C.S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces

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Till We Have Faces Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 45-page guide for “Till We Have Faces” by C. S. Lewis includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 25 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Identity and Obsessive Love.

Plot Summary

C.S. Lewis’s final novel, Till We Have Faces, is a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. The novel is narrated by Orual, the Queen of Glome, and is framed as a complaint against the gods. Orual is the eldest of three sisters; her siblings are Redival and Istra—whom Orual calls Psyche. Orual is an ugly child who resents Redival’s beauty and whose only friend is her tutor, a Greek slave called the Fox. Psyche is also a very beautiful girl but Orual is not jealous of her the way she is of Redival and treats her more like a daughter than a sister. As a result of Psyche’s extraordinary beauty, people begin to call her a goddess, which incites the wrath of Ungit, the principal goddess of Glome, resulting in famine, drought, and plague. To appease the goddess, the Priest of Ungit tells the King that Psyche must be sacrificed. Orual is distraught, but she cannot prevent the sacrifice.

Orual later goes to the mountain to retrieve Psyche’s remains; however, she finds Psyche alive and well. Psyche explains that she has not been devoured by, but rather married to, Ungit’s son, the god of the mountain. She claims to live in a luxurious palace and want for nothing, but Orual is suspicious and asks to see the palace for herself. Psyche is astonished and tells Orual that they are sitting in front of it; Orual assumes that Psyche is mad or has been subject to a terrible trick and demands that she return to Glome with her at once. Psyche refuses, stating that she must obey her husband before her sister and insisting that she is speaking the truth: she may not have seen his face but she knows that her husband is a god. Orual, already overwhelmed by grief, cannot bear this second separation and decides to rescue her sister. She returns to the mountain two days later and forces Psyche to take a lamp and look upon her husband, threatening to kill herself if she doesn’t. Psyche reluctantly agrees.

As a result of Orual’s “test,” Psyche’s husband, the god of the mountain, banishes her, and she is later enslaved by Ungit. The god tells Orual that she “also shall be Psyche” (83), and she returns to Glome to await her punishment. No punishment appears, however, and she immerses herself in the work of being queen after her father’s death. Many years later, she takes a journey through neighboring kingdoms and comes across a temple dedicated to the goddess Istra. There, the Priest tells her the sacred story of Istra, which is the original story of Cupid and Psyche, in which Psyche’s sister can see the palace but deliberately ruins her happiness out of jealousy. Hearing this, Orual is outraged: not only have the gods taken her sister, but they have made her out to be a villain. She begins to write her own story of what happened as a rebuttal and a complaint against the gods.

The second part of the novel is a repudiation of her original complaint, an acknowledgement of her own flaws, and an acceptance of the gods. Towards the end of her reign as queen, Orual has a series of visions that force her to confront her true identity. This process eventually enables her to achieve self-knowledge and, in turn, knowledge of the gods. As a result, she is reunited with Psyche before she passes away.

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Chapters 1-3