Till We Have Faces – Discussion Questions

A friend and I are reading C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. This is my third trek through this masterpiece and, upon finishing it this morning, I decided to look up the HarperOne reading guide. The questions on this guide are fine, but seem a bit surface-level for such a mythical, mystical book.

So, here are some passages to consider and deeper questions to discuss. Before walking through these, I recommend reading Lewis’ essay “Myth Become Fact.” Lewis believed that even the Pagan myths found fulfillment in the reality of Christ’s incarnation. This is the framework within which the following questions operate:

1. Reread the following passage describing Psyche’s beauty:

Of Psyche’s beauty—at every age the beauty proper to that age—there is only this to be said, that there were no two opinions about it, from man or woman, once she had been seen. It was beauty that did not astonish you till afterwards when you had gone out of sight of her and reflected on it. While she was with you, you were not astonished. It seemed the most natural thing in the world…she was “according to nature”; what every woman, or even every thing, ought to have been and meant to be, but had missed by some trip of chance. Indeed, when you looked at her you believed, for a moment, that they had not missed it. She made beauty all round her. When she trod on mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver. When she picked up a toad—she had the strangest and, I thought, unchanciest love for all manner of brutes—that toad became beautiful.”

Lewis, Till We Have Faces, p. 25

Psyche seems to be beautiful because of a certain “rightness” about her. She simply is. How might this help us imagine pre-fall humanity? What might this tell us about our future “spiritual bodies”? Additionally, do we love things because they are already lovely or does love make things lovely? Think of examples of both.

2. Consider the role of “madness” throughout this book. Orual accuses Psyche of madness for living in a world others cannot see. And yet, even Orual feels a sense of emptiness when she pronounces Psyche’s joy in her palace and lover as mere folly:

“Madness; of course. The whole thing must be madness. I had been nearly as mad as she to think otherwise. At the very name madness the air of that valley seemed more breathable, seemed emptied of a little of its holiness and horror.”

p. 139

Surely you know people who dismiss faith as madness. Orual finds grim comfort in reasoning away the invisible and divine, and yet she misses the joy that Psyche embraces. What consolation is found in rejecting faith as folly? How comfortable are you with being thought mad, a “fool for Christ”? Do we rejoice in the invisible reality even as others dismiss us as delusional?

3. After Orual hears the voice of the god of the mountain and witnesses his fury, she finds that she no longer fears the king:

No one who had seen and heard the god could much fear this roaring old King.

p. 206

How does holy fear drive out human fear? Scripture is clear that if we fear God, we should not fear man. In your life, is there a hierarchy of fear? Do great fears drive out lesser ones? How does the fear of this god differ from the fear of the true God?

4. Read Luke 14:26. Now, read the following conversation between Orual and her former tutor

“Did we really do these things to [Psyche]?” I asked.

“Yes. All here’s true.”

“And we said we loved her.”

“And we did. She had no more dangerous enemies than us. And in that far distant day when the gods become wholly beautiful, or we at last are shown how beautiful they always were, this will happen more and more. For mortals, as you said, will become more and more jealous. And mother and wife and child and friend will all be in league to keep a soul from being united with the Divine Nature.”

p. 346-347

How do these passages relate? How can human love interfere with divine love and/or discipleship? Have you felt such competing loves in your own life?

5. Orual ends the first part of her story by railing at the gods for failing to answer her accusations. She concludes the second part by writing:

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.

p. 351

Consider the book of Job. Horrible affliction befalls a just man, and he presents his case before God much as Orual presents hers before the divine counsel. And yet, does God answer? How so? How does this compare to the answer-by-not-answering that Orual receives at the end of her story?

Thank you for joining me as I reflect on this beautiful book! If you enjoy my content and would like to support me (and my favorite used bookstores and coffee shops), you can buy me a book/coffee below:

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