I have not been a fantasy fan for very long. It took a daughter who was very into The Chronicles of Narnia and then Harry Potter to change my averting, literary ways. And then I was handed a copy of The Once and Future King. Oh! Where have you been all my life, T. H. White?
That means I’ve only got maybe four years of fantasy under my belt, as opposed to thirty of children’s books, twenty of middle and young adult, and up to fifteen of general and literary fiction, philosophy, biography, memoir, travel, etc. Unless you count my fourth grade love of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, which should have been a clue. I didn’t solve that clue.
And then there’s Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. I didn’t think about it being fantasy when I read it for a college seminar. I just knew that I loved that book. But while virtually every other book I have ever loved can be found on some bests list somewhere, I never see Faces mentioned. Go ahead and look up C. S. Lewis. The very last book under his name is always going to be Till We Have Faces. (Okay, so I can’t claim that definitively, but you get the point that whenever I mention it, no one knows what I’m talking about.)
And while I loved to snuggle with my little daughter and read through the Chronicles, they (nor the Space/Cosmic Trilogy beginning with Out of a Silent Planet) were never going to be a favorite. The difference in writing style and, well, maturity between the works is obvious. Which is interesting, because that’s what Lewis thought, too. He considered Faces his most mature work, and actually, many Lewis fanatics consider it his best work, too.
I love it and I think you should give it a try. It’s a short book (my copy weighing in at 300 pages with giant margins). It is based on the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, as are such other stories as Beauty and the Beast and later derivative books like Spirited (Nancy Holder), Beastly (Alex Finn), and The Merchant’s Daughter (Melanie Dickerson ; and movies and TV series, as well). The myth stuck with Lewis from graduate school on, and he kept the book idea in his head for more than thirty-five years, writing parts in verse during the long wait.
I’m pretty sure I’ll get to writing fantasy before thirty-five years of rumination. Or maybe I hope so. Because, like Lewis, I have heard the siren call of a fantastical story and it’s floating around up there in my brain. My first novel, Benevolent, is literary in nature, but includes bits of magic realism in the form of fictional legend. But in about a year (yes, I do schedule goals that far ahead) I plan to be writing full-time on my third book, the start of a fantasy trilogy, Spin (2015). What? Me? A fantasy trilogy? Absolutely. And who knows? Maybe it will be my most celebrated work, as well; Una has everything she ever wanted in Henry and in her life in Urbania, until Peter comes along and threatens to take it all away by revealing the truth behind an old wives’ tale. Will Una answer the silent song of the Hidden Kingdom?
Maybe that’s why I like Lewis. He is an inveterate genre-bender. Besides a reader, a fantasy fan and an author, I want to be that, too.
Here is the synopsis from the back cover of the A Harvest Book edition of Faces: “The timeless tale of two princesses—one beautiful and one unattractive—and of the struggle between sacred and profane love in C. S. Lewis’s reworking of the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche and one of his most enduring pieces of fiction.”
And more than that; it doesn’t just deal in generalizations, but is the compelling tale of an ugly young woman, her troubled family relationships, her respect for her teacher, and the dangerous journey she makes into a dark place to seek the truth.
*This post was written for a blog which later pulled my appearance due to a scheduling snafu. Thus, the title.