Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

C.S. Lewis's till We Have Faces and the Transformation of Love

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

C.S. Lewis's till We Have Faces and the Transformation of Love

Article excerpt

  PSYCHE TO ORUAL:   You are indeed teaching me about kinds of love I did not know. It   is like looking into a deep pit. I am not sure whether I like your   kind of love better than hatred. Oh, Orual--to take my love for   you ... and then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of policy   and mastery, an instrument of torture--I begin to think I never   knew you. Whatever comes after, something that was between us dies   here. (1) 

IN OXFORD ON THE PARKLIKE GROUNDS of Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis was a tutor in English literature for many years, there is a tree-lined path called Addison's Walk, alongside a small stream that runs eventually into the River Cherwell by Oxford's botanical gardens. This walkway is well known among those interested in Lewis and the other Inklings--the group of Oxford-based Christian writers who met regularly to discuss their works and read them aloud to each other--for Addison's Walk was the setting for an important conversation Lewis had with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. At that time an agnostic, Lewis was deeply interested in Tolkien's argument that, while Christianity's central story bears a resemblance to various myths of a dying and rising god, it is unique in being "the true myth," the one instance where the story for which humanity has a deep longing to be true actually entered into historical reality. It is natural, Tolkien argued, that other myths reflect this story, for they spring out of the innate human longing for it. After this conversation, Lewis, always a lover of myth, wrote to a friend: "I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ--in Christianity. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it." (2) As a Christian, Lewis wrote works of theology, literary criticism, and fiction, the latter almost always connected with myth in one form or another, whether written for children, such as the Narnia series, or for adults, such as his space trilogy and Till We Have Faces. This last work, written in the mid-1950s, has been acknowledged by Lewis as "his best" (though at other times he said Perelandra, the second book of the space trilogy was his best), and he dedicated it to his wife, Joy Davidman (Gresham). (3)

In Till We Have Faces, more than in any other work of fiction, Lewis delved into the world of classical myth, retelling the very well-known story of Cupid and Psyche. Revealing what he recognized as the story's intrinsic Christian message, Lewis tells the story from the point of view of neither of the two main characters but from that of one of the original myth's villains, Orual, the sister of Psyche. This change allows Lewis to explore not only romantic love (eros) existing between Psyche and her god-lover Cupid, but also affection (storge) and friendship (philia). Lewis's telling of the myth both celebrates and critiques all human loves, particularly the love of Orual for Psyche (a love combining both storge and philia), showing that any love, like all that is human, must be redeemed and transformed in order to be saved. In fact, Lewis's version of the myth of Cupid and Psyche is an embodiment of the lessons conveyed in his famous theological work, The Four Loves, (4) showing in the love of the two sisters, even more so than that between the two lovers, both the beauty and dangers of human love and, despite the dangers, the enormous power of God's love to transform it.

According to both Lewis and Tolkien, myth is a most appropriate vehicle for conveying such a message, for it reflects the human desire for truth and for the divine. In his poem "Mythopoeia" Tolkien describes how myth is a vehicle for divine truth: "The heart of man is not compound of lies, / but draws some wisdom from the only Wise, / and still recalls him." (5) For Tolkien, and later for Lewis, myth was not a fiction but a way for fallen humanity to convey some of the beauty and splendor lost with the Fall. Though we are no longer untainted images of God, we retain many aspects reflective of his nature, one of which involves the ability to "subcreate," as Tolkien calls it. …

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