C.S. Lewis’s Concern for the Future of Humanity - page 3


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From the Spring 2006 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis’s Concern for the Future of Humanity

by James M. Houston
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute
Founder of Regent College (Vancouver, B.C.) and Professor of Spiritual Theology (retired)

 
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  Central to the plot of the novel is Orual, the king’s oldest daughter, with her two younger stepsisters, Redival, who never understands Psyche, the youngest sister. But Orual believes she loves Psyche dearly. Changing emotional triangles within the palace and royal family generate much of the story-plot. At the heart of it all is Orual’s misconstrual of “love” for Psyche, her adored sister, and of Psyche’s contrasted understanding of love. Early on, Psyche confesses to Orual, that all her old longings were removed; for everything before was a dream.3 Then she invites her sister to come to her—for she is not her own.4 Orual responds confusedly, because she sees that Psyche is teaching her about kinds of love she did not know.5 Later, when she meets again her sister, who she thought was dead, now alive again, Orual confesses that she was telling her about so many wonders. They made her feel she had been wrong all her life. So everything had to be begun all over again.6 Then at the end of the narration, as told by Orual, she says: “Psyche, never again will I call you mine; but all there is of me shall be yours.” Now Orual realized she never had one selfless thought of her. She was a craver of selfish desires, an erotic indeed!7
  As every Christian learns with the experience of Nicodemus, or of Psyche, being “born again” is when we become more alive, only by the experience of “death to the self.” Indeed, we discover we become “most ourselves” when we are “most in Christ Jesus.” So, as Orual begins this dying process to “her old self,” she sees her sister being “the old Psyche still.” But she has become a thousand times more her very self than she had ever been before her sacrifice. Now Orual sees “a real woman,” as she had never seen before.8 This now encourages Orual to follow, but in alarm she realizes she is being un-made, to be no one. Then she is amazed to find she has become Psyche, also.9
  Personal unreality, Lewis symbolizes, is the wearing of masks, just as collegial life at Oxford was full of masks, as indeed any royal court is full of them. For the roles we wear ambitiously make us all “personages” instead of being real persons. But for Lewis it also echoed a long remembered remark he had from his own adolescence, that he was the kind of person who gets told, “And take that look off your face too.” Orual first discovered she was ugly relationally, as a child, “when her father, the King, ordered that she and her companions wear veils, ‘and good thick veils too.’” One of the other girls tittered, and Orual realized that was the first time she clearly understood she was ugly.10 When the King without a male descendent hears he has a third daughter, he sees accusing faces everywhere all gaping at his intense frustration.11 Likewise the vestal girls, attending the priest in his grisly religious duties, have their faces so heavily painted, that they appear only as masked figures. When Psyche is offered for sacrifice as the scape-goat, her face too, is unrecognizable behind the heavy paint.12 Then as the royal tyrant lies dying, always so self-centered, Orual reported seeing him with a terrified, idiotic, almost an animal’s face.13 Real people do not wear masks, for expressions of true love are always transparent. Eventually Orual asks the question (which is the title of the novel): “How can they [i.e., the gods] meet us face to face, until we have faces?”14

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