Before children and homeschooling, I worked as a compensation analyst in a large hospital, so whenever a manager wanted to change a position or to reorganize a department, it was my job to look at the changes in relation to their impact on the incumbents’ compensation. Are the additional duties essentially the same kind of work they’ve been doing all along, or do the proposed changes require additional skill or give the employee increased responsibility? Often, I would come to the end of all my meetings and market research with a pile of information and no clear sense of what my recommendation would be.
And then I would start writing.
I laid out the facts: changes in reporting relationships, job duties, skills required, percent of time spent in various roles. As I wrote, it all became clear to me so that by the time I came to the end of my writing, I was ready to make recommendations and to confidently explain my reasoning.
I see something similar going on in this blogging life of mine, and, so I wonder if, perhaps, Orual might have become a blogger if the kingdom of Glome had acquired the technology in her day. In Book Two of Till We Have Faces, she shares her discovery that her case against the gods set forth in Book One was not what she had thought. Coming to the end of her writing, she found that “the past which I wrote down was not the past that I thought I had (all these years) been remembering.” Whether she knew it or not, Orual had begun the process of writing her way into truth.
Orual’s nephew and heir to her throne has been notified that she is near death. Even so, at the end of her long life and reign, the elderly queen is finding the strength to set down a revised perspective on her life. Two events seem to have triggered the avalanche of memory:
- An encounter with Tarin (her sister Redival’s old beau who was made a eunuch by their father the King) gave Orual insight to Redival’s lonely childhood during the days in which Orual was occupied first with The Fox and then with Psyche.
- Upon the death of Bardia, captain of the guard, Orual visited his widow, Ansit whose bitterness eventually overflowed into this (courageous) accusation:
” . . . I know that your queenship drank up his [Bardia’s] blood year by year and ate out his life.”
The rite of the Year’s birth in Ungit’s house and a series of dreams sent from the gods lead Orual into still deeper insight into what the god of Grey Mountain meant when he spoke out of thunder and chaos with the words, “You, woman, shall know yourself and your work. You also shall be Psyche.”
Ansit (Bardia’s widow) and Orual have a conversation that evolves from tense civility to electric warfare. In giving up Bardia to his work, Ansit had refused to “make him so mine that he was no longer his,” while Orual realized, in hindsight, that she had been using up Bardia through his work, “heap[ing] up needless work to keep him late at the palace, ply[ing] him with questions for the mere pleasure of hearing his voice. Anything to put off the moment when he would go and leave me to my emptiness.” Orual is coming to the realization that she has spent her life filling up that emptiness with the lives of others, that like the Shadowbrute, her loving and her devouring are all one thing.
As Orual dreams of sorting seeds by night, she sorts through her memories by day, “separating motive from motive and both from pretext,” (Kilby, p. 177). But that’s not the end of revelation, for, as she becomes more willing to see truth, she finds that she is “drenched with seeings.” Visiting Ungit’s temple for the rite of the Year’s birth, Orual laments the waste of the temple girls’ lives and the endless silver that is offered to a god who offers no return on investment, and then later sees that she, like Ungit is “an all-devouring, womb-like yet barren thing.”
Lewis scholars note parallels between the gods’ pursuit of Orual and C.S. Lewis’s own encounter with The Hound of Heaven. This is reasonable since Lewis has described himself as “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.” It is interesting that Till We Have Faces was published in 1956, the year after the memoir of Lewis’s conversion, Surprised by Joy.
Some Issues to Ponder
Orual’s growth in self-perception has been an unveiling process. When she tore off her veil in the presence of Ansit to reveal the ugliness it hid, Ansit was also able to read the Queen’s heart and call out the love for Bardia that had been hiding behind that veil for decades, a love that, sadly, had deteriorated into something that Orual described as “nine-tenths hatred.”
In her dream of descending into Pillar Room after Pillar Room, each one deeper and smaller, she is confronted with her own image in a mirror and sees, to her horror, that, in the dream, her face is the face of Ungit. Realizing that she is known by her veil rather than by her face, Orual begins to go bare-faced into her kingdom when she wants to go undetected. Is it a coincidence then, that when she is unveiled, contemplating suicide, and realizing that she is even too weak for this that she hears the unmistakable voice of a god once again? This time, there is “no rebel in [her]” and so she hobbled home to await the meaning of the god’s words:
“Die before you die. There is no chance after.”
Orual’s journey encourages me to embrace Truth as it comes to me, for like her, I am also a “cold, small, helpless thing.” And yet the voice of the true God invites me into a holiness that is neither dark nor ugly, but is full of light and beauty and that calls me to deeper Truth — about God and about myself. May we all be open to His Truth, and may we find that we, too, are consequently “drenched with seeings.”
Chapter 1 and 2 of Book Two comprise some truly elegant thinking and glorious insights into both human and divine nature, and since nothing I can say will improve upon them, I will remind you of one of these sections now, and invite your thoughts, insights, and interpretations on it, or upon anything else that swept you away as you read.
“Of the things that followed, I cannot at all say whether they were what men call real or what men call dream. And for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream. But things that many see may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are shown only to one may be spears and water-spouts of truth from the very depth of truth.”
I will remind you, too, that links to your blog posts are welcome in the comments below, and I look forward to your insights.
I will be here once again next Thursday, March 9, for the last installment of our book discussion. Since those last two chapters really put a ribbon on all of Orual’s journey of self-understanding, feel free to refer back to content from earlier chapters, especially if you are blogging about the book.
Blessings to you!
If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.
I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.