Till We Have Faces

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Till We Have Faces Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on C. S. Lewis 's Till We Have Faces. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis was born and raised in Ireland. His father was a Welsh solicitor and his mother was the daughter of an Anglican priest—Lewis’s early exposure to Christianity would influence his writing and thinking for the rest of his life. Growing up, Lewis was fascinated by mythology, particularly that of Scandinavia, Greece, and Ireland. He excelled at Latin and Greek in school and won a prestigious scholarship to Oxford University. Lewis fought in World War I while still an undergraduate, a traumatic experience that made him an atheist throughout his twenties. He ultimately graduated from Oxford with a “triple first” in English, Classics, and Philosophy, an extremely prestigious achievement both then and now. From the 1920s to the 1950s, Lewis worked as a professor at Oxford’s Magdalen College, teaching English literature. Although Lewis was an atheist for many years, in his early thirties he converted to the Anglican Church, based on his studies of classical Christian texts and his friendship with such Christian thinkers as George Macdonald and J.R.R. Tolkien. He was at first an unwilling convert, but felt that he could see no other truth. For the remainder of his life, Lewis was a vocal proponent of Christian values, authoring Christian texts such as Mere Christianity, a series of short lectures on Christian values and the existence of God. During World War II, Lewis sheltered London children in his house in the English countryside, which forms the premise of his most famous book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (1949). Lewis authored six more books in his Chronicles of Narnia series and also wrote the popular Space Trilogy (1938-1945). Although his fiction made Lewis wealthy, in his later years, he also taught medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University. He married the American writer Joy Davidman in 1956 so that she could live in England, and Davidman served as inspiration for the character of Orual in Till We Have Faces. Lewis died on the same day as the author Aldous Huxley, which was also the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The Chronicles of Narnia, along with Lewis’s writings on Christianity, remain enormously popular more than half a century after his death.
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Historical Context of Till We Have Faces

The Fox’s philosophical teachings correspond to the ancient Greek school of thought called Stoicism, which was founded by Zeno of Citium in the third century BC and became predominant throughout the Greco-Roman world. Stoicism teaches that people should learn to control their emotions to avoid making destructive choices—happiness results from accepting life as it is rather than constantly desiring something different. Stoics particularly valued logical thinking and the pursuit of truth. Furthermore, they believed that God was equivalent to Nature, and thus present throughout the universe and within everything. All people, then, result from this divine nature and are equal, without distinction based on class or nationality.

Other Books Related to Till We Have Faces

The novel is a retelling of the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche as related in a Latin work called the Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass, written by Lucius Apuleius Platonicus in the second century. In the original version, men worship Psyche too deeply to want to marry her, so the gods tell her father to sacrifice her on a mountain. Both of her sisters visit her at the god’s palace, and their jealousy of her leads them to convince her to look at her husband’s face (which she has been forbidden to do) with the intention of killing the beast they’re sure she’ll find in her bed. Additionally, when as a punishment Aphrodite forces Psyche to retrieve the box of beauty from the land of the dead, she stipulates that Psyche must not look inside, but curiosity gets the better of her and she opens the lid. Even so, Cupid and Venus forgive her and she’s allowed to become a goddess. Lewis writes that the most important change he made to the story was making Psyche’s palace invisible to Orual, which forces a deeper examination of her motivations. Lewis also references other classical stories, such as that of Antigone (as related in Sophocles’ play Antigone). Orual is inspired to seek out Psyche’s remains after the sacrifice by the tale of Antigone burying her dead brother even though she has been forbidden to do so. Additionally, the Fox tells Orual the story of Aphrodite and Anchises as found in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, one of a number of anonymously written ancient Greek hymns. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, falls in love with Anchises while he’s herding his sheep. She seduces him in a human form and sleeps with him. When he wakes up, he realizes he’s slept with a goddess and begs her to kill him, because human-god relationships usually cause tragedy. Finally, Orual mentions a number of ancient Greek philosophers whose books the Fox acquires for the palace. When contemplating her own death, she looks to Socrates’ wisdom on the subject as portrayed in Plato’s Phaedo, a dialogue between Socrates and his friends on the eve of his death.
Key Facts about Till We Have Faces
  • Full Title: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
  • Where Written: Cambridge, England
  • When Published: 1956
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Fiction, Mythological novel
  • Setting: Glome, a fantastical kingdom in a world that includes a country called the Greeklands, which corresponds to ancient Greece
  • Climax: Orual reading her complaint to the gods and seeing herself truly for the first time
  • Point of View: First person, from Orual’s perspective

Extra Credit for Till We Have Faces

A dog’s name. When Lewis was four, his dog was hit by a car. Lewis insisted on being called by the dog’s name, Jacksie, and those close to him called him Jack for the rest of his life.

A loyal friend. When Lewis was in the army, he and his roommate promised each other that if one of them died, the other would take care of the deceased’s family. When Lewis’s roommate was killed, Lewis kept his promise, looking after and living with the man’s mother, Jane Moore, for the rest of her life. Lewis called Moore “mother” the entire time they lived together, but some people speculate that they may have been lovers.