browsing the Glome Library. SEVEN: An Anglo-American Literary Review 19 (2). This discusses many classical references that Lewis used in the book, now obscure to many readers.
  • The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim (1977), ISBN 0-394-49771-6 (The connection between "Cupid and Psyche" and "Beauty and the Beast" is found on pp 291–95 and 303–10).
  • Donaldson, Mara E. Holy Places are Dark Places: C. S. Lewis and Paul Ricoeur on Narrative Transformation. Boston: U of America P, 1988 (currently out of print).
  • Myers, Doris T. Bareface: A Guide to C. S. Lewis’s Last Novel. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2004.
  • Schakel, Peter. Reason and Imagination in C. S. Lewis: A Study of Till We Have Faces. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984.

External links

See also

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