“‘God is love,’ says St John.” (Four Loves 1)
Love is arguably the most important concept for humanity to grasp and understand. It’s what unites families and friendships. It’s what gives meaning to the everyday activities. Without love, a mother doing laundry for her family is merely a task to be completed. However, with love, it is a way for her to show care and devotion. Love takes the mundane and makes it meaningful. Love is a powerful force that overcomes boundaries of race, religion, age, and culture. And if what St John said is true, that God is love, then love should be exactly what will pave the path to God. C.S. Lewis, one of the most renowned writers of the twentieth century, wrote extensively about love in his book, The Four Loves. In his book, he discusses what the different types of love look like: how they should be and how they are often perverted. Lewis also authored many works of fiction, one of which being Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. One of the main themes of this novel is love, and it is represented clearly through many of the main characters. C.S. Lewis’s concepts of love discussed in his book, The Four Loves, are largely represented in and through the characters of his final work of fiction, Till We Have Faces.
Redival, the sister of the main character, represents a perversion of what C.S. Lewis discusses as Eros. Redival is much more concerned with the physical aspect of love more than anything else. We see this represented through many of her actions. In her younger years, we see that she constantly seeks the companionship of a man. She is always speaking of “love,” and in chapter 3, Redival is found outside kissing one of the guardsmen. Romance is high in her mind and could even be said to be her main goal. She avoid being around the Fox and Orual because she is so concerned with romantic love that there is no more room in her mind for any other kind of love. She seeks out cheap love and doesn’t care about the consequences. When she is found kissing the guardsman, the consequences don’t affect her directly. The guardsman was castrated, and the King blamed the Fox and Orual for Redival’s actions and forced Redival to spend her time with them. “Thus all the comfort we had was destroyed when Redival joined us.” (Till We 30) Redival loved carelessly and it tore apart the people around her. Why does Redival feel that she has to seek out love so desperately? The answer lies in her childhood. Before Psyche was born, Redival was the baby of the family and she was far more beautiful than Orual. Growing up, they were close and had a good friendship. But, when Psyche was born, everyone’s attention suddenly shifted from her to the new, perfect little baby. Redival felt abandoned by her sister and jealous of the new baby because of all the love that she was receiving. That jealousy fueled her desperate search for love wherever she could find it. Orual’s love and abandonment had left a chasm in her heart that she could not figure out how to fill. Redival believes that romantic love is the solution to all of her problems. Bardia is introduced as a dutiful and caring captain of the palace guard, but throughout the novel, he works his way up to become one of Orual’s closest, most loyal and trusted advisors.
Bardia most closely represents a friendship-love. He demonstrates great friendship towards Orual through his dedication to his job. At the beginning of his friendship with her, he offers to give her sword lessons out of the kindness of his heart because he knows how it feels to be in a deep depression like Orual was after Psyche was taken to the mountain. He gives her lessons every day for a while, and eventually Orual informed him of her plan to go to the mountain to collect Psyche’s body for burial. When she tells him this, he offers to go in her place, but Orual insisted on going, so he agreed to accompany her. His decision here is an accurate representation of his total and complete display of friendship-love through his loyalty. By deciding to go to the mountain, he was taking a massive risk in his loyalty to the king. Bardia lied to the king about his whereabouts and if the king found out, he might have lost his position in the palace guard, which would have affected not just himself, but also his family. Throughout the novel, there are very few characters that actually see past the ugliness and understand and appreciate just who Orual is as a person. Bardia is one of those few people, partially because he doesn’t really even see her as a woman and even grieves that she is not a man when he says, “‘It’s a thousand pities, Lady, that you weren’t a man,’ said Bardia, ‘You’ve a man’s reach and a quick eye.’” (Till We 74) He views Orual as a person with value and purpose. He doesn’t place her value in her outward appearance like many of the people in Glome do. He sees past her ugliness and bonds with her over sword fighting and politics. They form a friendship because of their shared interests. Lewis says in The Four Loves, “Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest.” (Four Loves 83) The relationship between Orual and Bardia goes from companionship to friendship when they journey up the mountain because they develop that common interest. They are both invested in the journey and they bond over their shared interest in Psyche. They work well together and as Lewis says of friendship “they stand together in immense solitude.” (Four Loves 83) The Fox is a slave from the Greeklands and is also the wise and caring teacher that practically raised Orual, Redival, and Psyche. He functions as a sort of father figure to Orual and Psyche because Orual’s father did not fulfill his proper duties as a parent. He loves the girls as if they were his own and cares about them deeply. Although he does not believe in the gods, he still displays a “gift-love” as Lewis describes in The Four Loves. He loves the girls unconditionally, sacrificially, and without any expectations of reciprocation from them.
When Orual sets the Fox free, he considers leaving but before he does, he decides to stay. He decides to stay in the place where he spent most of his life enslaved, unable to see his own children grow up. “‘Wish me well, daughter,’ he said. ‘For I have won a battle. What’s best for his fellows must be best for a man. I am but a limb of the Whole and must work in the socket where I’m put. I’ll stay,’” (Till We 238) He chooses to stay because he knows how important it is to Orual that he be there with her while she is queen. Out of love, he stays, willing to sacrifice his own personal comforts for the sake of others. This quote showcases his great humility and “gift-love” which Lewis says in The Four Loves is equivalent to Divine Love, love from God. “Our Gift-Loves are really God-like; and among our Gift-loves those are most God-like which are most boundless and unwearied in giving.” (Four Loves 9) Despite the Fox’s unbelief in the gods, he still showcases a divine and giving love through his sacrificial decision to stay in the city that enslaved him and tore him away from his home and his children. He cares so greatly for Orual and Psyche that he would rather spend his last days in a foreign land than in the place he calls home where he could see his own children. He loves them like and possibly greater than his own flesh-and-blood.Out of all the characters in the book, Orual has the most perverted, twisted concept of love. Her true ugliness is showcased throughout the novel by the way she treats other people. Ansit, Bardia’s wife, describes the way that Orual loves best when she says, “Oh, Queen Orual, I begin to think you know nothing of love…. Perhaps you who spring from the gods love like the gods. Like the Shadowbrute. They say the loving and the devouring are all one, don’t they? …You’re full fed. Gorged with other men’s lives, women’s too: Bardia’s, mine, the Fox’s, your sister’s—both your sisters.” (Till We 300) The irony in this quote is that while Ansit is saying this about Orual at the end of the book, if we look back to chapter 5, we see the priest says nearly the same thing about Ungit: “And when the Brute is Ungit it lies with the man, and when it is her son it lies with the woman. And either way there is a devouring… many different things are said… many sacred stories… many great mysteries. Some say the loving and the devouring are all the same thing. For in sacred language we say that a woman who lies with a man devours the man.” (Till We 56-57) Orual only loves three people in the story; Bardia, the Fox, and Psyche.
In each character, we see how Orual’s devouring love consumed all of the life out of them, leaving nothing behind. With Bardia, she tried so hard just to keep him near her. When she was Queen, the only way for her to keep Bardia near her was to overwork him and give him meaningless jobs. Bardia, of course, always accepted the work with no pushback, because he is so loyal and could never say no. This, in the end, is what killed him. Orual realizes her mistake when Ansit tells her that she overworked Bardia, “He was tired. He had worked himself out — or been worked. Ten years ago he should have given over and lived as old men do. He was not made of iron or brass, but flesh.” (Till We 195) What is ironic when Ansit says this to Orual is that just a few pages earlier, Orual blames Bardia’s death on Ansit “stealing” him away from his work. This is such a vivid example of just how horribly Orual treated people. She saw them as objects, for her own using as she pleased, and not as living and breathing human life, with emotions of their own. Orual’s world revolved around getting herself whatever she wanted and never stopped for a second to consider the happiness of others. Instead of giving what Lewis would call “Affection” or “storge” in Greek, Orual seeks out the affections of other, tearing them away for her own pleasure. Orual thought that she loved the Fox, but in reality she abused the love that he showed her, and ended up consuming his entire life with hers. She could not even show true gratitude to the Fox when he died, because when he died, Orual just left him there for an hour and did not even think about the significant impact that the Fox had in her life. In fact she says nearly the opposite of the event, “And so the thing that I had thought of for so many years at last slipped by in a huddle of business which was, at that moment, of more consequence. Yet I have often noticed since how much less stir nearly everyone’s death makes than you might expect. Men better loved and more worth loing than my father go down making only a small eddy.” (Till We 243) Orual considered the Fox’s death to be insignificant and treated it like a business transaction, dehumanizing the event, just like she did with Bardia’s life, not treating him like a human, but like an object or an animal. She could not even stop for a moment to grieve and to take in that the Fox just died right in front of her. Rather, she stayed picking out armor with Bardia. Considering what Ansit said about how Orual treated Bardia, “He was not made of iron or brass, but flesh,” (Till We 195) we see that she treated the Fox the same way, less significant than some chunks of metal, holding less value than armor. There is beautiful symbolism there. Armor is meant to protect people in battle, and so it is very valuable, but only when it is protecting human life.
Armor is of no use if the person it is protecting is dead. Bardia and the Fox gave their lives sacrificially, but Orual treated them like mere pieces of armor. They were incredibly wonderful and valuable when they were alive, but Orual treated them poorly and abused the love that they both so sacrificially gave her. So now that they are dead, that “armor” is useless because there is nothing more to protect. The Fox’s love for Orual was sacrificial, forgiving, unconditional, and most of all, selfless. He recognized that the world did not revolve around himself and the comforts that he desired. This being so, he understood that no matter how much he loved Orual and Psyche, he had to control his love because otherwise it would prevent the girls from achieving their full potential. For example, when Orual says that she will battle Argan, the Fox protests because he is afraid that she will get herself killed. For this reason, he goes and tries to convince her not to fight, but she does it anway. He later apologizes to Orual because he realized that he should not have used his own desires to try and coerce her from the path that she truly desired, which, ironically, is exactly what Orual did to Psyche. The Fox had the humility to be able to go back and apologize for the way that his love negatively affected Orual. However Orual did not have the decency to own up to her actions and take responsibility for the death of her loved ones because of her devouring “love.” If love truly is the most important concept for humanity to grasp and understand, then we must look at what the Bible says about love in order to know what love should look like. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 says “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” (English Standard Version 1 Corinthians 13) Comparing this to Orual’s way of love, we see a stark difference. Orual was not patient or kind to the people that she loved. With Psyche on the mountain, she showed no amount of patience. Showing patience in that situation would have meant trying to understand what Psyche is thinking and considering that she might actually be happy living up there. Instead, Orual was impatient and tried to force Psyche to do what Orual wanted, which is where we see our second contradiction. Orual insisted on her own way in all of her relationships. With Psyche, she stabbed herself in the arm and threatened to kill Psyche and herself just to try and convince Psyche that her way was best and that there were no other choices. With Bardia, she insisted that he work with her and for her and she never stopped to consider his own health and happiness, because that didn’t matter to her. She was so consumed with her own way that she could not see how she was destroying these people. Now, if we examine this same passage against the way that Psyche loves, we find something rather interesting. Patient and kind: in all of her relationships Psyche shows great amounts of patience. When Orual was on the mountain with her, screaming at her, she remained calm. Time after time, she tried to understand Orual, displaying great amounts of patience simply because she loved her sister so much. Psyche never insisted on her own way, even when she found out that she was going to be sacrificed.
When Orual threatened Psyche, she gave in to Orual’s way, simply because she cared so much about Orual that she couldn’t just let her die. She gave up everything that she knew was true, just to see her sister live. 1 John 4:7-21 also talks about love in great depth. It says that we should love one another because of the way that God loves us. (English Standard Version 1 John 4:7-21) Verse 18 says “ There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Orual’s love was full of fear. Her devouring came as a result of that fear. She devoured everyone that she loved because she was so afraid of losing them. Psyche never feared. Even when she was about to be taken from the people that she loved to be sacrificed, she did not fear. Lewis said it best in The Four Loves, “Every Christian would agree that a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God.” (Four Loves 3) It is clear to see that the reason there was so much corruption in the way that Orual loved was because she did not have a love for God or the gods. Psyche did, and this love for the gods led her to better love other people. In our lives, we must not forget that when we love, it is not about us. It’s about God. Each person is made in the image of God, so when we love other people, it is like we are loving God. But if we love God first it will be much easier to love others. Because, after all, God is love. We cannot properly love other people until we ourselves know God’s love.