Why Do the Gods Take Away the People We Love? by James Russell Lingerfelt
As a child, CS Lewis lost his mother to cancer, and his wife to the same disease as an older man. A devout atheist most of his life, he asked, “How can a loving God allow so much wickedness in the world?”
CS Lewis; his BA in Classical Literature and MA/Ph.D. in Medieval Literature, a professor at Cambridge and Oxford, and the best selling author of The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, Surprised by Joy, and The Screwtape Letters.
As an undergraduate at Auburn University, I read an interview between CS Lewis and (I believe it was) Time Magazine.
Interviewer: “What is your favorite book you wrote?”
Lewis: “Till We Have Faces.“
Interviewer: “I don’t know of that one.”
Lewis: “Few people do. It didn’t receive much press.”
I read the book in 2004 and again recently in 2011. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am providing a short synopsis of it here.
Set in a time before the Roman Empire, in what seems to be, Italy or Eastern Europe, Orual is an ugly princess, the daughter of a foolish and cowardly king who screams, beats, and mistreats Orual because she’s not a boy. He needs a prince to carry the crown.
When the gods, more important, Aphrodite (the god of fertility), are given sacrifices of bulls and goats in a barren and impoverished land, the king tries one last time to produce a boy, yet fails. Another girl is born and the mistress dies in child birth.
The little girl, Psyche, is raised by Orual. Psyche grows into a kind, compassionate, young woman, and the two sisters share an unconditional love for each other. Psyche earns a reputation as the most beautiful maiden in all the land. “More beautiful than Aphrodite herself,” the countrymen say.
When famine strikes, the country’s citizens protest the king and his life is threatened. The priests, pressured by the mob for an answer, decides that Psyche’s reputation as being more beautiful than Aphrodite has ignited her jealousy and she has struck the land. They decide Psyche must be sacrificed. The king, pretending reluctance, hands Psyche over to the mob.
The fate of the sacrificed: Psyche will be taken to the edge of the country, near the forbidden land, where in the distance stands The Grey Mountain, the home of the gods (though no one has ever seen a god). There, Psyche will be chained to a pole and await her fate: A brute beast sent by the gods will eat her.
Orual plans to rescue Psyche after she is chained. However, Orual is beaten by the king following his latest drunken revelry and she lays in bed two weeks.
When Orual heals, she asks her friend and commander of the military, Bardia, to take her to gather Psyche’s remains, and provide her a proper burial in the palace’s field.
Bardia agrees. When he and Orual arrive, they discover loosened chains, Psyche is gone, with no evidence of bones, blood, or torn clothes. Bardia claims the gods have taken her, but Orual is skeptic.
Bardia is afraid to travel into the forbidden land and near The Grey Mountain, but Orual disagrees. A creek separates their countries, so she crosses.
Upon her first step into the water, the forbidden land evolves into a beautiful green prairie laden with flowers and trees in full bloom. The water gushes higher, turns crystal clear, the sun bursts through the clouds, and birds sing in the trees. Psyche appears, runs, and embraces Orual and leads her to the middle of the fields where she tells Orual the entire story.
Psyche claims that a god, burning as bright as pure fire, with his face hidden by a mask, rescued her and has made her his wife. Psyche is to remain here, in this beautiful country during the day. The god is Cupid, the son of Aphrodite. Cupid tends to business during the day at The Grey Mountain, but returns each night to his wife. After the candles are smothered and darkness engulfs them, he removes his mask. Psyche’s only command is that she not look upon his face.
Orual attempts to convince Psyche to return to the palace in secret, but Psyche refuses. Orual is hurt since Psyche has never disobeyed her. Psyche tells Orual that her husband, Cupid, will allow Orual to visit with her during the day, but Orual must leave before the sun sets.
Rain falls, which Psyche seems oblivious to. Orual reminds Psyche that she needs shelter and to be cared for, but Psyche tells Orual about the mansion she lives in. When Orual demands to see it, Psyche bursts into tears and says, “You’re standing on the front steps!”
Orual tells Psyche to light a candle and shine the flame on his face, and instead of a god, Psyche will discover either a hideous creature, or a vagabond from the country who brainwashed her.
When Psyche refuses, Orual threatens suicide. Psyche, believing Orual, agrees to betray her lover (against her will and judgement). Bardia has left, but Orual camps near the sacrificial stake and awaits Psyche, expecting Psyche to come running to her any moment.
Psyche is heard screaming and crying in terror, but the scream grows faint. When Orual crosses the creek, a calm flame appears, like one from a soft, steady candle, as tall as Orual and hovering above the water. A man’s face, as beautiful as any face Orual has ever seen, appears. Cupid reads her mind and knows every thought and experience Orual has ever encountered. Cupid says, “Because you deceived my lover, a wanderer you will be for as long as your earthly life remains. The same for Psyche. She will never return to you.” Cupid vanishes.
Orual returns home and wears a veil to hide her ugliness and her grief for destroying Psyche’s life. Orual has nightmares for years, longing to take back what she had done. Confusion, bitterness, anger, and resentment settles and slowly festers toward the gods for taking Psyche away.
Bardia trains Orual in combat, and when the king dies, Orual runs the kingdom. The veil creates a phantom appearance and intimidates all other kings, princes, and warriors. She becomes a great warrior and advisor, so that even Bardia begins to approach her for counsel. Years later, she leads the army against neighboring kings, and later, defends her country against an evil kingdom.
Near the end of her life, Orual writes a book containing all her complaints against the gods. Near her death, for the first time since she last saw Psyche, Orual returns to the edge of the forbidden land and gazes at The Grey Mountain. Orual crosses the creek, but all remains barren, cursed since the day she and Psyche betrayed Cupid.
A winged creature hovering in a fainter flame than remembered, appears to Orual and claims to be a messenger from the gods. “Are you the warrior princess who has a grievance against the gods?” he asks. “Are you the one writing the book?”
“I am,” Orual answers.
“She’s here!” he shouts. “The one who has the grievance against the gods is here!” He lifts her and wisks her toward The Grey Mountain. They pass through the mountain like a shroud of mist and the messenger places her onto a platform, center stage. Surrounding her like viewers in a coliseum seating, are all the gods. Their meeting halts when Orual arrives and all are quiet.
Psyche is present as a goddess, and is happy. It seems she was forgiven of her trespass long ago, and has lived happily with the gods for years. Psyche hugs and kisses Orual, but no time is allowed for them to converse. One of the leading gods stands and says to Orual, “No human has ever stood before the gods. But you have won our respect because of your valiantry. You are allowed one question.”
Orual, with all her anguish, hatred, and bitterness pouring forth, wastes no words or time. “Why do the gods take away the people we love?!”
And then she reads from her book. She reads and reads and reads, and suddenly arrives to a realization: she has been reading aloud for hours, but repeats the same words over and over. She searches for new words to better convey her turmoil and accusations, but she has no words to express them. She wonders if she needs a new body, a body like the gods, a mind like the gods, in order to address the gods in an accurate manner.
Orual grows quiet, and then awaits a reponse from the gods, but there is none. Only silence.
CS Lewis writes, as the book concludes, “I understand now, Lord, why you utter no answer. It’s because you, yourself, are the answer.”
Read another popular post: Don’t Ever Apologize For Loving Someone – Not Ever!
Did you like this article? Make sure to check out The Mason Jar, a coming of age love story from the male perspective by James Russell Lingerfelt. The novel helps readers find healing after severed relationships.
The Mason Jar movie is scheduled for pre-production in 2015 and will be directed in the same dramatic and romantic tones as The Notebook (2004) and Pride & Prejudice (2005). Follow him on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+ or Twitter or subscribe to his email list for updates.