This is part of Diane’s Literature For the Ages Series
My girls and I did manage to fit Till We Have Faces into our school year. Well, I insisted. I think they came away from it with a better understanding than I did the first time I read it, when I was about 19. I remember getting to the end, saying to myself, “Huh?” and immediately starting over. Each time I’ve read it since then, I come away with some different insight.
My girls all enjoyed the book, but had a difficult time explaining why. That’s quite all right. I can’t always articulate that myself. A couple said they liked the style. When I asked for more of what they meant by that, one said she liked the flavor of an ancient myth. We’re not told when this story takes place, so we can imagine it in any time and place where people fear the gods, where superstition is rife, and where human sacrifice is not out of the question.
I’m not going to write a review of the book because many people more qualified than I have published their analyses. I simply want to mention a few things that stood out to me this time or became a little more clear.
Loving and devouring are the same thing? Yes, I see that now. Not real love, but what Orual thinks is love is a devouring. She uses up the Fox without ever thinking he might have had a life outside his service to her. With no consideration for Bardia’s family, other than jealousy that he sometimes leaves her to go home to his wife, Orual drains his life to the last drop. Had the gods not taken Psyche from her, she would have used Psyche likewise. Orual doesn’t learn till the end of her life that true love doesn’t use up, but gives and fills.
Orual adopts her veil because she is ashamed of how she looks. She gradually learns that, as people variously interpret the reason for the veil, she gains power over them. They fear her because they can’t read her expressions. She maintains a false element of control over men who assume she is hiding her great beauty. After many years of hiding from others, she gradually begins to forget who she is herself. What veils do I wear to hide my real self from others or from myself? Do I do it out of fear or a desire for control, or both?
It is extremely significant that it is through Orual’s thorough, and increasingly honest, complaint to the gods that she gradually sees herself and the world as they really are. I’ve come to believe this is one of the main purposes of prayer. As I lay my needs and wants before God, he opens my eyes to which are needs and which are merely wants. When I am honest with him about myself, I start to see myself more honestly. As I do this more, I learn to agree with God, and my will begins to align with his more and more. I also learn humility, which neither I nor Orual started out with.