By Ricardo Bare

“Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.” 

Every writer can probably point to a short list of authors or books that are their favorite influences. The stories that left deep impact craters on their souls and set their imaginations on fire. The authors that seemed to speak right into their hearts and spurred them on to want to be writers themselves.

For me, one of those authors is C.S. Lewis. Most of you are probably thinking about Narnia right about now, maybe picturing a golden lion, or Tilda Swinton affecting a coldly wicked glare. But let me stop that train before it leaves the station. Narnia is not why I name C.S. Lewis. Not by a longshot.

Instead, picture a woman with a face so ugly she hides it behind a mask. Her name is Orual, and she’s queen of a country called Glome, a land vaguely north of Greece, lost somewhere in the mists of time. Queen Orual hates the gods for taking everything she loves. These are her opening words, in C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece, Till We Have Faces:

“I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please.”

My experience is probably inverted from what I imagine is typical. I didn’t read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when I was a kid, and I didn’t watch that BBC show with the giant flying puppet of Aslan. The first book of his I ever read was something called Out of the Silent Planet, a strange little science fiction book about a man who travels to mars and meets all kinds of interesting creatures. I read a bunch of other works by Lewis after that, including Till We Have Faces.

It wasn’t until many years later that I finally read the Narnia tales, probably out of some sense of duty. Honestly, I don’t think I even realized he wrote them until I was looking at the cover of one of the books (I’m kind of clueless sometimes about popular culture).

I’m going to make a bold, maybe snobbish, statement. If you’re a fan of Aslan, brace yourself. Narnia is a weak and thin broth compared to the nourishment you will find in Till We Have Faces. The Chronicles of Narnia is Turkish Delight, Till We Have Faces is meat, red and juicy on the bone.

On the surface it’s a wonderful re-telling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but you don’t have to know anything about that to enjoy it. The story is really about love. Real transformative love, and all the other things we call love but are really vanity, or selfish possessiveness. It’s incredibly wise about human nature. It is beautiful and it is moving, and it’s why when I think about authors and stories that have inspired me, I think about Lewis.

This is my recommendation. If you like Lewis, you owe it to yourself to read the best story he ever wrote, Till We Have Faces.

In fact, I’d read it twice.


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