Desperate for Home :: A Review of Till We Have Faces

by Edie Wadsworth on January 17, 2010

I shall attempt to give my thoughts on C.S. Lewis’ book  Till We Have Faces.   I know this for sure;  what little  I can string together on the subject  will be inadequate.  This book left me stunned, ashamed  and yet profoundly hopeful and longing. It’s a complex layered story that lays bare the human soul , exposing the depravity in us all and reminding us that our despair has been answered in the love and atonement of Another.   Lewis forces the reader to lay down his weapons.   To surrender the defenses with which we so violently protect ourselves.   And he forces us, unarmed, bare, and vulnerable to look into the ‘mirror’ and face the hideousness that we see there.  He reminds us that we can’t properly see till we have eyes, nor love till we have hearts;  and we certainly cannot see His face, till we have faces.

Most of all, he leaves the reader longing—–for home.

This book is profoundly different from his other works,  was claimed to be his favorite of his own books and was his last and—- in the opinion of many, including me—his best published work.   He retells the story of the greek myth of Cupid and Psyche but from the perspective of Orual, who is Psyche’s older, hideous-looking sister.   The book is, in essence,  Orual’s complaint to the gods, about her life and the sometimes unfortunate, horrible situations in which she was placed.   Lewis tells the story in the first person and describes Orual’s  journey of self-discovery and how, though she is often abused and oppressed,  finds time and time again that she is the oppressor herself.   Though she was like a mother to her sister Psyche and loved her intensely, she learns that her love was laced with selfishness and self-preservation.

Orual later becomes a wise and beloved queen and is praised for her many skills.   She wears a veil to conceal her ugliness and after many years, the people began to spread rumors, that perhaps she wears a veil because she’s too beautiful to show her face.   She, however, knows the truth and is shown by the ‘gods’ that despite her outward appearance of success, she is destitute.

She says,

“I would set out boldly each morning to be just and calm and wise in all my thoughts and acts, but before they had finished dressing me I would find that I was back in some old rage, resentment, gnawing fantasy, or sullen bitterness. I could not hold out half an hour . . . I could mend my soul no more than my face.”

{sounds so oddly and clearly  familiar to my every morning}

Orual’s journey of self-discovery comes full circle when she finally comes face to face with the gods.  As she makes her complaint, she realizes the absurdity of her words, the uselessness of all the cover-ups and disguises.  {It occurred  me how often I’ve played a litany in my head  of excuses and justifications and complaints to God and how childish it all must have sounded}

Orual says,

” When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like,  been saying over and over,  you’ll not talk about the joy of words.   I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

After making her complaint to the gods and realizing the wretchedness of her own soul, she must now face the gods’ complaint against her and she must do it un-veiled. And miraculously, in a most wondrous picture of Christ’s vicarious atonement for us, she is revealed as beautiful—-she is given the beauty of Psyche and when the gods judge her, they see only Psyche.

This book will not leave you pointing fingers to how others have been at fault for what’s wrong in your life.  Or even how God has deserted you.  It will boldly set a mirror in front of you and bid you see clearly.  And it will give you hope, that when we are clothed with Christ, God, our judge, sees only Him and his perfect life and love and obedience on our behalf. His beauty overtakes our sin. We exchange our hideousness for His love and perfection, as a beautiful and gracious free gift.   Lewis leads us to despair of ourselves and to ultimately find our true joy and hope in Another.

Lewis is brilliant in his ability to strip down the readers’ defenses, forcing us to look at ourselves for who and what we really are.   And we are nothing, if not, desperate…….for home.

Note: This book is deep and rich and must be read and re-read. It will sucker punch you and leave you almost out of breath at times. I’ve read certain sections more than ten times and am still reeling from the truths that can be found here. But beware, this book will get under your skin and gnaw at all your presuppositions.
{After reading the book, there was something at its’ essence that reminded me of Matthew Mayfield’s song Open Road.   I’ve included the lyrics and installed the song at the top of this post–just above the date.  Just push play and let your defenses wash away}

Open Road
Lay me down on
shores of the whitest sand
soft like that woman
with the fight of a thousand men

and if you find the key
would you set me free?
if you find the key
would you set me free?

I’m screaming to God
‘would you come and save
what you’ve either forgotten
or you’re strengthening
I’ve finally paid the toll
and it’s all open road
just trying to find a home
take me home’

Violet iris
and lilies in bloom for spring
enticing—the silence
a song that we all can sing

and if you find the key
would you set me free?
if you find the key
would you set me free?

I’m screaming to God
‘would you come and save
what you’ve either forgotten
or you’re strengthening
I’ve finally paid the toll
and it’s all open road
just trying to find a home
take me home’

We’re tired and changing
heartbeats are fading
our days are numbered
the clocks, they keep ticking
I’ve been deserted,
my feelings perverted
by a pissed off and ripped up machine cycle circus
when we look in the mirror
it shatters with shame
our faces are bloody
and sour with disdain
I have seen what you are
and I have seen who I am
and we are desperate, we’re desperate, we’re desperate
for home…
home….

lay me down on
shores of the whitest sand
soft like that woman
with the fight of a thousand men

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 C January 17, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Yes, this is a book that must be re-read. Until you have read it again and, maybe, yet again, you won’t begin to really “get it.” And, yes, it “sucker punched” me, too. And, yes, it is Lewis’ best work. By far.

I have to say, however, that I have heartily recommended it to people who say they either could not get through it or hated it. Go figure.

Loved your review. C

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2 Southern Gal January 17, 2010 at 1:29 pm

I haven’t read this work by Lewis. I don’t know why. I will definitely be reading it now. Thanks for the review.

I don’t see the player for the song?

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3 Jacquelin January 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm

What a great review. I have not read this work by Lewis, and look what I am missing. Definitely adding it to my list and moving it to the top. Will you be reviewing each of the books from your reading list this year?

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4 Amanda @ Serenity Now January 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Thanks for the review, Edie. :) I think C.S. Lewis is brilliant, but my favorite is still The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. :s Simple message, presented beautifully. :)

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5 Anna January 17, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Your blog has been a new inspiration in my life, from creative things to homeschooling to reading. Thank you

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6 Cathy Santarsiero January 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm

It is going on my reading list. Thanks.

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7 Jessica @ These Are The Days January 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Well if this is better than Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters, I’m grabbing it next. It’s been a C.S. Lewis weekend for me too, his writing made my entire Saturday of laundry actually enjoyable. He is brilliant, if you let your mind wonder for even a few seconds, you know you’ve missed something deep. I cannot tell you how glad I am you turned me on to him last year. His writings have changed the way I look at Christianity. So helpful, eye opening and refreshing. I am now aware at just how much I need to be saved. That is a fabulous review btw. Now I will go listen to the song.

Pop over to my blog and check out our new school room. Robin’s Nest all the way.

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8 ldh January 17, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I finished reading this book in November and knew from the start I would be re-reading it. I sensed I would learn something in the end that would bring greater understanding to earlier chapters. One of the greatest books I have ever read.

I am starting The Great Divorce.

Kindly, ldh

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9 Jessica @ These Are The Days January 17, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see where to click on the song above the date? Nothing there?

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10 becca January 17, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Your review was beautiful! I haven’t read this work by him and can’t wait to get it!

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11 Julie Harward January 17, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I LOVE HIS WORKS, I JUST BOUGHT MY HUSBAND HIS QUOTE BOOK. THIS SOUNDS LIKE A GREAT READ, I WILL HAVE TO LOOK FOR IT. HOW DO YOU HAVE TIME TO TAKE CARE OF A FAMILY..BLOG..AND READ? THE EXTRA BUSY-NESS OF BLOGGING TAKES A TON OF TIME..MAYBE I JUST DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO IT RIGHT..WHEN I GET INTO A BOOK, I DON’T WANT TO SET IT DOWN! COME SAY HI :D

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12 Debra January 17, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Thanks for reviewing this book. We have many of his works but not this one. We soon will!
Blessings
Debra

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13 Jess @ Frugal with a Flourish January 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Sounds like a great book and one I probably need to read! Thanks for the review.

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14 Lurenda January 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Thank you for such a profound review. Lewis’ works always stay with me. This book will go to the top of the list. I believe it’s a book I need to read at this point in my life.

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15 thea January 17, 2010 at 6:33 pm

cannot wait to get this book…love C.S. My hubs is in a bad place as far as confidence and priorities go…lots of “woe is me.” He has been jobless fro about 3 years…he loves CS Lewis too…might be a great read for him too. Thanks for sharing!

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16 Southern Gal January 17, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Sorry, but I still don’t see it.

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17 Southern Gal January 17, 2010 at 9:03 pm

“It” meaning the music player.

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18 suzanne January 17, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I read that book many, many years ago, and don’t remember much about it, except feeling like it was quite strange. Perhaps I would understand better now, and perhaps I should plan to take it down and read it again. I need to read again in general; thanks for the inspiration!

Suzanne

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19 candace January 17, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Intriguing. I haven’t read it and may put it on my list to read this year. Thank you for sharing.

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20 Debra January 17, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Edie, Thanks for visiting my blog!

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21 Melissa Richie January 18, 2010 at 1:32 am

I found your blog through Darby’s around Christmas, and though I haven’t commented before, I felt I had to once I read this post.

Til We Have Faces is one of my favorite books, and I agree that it makes one reel when exposed with the truth that is in it. I love it, love it, love it, and I try to read it every year.

Thanks for telling other people about it!

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22 Kirsten January 18, 2010 at 3:13 am

Oh dear Edie, I think we have yet another thing in common. This is my favorite of Lewis’s books. And profoundly changed my life as well. I try to read it again every year, or at least every other. It’s a gem, a true, proven, life changing gem of a book! So glad to see you give it honor.

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23 patty January 18, 2010 at 7:18 am

wow, edie! this was beautifully done. makes me want to run out in (the snow! in) my pj’s (right now) and get it! {for some reason, i pulled the very depressing and shocking Night by elie weisel for my vacation read? that and a pilot’s wife and hamlet-nice variety, hmm?} you’re review is inspiring-amazon is gonna wonder about the sudden demand for till we have faces. the lyrics to the song are beautiful, too.
ps: is that angel steve? :)

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24 Amy January 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

This is why I love visiting you Edie, you are real, and I like that. Thanks for taking the time to review.

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25 Trish @TheOldPostRoad January 18, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Thanks for that review! I am adding that book to my list of “need to read” this year. I love his work – but must have stopped that one before I got very far into it – because I do not remember it! (Screwtape and Great Divorce were great – and I enjoyed a few of the others, but not as much as those.)
-Trish

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26 asnipofgoodness January 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm

I just started this book, looking forward to being sucker punch, for if a book does not sucker punch you, what real good is it?

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27 Heyruthie January 19, 2010 at 3:57 am

I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now. Your kitchen grabbed me months ago, and I spent several more months trying to find you again. When I did, before Christmas, I was happy! Thank you! This Lewis book is not for the faint of heart. I re-read it for the 3rd time this past year, and it “gets me every time.” I’ll be honest: for me, it’s painful–tortuous at times. I am such an Orual: oldest sister. It takes me low, low down into my own depravity, and yes, it does pull me back up again, but it’s such a journey. NOT a light read, the opposite of the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, IMHO. But yes, his best fiction work.

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28 Marie January 19, 2010 at 8:29 pm

What a powerful review. I’m ordering this book.
Your blog is such a pleasure to visit…thank you1

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29 Karen January 19, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Nicely put. Inspired me to read the book again.

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30 Melissa N January 20, 2010 at 12:33 am

Edie,
What a perfect summary of Till We Have Faces. You captured it exactly. I read this book for the first time at a pivotal point just after I graduated from college and it unraveled me in a beautiful way. I have read it almost yearly ever since, and God has taught me something new each time. And now I am reading it aloud to my 17 year old daughter.

I love to read your blog…thanks for sharing your thoughts, your faith and your home with us.
- Melissa, St. Louis

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31 Missy Manning January 20, 2010 at 4:23 am

I’m starting the book tonight!

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32 Leslie January 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Beautiful, beautiful song.

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