This novel envisions love first and foremost as a destructive force that consumes the lives of those who feel it. Ungit, the major goddess worshipped in Glome, corresponds to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Whereas Aphrodite is usually imagined as a beautiful, seductive goddess, Ungit is portrayed as a cruel goddess who demands frequent blood sacrifices, and she is embodied by a chunk of grotesque uncut rock. This symbolism shows that Ungit’s dominating presence in Glome makes the destructive aspect of love particularly powerful, whether Ungit herself spreads it, or its natural presence among the people leads them to worship this side of Ungit.
When the Priest proclaims that Psyche must be sacrificed to the Shadowbrute, he suggests that when the Brute takes her, he will have sex with her and consume her, and in fact “the loving and the devouring are all the same thing” (49). Love drives the plot of the novel, mysterious and terrible in its ability to cause more pain than any other force.
Orual loves three people throughout her life: Psyche, the Fox, and Bardia. She devours all of their lives with her love, forcing Psyche to betray her husband and be banished, selfishly embracing the Fox’s decision not to return home to Greece, and working Bardia to death on the battlefield and in the council room. In these instances, for love to be destructive, both parties must feel it. In other words, Orual loves all three of these people, but they also love her, and they only sacrifice themselves the way they do because of their devotion to her. Orual’s love makes her selfish, as she cares more for having her beloveds near her and paying attention to her than she does for their happiness and safety. Ironically, Orual is driven to destructive actions because she believes that Psyche and Bardia don’t love her as she loves them, but in fact they willingly face their own destruction for the sake of their devotion to Orual. Much of Orual’s cruelty comes from a delusion that she is unloved and unlovable, probably stemming from her father’s dislike of her and constant reminders of her ugliness.
Throughout the course of her life, Orual discovers different ways to love, or to interpret the idea of love. In trying to decide what to do about Psyche’s apparent delusion that she’s married to a god, Orual comes to believe that there is more to love than wanting to see the loved one happy. Instead, true love requires Orual to work for the moral and physical good of Psyche, her beloved. The problem is that Orual and Psyche don’t agree on what is best for Psyche, and Orual never considers that she might not have the right to decide Psyche’s future. In this way, she comes to devour Psyche’s ideal life with her jealous love, leading to Psyche wandering the earth in banishment. As Psyche remarks, Orual comes to use her love for Psyche and Psyche’s love for her as a weapon. She threatens to kill herself and does wound herself in order to coerce Psyche into betraying her husband, knowing that Psyche can’t stand the thought of Orual’s suicide. Even though Orual’s strategy works, it also ruins the trust and love that Psyche previously felt for her sister. Orual believes that, because she has raised Psyche and loved her, Psyche belongs to her. She does not acknowledge Psyche’s right to free will, instead thinking she deserves Psyche’s loyalty.
Ansit finally makes Orual see the destructive nature of her love when she tells her bluntly that she worked Bardia to death. Ansit acts as a counterexample to Orual’s way of loving, as she knows that she must allow those she loves, specifically Bardia and Ilerdia, to live their lives in the way that they desire, even if it means that she sees less of them. Her love is not possessive, as Orual’s is. Similarly, the Fox recognizes the need to control his love. When Orual proposes that she will battle Argan, the Fox feels terrified that she’ll die. He tries to convince her not to fight, but she ignores him. He later apologizes for using his love for her as a form of coercion to pull Orual from her desired path, which is exactly what Orual did to Psyche.
Writing as a Christian, Lewis seems to distinguish between selfish, earthly love and selfless, divine love. While Orual’s love is of the earthly variety, Psyche’s represents the epitome of divine love. Psyche wants to help those around her, as demonstrated when she tries to heal the mob of townspeople who come to the palace gates with the fever, the sort of selfless act that Orual would never do. The truly divine nature of this kind of love is proven when Psyche is chosen to love a god as his wife, and then to become a goddess herself. From a Christian viewpoint, then, Orual can only begin to love God when she rejects the selfish love that she has felt her whole life and begins to care for Psyche in a less possessive way.
Love and Devouring ThemeTracker
Love and Devouring Quotes in Till We Have Faces
And when the Brute is Ungit it lies with the man, and when it is her son it lies with the woman. And either way there is a devouring... many different things are said... many sacred stories... many great mysteries. Some say the loving and the devouring are all the same thing. For in sacred language we say that a woman who lies with a man devours the man.
Since I write this book against the gods, it is just that I should put into it whatever can be said against myself. So let me set this down: as she spoke I felt, amid all my love, a bitterness. Though the things she was saying gave her (that was plain enough) courage and comfort, I grudged her that courage and comfort. It was as if someone or something else had come in between us. If this grudging is the sin for which the gods hate me, it is one I have committed.
While I was in there, one of the other soldiers... came into the passage and said something to Bardia. Bardia replied, I couldn’t hear what. Then he spoke louder: “Why, yes, it’s a pity about her face. But she’s a brave girl and honest. If a man was blind and she weren’t the King’s daughter, she’d make him a good wife.” And that is the nearest thing to a love-speech that was ever made me.
For the world had broken in pieces and Psyche and I were not in the same piece. Seas, mountains, madness, death itself, could not have removed her from me to such a hopeless distance as this. Gods, and again gods, always gods... they had stolen her. They would leave us nothing. A thought pierced up through the crust of my mind like a crocus coming up in the early year. Was she not worthy of the gods? Ought they not to have her? But instantly great, choking, blinding waves of sorrow swept it away....
“Get up, girl,” I said. “Do you hear me? Do as you’re told. Psyche, you’ve never disobeyed me before.”
She looked up (wetter every moment) and said, very tender in voice but hard as stone in her determination, “Dear Maia, I am a wife now. It’s no longer you that I must obey.”
I learned then how one can hate those one loves. My fingers were round her wrist in an instant, my other hand on her upper arm. We were struggling.
I perceived now that there is a love deeper than theirs who seek only the happiness of their beloved. Would a father see his daughter happy as a whore? Would a woman see her lover happy as a coward? My hand went back to the sword. “She shall not,” I thought.... However things might go, whatever the price, by her death or mine or a thousand deaths... Psyche should not—least of all, contentedly—make sport for a demon.
You are indeed teaching me about kinds of love I did not know. It is like looking into a deep pit. I am not sure whether I like your kind better than hatred. Oh, Orual—to take my love for you, because you know it goes down to my very roots and cannot be diminished by any other newer love, and then to make of it a tool, a weapon, a thing of policy and mastery, an instrument of torture—I begin to think I never knew you. Whatever comes after, something that was between us dies here.
“Fool!” I said to myself. “Have you not yet learned that you are that to no one? What are you to Bardia? ...His heart lies at home with his wife and her brats. If you mattered to him he’d never have let you fight. What are you to the Fox? His heart was always in the Greeklands. You were, maybe, the solace of his captivity. They say a prisoner will tame a rat. He comes to love the rat—after a fashion. But throw the door open, strike off his fetters, and how much’ll he care for the rat then?”
I must now pass quickly over many years... during which the Queen of Glome had more and more a part in me and Orual had less and less. I locked Orual up or laid her asleep as best I could somewhere deep down inside me; she lay curled there. It was like being with child, but reversed; the thing I carried in me grew slowly smaller and less alive.
But the change of my quarters, and later changes (for I tried every side of the house) did no good. I discovered that there was no part of the palace from which the swinging of those chains could not be heard; at night, I mean, when the silence grows deep. It is a thing no one would have found out who was not always afraid of hearing one sound; and at the same time (that was Orual, Orual refusing to die) terribly afraid of not hearing it if for once—if possibly, at last, after ten thousand mockeries—it should be real, if Psyche had come back.
And so take away from him his work, which was his life... and all his glory and his great deeds? Make a child and a dotard of him? Keep him to myself at that cost? Make him so mine that he was no longer his? ...He was to live the life he thought best and fittest for a great man—not that which would most pleasure me.
Oh, Queen Orual, I begin to think you know nothing of love.... Perhaps you who spring from the gods love like the gods. Like the Shadowbrute. They say the loving and the devouring are all one, don’t they? ...You’re full fed. Gorged with other men’s lives, women’s too: Bardia’s, mine, the Fox’s, your sister’s—both your sisters’.