Till We Have Faces Read-Along || Week 1 Recap

South Tyrol, Landscape, Mountains, Alpine, Stone

"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing . . . "

The first week of our Till We Have Faces read-along is completed!  Huzzah!  Great excitement and all that.

I think my default format for these recaps will be to give a series of discussion questions for our commenting edification, as well as my own thoughts on some of them.  Then I'll share some of my favorite quotes/passages from the week's assigned reading.  Sound good?  Let's get started.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think of the book's opening line and paragraphs?  Why are they effective?
  •  I think they're terrific because they establish the tone and theme of the story from the first possible moment.  They are bold, simple, and direct; there's a sense of myth intertwined with a painful relevancy. 
2. Orual often talks about a "smell of holiness" entering (or contaminating) a space.  How could a character believably recognize holiness in a scent?  Why would Orual be repulsed by it from infancy?
  •  There's plenty to unpack with the worship of Ungit described in this book, and much complexity through which to sift in searching for elements of truth.  However, one possibility is that Lewis was attempting to convey the sacrifice (which presupposes pain & death) inherent in most religion, something against which the human nature revolts.  I also find this motif interesting in light of 2 Corinthians 2:14-16: "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life."  What do you think?

3. A major element of the plot is Psyche's beauty.  Orual says, "She made beauty all around her. . . . When she picked up a toad ⎼ she had the strangest and, I thought, unchanciest love for all manner of brutes ⎼ the toad became beautiful."  Is there foreshadowing in this?  Does it remind you at all of the Beauty and the Beast fable?

4.  What do you think of the foreshadowing that you have seen so far, in general?  Is it effective or obvious?

5. The practices of the "Great Offering" ritual dictate that the offering be "bound to the Tree," and that "In the Great Offering the victim must be perfect."  Do you see a connection here to the crucifixion of Jesus?  If so, do you think it was intentional on Lewis's part?

6. Orual struggles to find truth throughout the whole story.  Already, we can see her torn between the "primitive" traditions of her community priest and the rationalism of her Greek tutor.  Though we trust the Fox more, we can sense flaws even in his reasoning.  Where, between the Fox and the Priest, might truth lie? 

7. Psyche claims (speaking of marriage) that "To leave your home ⎼ to lose you, Maia, and the Fox ⎼ to lose one's maidenhead ⎼ to bear a child ⎼ they are all deaths."  What does this assertion reveal about this culture's sexual politics?  
  • I think it betrays an idealization of female virginity (all too prevalent in our own Christian culture) that mimics the sexism and hypocrisy that have dictated social mores in our own world for centuries.  [This video has good thoughts on it, as does this one.]  It is also significant when considered alongside the rape inherent in arranged marriage, which is demonstrated by the terror of Psyche's mother on her wedding night.  The King's violent threats about Redival losing her virginity before marriage is another example.

Personal Highlights
  •  When she trod on mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver.
  •  "The body is shaking.  I needn't let it shake the god within me."  [As an aside, what do you think of this quote?  What does it say about the Fox's philosophy?  How might Christians interpret this idea?  How ought they to interpret it?]
  •  "I see, Master," said the Fox.  "I ask your pardon.  I had forgotten that your own safety was the thing we must work for at all costs."
  •  "I wonder do the gods know what it feels like to be a man."
  •  "It was when I was happiest that I longed most. . . . Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing?  The longing for home?  For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."
pairing | amore americano

Now it's your turn!  Give me ALL THE THOUGHTS in the comments.  (And, again, if you want to do your own posts as a part of this read-along, please do; and please let me know if you do.)

This week (January 10-17), we'll read Part 1 Chapters 8-14.


  1. Olivia, I feel so bad!!! I had every intention of participating in the readalong, but then immediately after Christmas I got sick, and have been until just a couple days ago. When I should have started reading TWHF I wasn't feeling too great and wasn't really up to reading, and since I've felt better I've been in a kind of funny mood where I really just don't feel like reading that book right now. 😜 I've been craving old, familiar, comfort reads and finding new/newer to me books almost stressful to read and process right now.

    I may still join and catch up with everyone, and even if not, I am really excited to hear your thoughts on the book (and everyone else's too!). I really enjoyed this post! ❤

    Happy reading!!!

    1. Don't feel bad, Caiti! It's completely fine. Comfort reads are absolutely imperative when sick, most of the time, and TWHF won't be going away any time soon. ;) And even when you're better, sometimes it's just not the right time for a particular book. No problem at all. ;)

      Thanks for checking in, and I'm glad you're feeling better! <3

    2. Thanks for understanding! ❤

      (Btw, after seeing how much you enjoyed Walk on Earth a Stranger, I immediately requested it from my library and just picked it up today! So I *think* I'll be reading it soon!)

  2. I just started reading this morning (not literally, READING, but you know, "Till We Have Faces" :)), and oh am I riveted! I literally Cannot. Not. STOP.

    Two things have especially stood out to me so far -

    1.) The cruelty, the horrific, disgusting, quality of the King's cruelty; the description of his behavior makes the reader feel physically SICK, that's some powerful writing right there.

    2. ) How the fragrance of holiness is described as being so repulsive. I love the verse you quoted about it. The "scent" of Christianity IS completely different, but it is still repulsive to the sinful world, which explains why there can be such retaliation to it.

    3.) Chapter 7 is insanely beautiful in a terrible and heartrending way...

    4.) "I wonder do the gods know what it feels like to be a man..." ahhhh - but we do, we do have a God who knows, in all ways, what it is like to be a man.

    This is the first read-a-long I've engaged in YEARS, perhaps even ever can't quite remember, and I'm relishing it. Thanks for doing it, Olivia!

    Now onward... *rubs hands in happiness*

    1. AAAAHHH, I'm so excited you like it, Eowyn!!!! SO excited. :D

      Yes to all you said. I'm just so happy you're joining in! Can't wait to get your thoughts on the next segment. :)

  3. Not only two things after all.... ^ *face palm*

  4. So many thoughts. First off, I had a REALLY hard time stopping at the designated chapter! I wanted to just read the whole thing.

    1. I didn't really note the opening paragraphs, but I will say that I was weirdly surprised at the time this is set in, as I for some reason thought it was going to be set in medieval Europe. So that took me a few pages to get used to.

    2. I took the "smell of holiness" to mean the smell of the incense and sacrifices offered in the temple. Which would have been similar to the smells in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, presumably. Worship doesn't have to be palatable to our human senses. And it often repulses us because worshiping a higher being reminds us that we are frail and human, or that we are sinful, depending on who/what we're worshiping.

    3. I didn't really think of Beauty and the Beast, so much as of some "pure of heart" characters who seem to make everything around them nicer and prettier just by being there. Like Beth in Little Women.

    4. I haven't been bothered by the foreshadowing, so I'd say it's not too obvious, as obvious foreshadowing often annoys me.

    5. Oh man, yes, totally intentional on Lewis' part.

    6. Clearly both the priest and the Fox are misguided.

    7. That world thought of unmarried women as something that could be bartered and traded. A deflowered woman, whether married or not, was then worth nothing to trade to someone. And a mother... was something you had to care for and protect, not gain from.

    I actually don't really know the legend this is retelling, so I'm really eager to find out what happens!

    1. Isn't it enthralling?

      1. That would definitely taken some adjustment. :-P

      2. True, true.

      3. Awwww, yes, Beth. *cries (again)*

      7. Absolutely.

      I'm eager to find out what you think of what happens!

  5. So I'm unable to take part in this read-along, but can I just say, I applaud those videos of Katie's!!! YESS GIRL GO GET 'EM!!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I love everyone's comments! My thoughts are here:

    Your thoughts on the "scent of holiness" are interesting! I wouldn't have occurred to me. I also like the quote that you used about the "body is shaking". To me it is inspiring me to stand strong in my faith when everything else might be crumbling.

    Thanks for hosting, Olivia!

    1. Thank you so much for writing about the read-along, M.C.! I hope to comment soon.

      That's a good take on that quote.

      Thanks for participating!

  8. Thank you so much, Olivia, for hosting this read-along!! I would not have picked up this book so soon on my own. I'm loving it and can't put it down!! <3

    1. I wasn’t really impressed by the opening sentence or paragraphs when first reading them. I had no idea what was to come and so I was a little confused.

    2. I do find this “smell of holiness” interesting. I think it’s easy to associate a smell with something that is distinct and doesn’t happen very often. As Catholics, we still use incense, but that is the only time I ever smell anything like it so it has a definite “Catholic” smell to me. (And I love it. :) ) Likewise for Orual, the smell of blood, burnt meat, and incense would have only been associated with sacrifices and holy things. Now her religion is pagan, and we know essentially of the devil. The ceremonies were dark and the beliefs morbid. Whenever that smell was present, dark and awful things were taking place. These reasons are enough for anyone to be repulsed by the smell.

    3 & 4. I’m not one to pick up easily on foreshadowing. I think Psyche’s beauty in all things certainly goes along with her otherworldly spirit.

    5. Oh yes, I’m sure Lewis meant to make that parallel. Come to think of it, much of Psyche’s story resembles Christ’s. She is adored by the common folk, implored for healing, turned upon, and sacrificed though she has done no wrong. Yes, I believe Lewis reflect’s Christ’s virtues in her.

    6. This is a really great question and observation. I have to think about this one.

    7. Sexual politics? I didn’t see any of these references giving light to politics, but the natural order. Yes, “to lose your virginity - to bear a child,” may very well be a sort of death. They mark the end of a stage in life, but also the birth of a new stage in life. Female virginity is to be preserved until marriage as is God’s design. The king threatened Redival because she was careless enough to go seeking pleasure in any handsome young man therefore lowering herself and others to playthings. Yes, they were a pagan culture with strict laws, but these protected the natural order designed by God (albeit, unknowingly.)
    As for rape in arranged marriage, I don’t know but you may be right.

    Personal highlight:
    I relate to longing for things unseen as I discern religious life as a nun. <3 I think Psyche expresses the longing for things unseen beautifully!

    1. It's made me so happy to see your updates on Goodreads! :D

      1. Fair. :-P

      2. It's very interesting to try to ferret out the similarities and differences between the pagan religion of the story and our Christian religion.

      7. In my opinion, using that specific terminology when talking about virginity is unhelpful/dangerous. Though I completely agree that female virginity should remain intact until marriage, I believe that it's equally important that MALE virginity remain intact until marriage. That's where the hypocrisy has come in, in our own social history and in this fictional story, with the King (who's slept with many servants) flying into a hypocritical (and violent) rage when the idea is brought up regarding his daughter.

      Such a beautiful parallel! I love how Lewis captures those elusive feelings.

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