Two Faces, Two Kingdoms

Each time I read through C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece, Till We Have Faces, I’m struck by some new layer of meaning, some new profound insight, and this latest (fifth, I think) time was no exception.  One of the most emotionally wrenching and mentally jarring moments in the book comes on the very last page, the only bit not written from the perspective of Orual.  “I, Arnom, priest of Aphrodite, saved this roll and put it in the temple.  From the markings after the word might, we think the Queen’s head must have fallen forward on them as she died and we cannot read them.  This book was written by Queen Orual of Glome, who was the most wise, just, valiant, fortunate, and merciful of all the princes known in our parts of the world….”

On their own, there is nothing particularly arresting about these words.  However, to any reader who has traversed the pages of this book, following Orual on her psychological journey of love, hate, envy, insecurity, and pettiness, these words come like a splash of cold water on the face.  This is the same Orual who has been consumed, up till the final days of her life, with jealousy and self-love, who is Ungit, the embodiment of sin and ugliness, devouring everyone around her: “It was I who was Ungit.  That ruinous face was mine.  I was that Batta-thing, that all-devouring womblike, yet barren, thing.  Glome was a web–I the swollen spider, squat at its centre, gorged with men’s stolen lives.”

How can she be simultaneously the embodiment of wickedness and yet praised by her subjects as “the most wise, just, valiant, fortunate, and merciful”?   Read More