Commentary on C. S. Lewis, Till we have Faces: A Myth Retold: Pt. 6 - A Necessary Post Scriptum
Loving the god of the Mountain as the best thing for Psyche
A very good question on one of the previous parts of my commentary on Till We Have Faces obliged a fairly involved answer. I thought that the reflections that this question stimulated were important enough for a proper reading of this book that it was necessary for me to add another part to my commentary on this great book. Thus, here is part 6: A Necessary Post Scriptum. For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here. For Part 4, click here. For Part 5, click here.
There is one last observation that we must make before we complete our analysis of this great book. C. S. Lewis writes Till We Have Faces in such a way that we, the reader, not only sympathize with Orual, but we almost see ourselves in her place, and agree with her frustration and anger. Orual has been slighted, and we feel her pain and anger! We suggested, however, that her feeling of injustice was itself due to a selfish and all-consuming desire to posses Psyche. This causes us, rightly, to ask the question: how could it be possible that marrying the "Shadowbrute" (or, preferably, "the god of the mountain") is a good thing, when it obliges Psyche to leave behind her family (total separation)? A proper response will require us to elaborate on a number of important points that have already been brought up.
First of all, note that Psyche's desire, throughout the whole book, has been for the mountains—and, more specifically, to be betrothed to the god of the mountain. In the works of C. S. Lewis, the far away mountains are often presented as an object of desire—and an object that is worth desiring. More importantly, as we noted above, Lewis is illustrating, through the character of Psyche, his argument from desire.
Secondly, note that the god of the mountain turns out to be a real God! A powerful God! A beautiful God! Orual's description of the god of the mountain, when she meets him (in chapter 15), is mind-blowing, it is the things of dreams; and, if I may say so, it is one of the best parts of the book, “The great voice, which rose up from somewhere close to the light, went through my whole body in such a swift wave of terror that it blotted out even the pain in my arm. It was no ugly sound; even in its implacable sternness it was golden. My terror was the salute that mortal flesh gives to immortal things...” We are reminded of Lewis's descriptions of Aslan (such as, “‘Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”). This is important, because the way in which Orual and Psyche view the god of the mountain, throughout the book, is entirely different. Orual sees the god of the mountain, up until this point (and, even after this point), as a monster (which is how the people of Glome, in general, viewed the god of the mountain). Psyche, however, sees the god of the mountain as even more desirable than Orual and the Fox (who essentially were her parents)—she is constantly suggesting that, perhaps, the god of the mountain is really a good and beautiful god.
Thirdly, the god of the mountain does not demand a "total separation" from Orual. Rather, even after Psyche is sacrificed to the god of the mountain, Orual and Psyche meet up (implying that this is something they could have done frequently). They talk. Psyche even suggests that if Orual goes to the god of the mountain, that he will make her see. Orual recognizes that in spite of the appearance of destitution (Psyche appears to be wearing rags), Psyche is actually in perfect health, and is obviously happier than ever. Not only that, but Orual is even vouchsafed a view of the castle. Due to the fact that Orual is unwilling to accept that Psyche could love some unseen lover more than her, Orual refuses to believe what Psyche tells her, and refuses to believe that she saw the castle. So, we shouldn't say that “marriage” to the shadowbrute (the name which the people of Glome give to the unknown god of the mountain), obliges Psyche to leave everyone entirely behind. Rather, I would submit that it requires Psyche to live differently, and in a different place; all while allowing her to visit with her “family”. Also, there seems to be a hint of the possibility of inviting others to join in her happiness. There is another related point, which I will bring up later, concerning Psyche's love for Orual and the Fox.
We now come to what, we think, is the primary response to our question, and a major point that C. S. Lewis is illustrating in this story. The analogy that we must see, in Psyche and the god of the mountain, in relationship to the Fox and Orual, is an illustration of that same type of relationship that every Christian has with Jesus-Christ, in relationship to their friends and families. Consider the following: (1) the god of the mountain represents Jesus (Unknown, yet desirable; terrifying, yet beautiful; mysterious, yet revealing himself both in history and in His word. He is, whether we know it or not, the ultimate object of those desires which are unsatisfied by anything on this earth—Lewis’s argument from desire.); (2) Psyche, in a certain sense, represents every Christian (and, we now think, Lewis puts a lot of his own experiences—on the road to becoming a Christian—into the development of Psyche's character. Lewis notes, for example, in Surprised by Joy, that, in his youth, he constantly felt these experiences of intense longing—sehnsucht or joy—that could not be satisfied by anything on this earth. Psyche also, as a child, dreamed of becoming the wife of the god of the mountain, and saw the mountains as awakening in her a deep longing for something explainable. Later, in describing his conversion to Christianity, also in Surprised by Joy, Lewis states that he was the most unwilling convert in all of England. He felt as if he was dragged kicking and screaming into the church. Psyche was sacrificed, against her will, to the god of the mountain...and, yet, as the day of the sacrifice approaches, she, almost by constraint, comes to accept her fate, and even desire it. Once a Christian, Lewis says, in a famous phrase, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” Having been betrothed to the god of the mountain, Psyche sees the world in a whole new light! She is happy, happier than she has ever been. It seems likely that Lewis is saying, in Until We Have Faces, that Psyche's experience with the god of the mountain, is the experience of every Christian with Christ.).
In any good analogy, there are always elements of the story that serve entirely as background for the analogy. The Fox and Orual may just represent Psyche's family. However, they may also represent (resembling 2 of the temptations of John in The Pilgrim's Regress) cold reason (the Fox) and hot unbridled passion (Orual). Orual is, without a doubt, used by Lewis to illustrate a type of love--mother love--that Lewis saw as easily susceptible to becoming a vicious excess of true love (he confronts this vice in his great little book The Great Divorce).
But now we need to reveal the key to understanding just what is going on in this powerful story. This will, hopefully, bring it all together. If our analysis is right, then Lewis is not illustrating the separation (from her parents) that a woman undergoes when she is married. Rather, Lewis is illustrating, in a very a powerful way, the following words of Christ, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundred-fold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matt. 19:29-30, ESV)” Or, a variation in Luke, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Lk. 14:26, ESV)”
To be betrothed to the Christ, as Psyche was betrothed to the god of the mountain, is to be willing to leave behind everything you cherish in this world, even your family, and even your earthly life (which is exactly what Psyche does in being betrothed to the god of the mountain). But, and Lewis brings this out brilliantly, it is only when you have been betrothed to the Christ (Psyche to the god of the mountain), that you can truly love anything or anyone else. Note what Psyche tells Orual, when Orual accuses Psyche of hating her “true” family, “But why are you saying all this, Orual? You do not think I have left off loving you because I now have a husband [insert, instead of “I now have a husband”, “I now have Christ”] to love as well? If you would understand it, that makes me love you—why, it makes me love everyone and everything—more.” Note what Lewis says in The Great Divorce, “Human beings can't make one another really happy for long. And secondly, for your sake. He wanted your merely instinctive love for your child (tigresses share that, you know!) to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love. You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.”
This is, we think, the answer to our question: marrying the god of the mountain is the best for Psyche, in the same way as becoming a part of the bride of Christ (the church), by faith in Jesus-Christ alone, is the absolute best for all people! Making God the true love of your life is the very best for you; and it is only when God becomes the ultimate love of your life that you will be able to love others, and yourself, as they deserve to be loved—“You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.”—(this is what Orual was force to learn the hard way). God is our true love, the ultimate hidden and unseen object of all our desires, and union with Him is the best thing for all of us (just as betrothing the god of the mountain was the best thing for Psyche).
This question was brought to my attention by a former student, and, not only is it a great question, but it inspired the response which became this entire section.
Lewis, Till We have Faces, 171.
C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, bk. 2 of The Chronicles of Narnia (1950; repr., New York: Harper-Collins, 1994), 86.
There is, by the way, a subtle hint, in this book, that those who claim to know the most about the god of the mountain (the priests) often know less than they think. Is this a warning to be careful about knowledge of God based upon the testimony of another (such as a parent, priest, or pastor) versus knowledge of God by personal experience?
When I first began thinking about how to answer this question, I realize that this idea hadn’t even crossed my mind until I received this question—in spite of the fact that, now that I think about it, it is just so obvious!!
Cf. C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1955), 7, 16-18.
C. S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry?, in Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces (London: HarperCollins, 2000), 21.
Coming from the word “vice”.
Which, incidentally, will be the next book for which I will be writing a commentary.
Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 159.
C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (1946; repr., Glasgow: Collins-Fount, 1984), 84. Check out my upcoming posts on The Great Divorce for more on this.