Till We Have Faces Critical Context - Essay

C. S. Lewis

Critical Context

Lewis’ novel is much clarified by his autobiography, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955), which recounts a progress to God very similar to that of Orual, and whose title became doubly appropriate, with the kind of irony Lewis did not think accidental, after Lewis’ late marriage to Joy Davidman, to whom Till We Have Faces is dedicated.

Other than that, one has to say that Lewis’ novel has few or no close parallels. Novels which turn Greek myth into historical fiction are common, but none of them leans as far as that of Lewis toward allegory or have so clearly religious a theme. “Progresses of the soul” also used to be common, but none comes close to realistic fiction. Few books sport with the theory and practice of myth as powerfully as Lewis’ does. The narrative achievement of Till We Have Faces is in fact to combine a multiplicity of genres, including novel, myth, and anthropological argument. Its spiritual achievement is to insist on a divine experience forever unknowable by mortal people and yet continually approached in fear, dream, insight, or hallucination. The book exudes charity and conviction. Though entirely pagan in setting, it remains a powerful religious, even Christian, apologetic.