Category Archives: Mythology

‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S. Lewis

I finally got through it. Starting it again recently, I got hooked and read in the evenings until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold is an extraordinary book, more powerful to my mind than The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters combined. It’s a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth. (Somewhere along the way, I think I read or heard that Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, a poet, helped Lewis edit the book. I imagine she contributed to its strength.)

If you’re interested in mythology and the ancient world, you’ll probably enjoy Till We Have Faces, and you’ll certainly appreciate it.

Here’s the opening paragraph and excerpts from the second paragraph:

“I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please. The succession is provided for. My crown passes to my nephew.

“Being, for all these reasons, free from fear, I will write in this book what no one who has happiness would dare to write. I will accuse the gods, especially the god who lives on the Grey Mountain…. I will write in Greek as my old master taught it to me. It may some day happen that a traveler from the Greeklands will again lodge in this palace and read the book. Then he will talk of it among the Greeks, where there is great freedom of speech even about the gods themselves….”

This narrator is Orual, Queen of the fictitious land of Glome, which shares a world with the Greece of ancient history. Writing in old age, Orual will tell the story of her life, and especially her relationship with her youngest sister, Psyche.

Glome’s goddess is Ungit, and she requires of her priests animal, and sometimes even human, sacrifices.

The “old master” mentioned above is called the Fox, a red-headed Greek brought to Glome as a slave. Working for the king (Orual’s father), he teaches Orual and her sisters when they are children. Fox is skeptical of the religious worldview of Glome, if not strictly skeptical of the existence of the gods. His Hellenistic philosophy seems to lean toward a rationalistic worldview, maybe similar to Stoicism.

But what Orual experiences throughout the book is a universe with rich metaphysical and religious realities woven into her adventures yet countered by her own skepticism.


(Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold was published in 1956 and since has appeared in several editions.)

Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Trusting the Images

More on concreteness, abstraction, and language, this time in terms of theology, imagery, and mythology.

While We're Paused...

When the purport of the images — what they say to our fear and hope and will and affections — seems to conflict with the theological abstractions, trust the purport of the images every time.[1]

C. S. Lewis’s friend Owen Barfield once wrote of him that “what he thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything.”  In the Lewis quote above, from Letters to Malcolm, we have a fine example of what Lewis thought about something that was at least secretly present, and often overtly present, in what he said about anything.

Lewis’s preference for images over abstractions, his deep satisfaction in image-rich language and distaste for image-deficient language, was something he described often in his writings.  For example, in Studies in Words Lewis discussed the word bitch at some length, noting that in his time bitch was already well along the journey from…

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The presence of myth in technologically advanced, scientific cultures

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), Polish philosopher

Image via Wikipedia

Leszek Kolakowski:

“In the scientific sense, ‘true’ means that which has the chance of being employed in effective technological procedures…. Metaphysical questions and beliefs are technologically barren and are therefore neither part of the analytical effort nor an element of science. As an organ of culture they are an extension of the mythical core…. A language which attempts to reach transcendence directly violates, to no purpose, its own technological instrumentality. It reaches transcendence in myths which give a meaning to empirical realities and practical activities via relativization. A mythical organization of the world (that is, the rules of understanding empirical realities as meaningful) is permanently present in culture.” — Leszek Kolakowski, The Presence of Myth