C.S. Lewis fans: Does the ending of TILL WE HAVE FACES work for you?

People who instantly recognize the name “C.S. Lewis” almost certainly think of him as the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, frequently as the author of The Space Trilogy and a lot of Christian apologetics, and occasionally as that guy who died the same day as Jackie O’s first husband. Only the hard cases will peg him as the author of Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the myth of Psyche and Eros from the point of Psyche’s eldest sister.

I’m one of those hard cases. I just finished re-reading it at a fairly deliberate (a chapter a night for the past several weeks), and while I still think it’s the best-written of Lewis’s fiction, I also found myself bugged by the story’s resolution: by Orual’s change of opinion regarding the character of the gods. Frankly it’s easier for me to buy that the aged Queen of Glome had simply gone batty than that Ungit/Aphrodite had been a misunderstood and benevolent force for good all along.

But that’s just me. Anybody else have a thought on the subject?

Two answers from my two different selves:

Child/Young Teen answer: She’s ancient and alone, and this is a sort of a ‘deathbed conversion’ of a sort after she faced the Psyche story coming out of (not)Greece. She’s realized that she *was *being spiteful and angsty and it wasn’t the fault of the gods, it was *her *fault for not understanding. Sort of like Martha vs Mary, or like Job, actually. “Nevermind, you’re God, I’m a human, I’m sorry for being presumptuous and trying to figure this out with my meager intelligence, and I’m sorry for trying to hold God(s) to human standards. I was wrong. I realize now that your ways are not our ways and if I truly worship you I have to submit to your ways and worship you with heartfelt devotion, even if I don’t understand what’s going on, or why things happen.”

College answer: It’s a crock, because Lewis didn’t want to have anyone leave with the impression that God(s) could be in the wrong, even in his fiction. So he glomped a Job-like recantation in there at the end to make everything all work out Pilgrim’s Progress-like, and it really (in my opinion) doesn’t fit the character or the story. However, it isn’t enough of a harsh note to totally ruin the overall work, which I still enjoy as one of the good mythic re-tellings I’ve encountered.

ETA - I lost my faith rather dramatically at a point about midway between those two answers, if that’s not obvious from the diverging answers.

I don’t think the recantation is glomped on. I think the story is written to lead to the recantation. There’s plenty of indications in Part I that Orual is not as nice as she thinks she is. That said, she and Glome are still ill-treated by the Gods, as the human sacrifices alone make clear. Her first reaction to the foreign priest’s story – that it left out all the pertinent information and was designed to make her a villain – strikes me as the truer one.

I hope to be able to answer after digging up my copy of the book and reviewing at least the ending, but until then, I’ll say (going from memory of when I last read the book several years ago):

The ending didn’t give me the “Aha, I see now!” feeling you get from the resolution of a good detective story, but it did give me something to chew on.

I can identify at least a little with older Orual, looking back on her younger self and having a different perspective on things.

This mainly what I take from it. That the narrative we tell of ourselves and how we are actually perceived by others (vis a vis as a “good person” or anything else) can vary quite a lot. The fact that the gods are more good than Orual thought in her lifetime is only important to me in so far as it contributes to that revelation. It’s the context for telling the myth and illuminating Orual’s character.

So, yes, it works for me.