I read this book over 25 years ago and remembered that I enjoyed it very much, so when given the opportunity to teach a literature class for homeschoolers this semester, I assigned it as our first book to read. So, to refresh my memory, I began it again.
This is an outstanding read. In some ways it feels quirky and cumbersome, discomforting and awkward, but as the reader becomes immersed in the story those feelings become natural. Why? Because our main character, Orual, is all of these things.
Her brutal mistreatment at the hands of her father, the king, is normal for her, as is her understanding of her own ugliness. The ignorant ways of her family and people are realized by the reader through Orual's Greek teacher, "the Fox," but to Orual such revelation becomes no more than another addition to a confusing mix of competing ideas--the natural versus the supernatural, philosophy versus superstition.
Mr. Lewis brilliantly clashes ideas of faith, through Psyche (Orual's half-sister), intellectualism (through the Fox), and superstition and cultural prejudice (through Bardia and Orual's father). The reader is led down heady roads that make him ponder applications in the real world, some clear and some rather foggy. What are we to think when we see supernatural works in this life that perhaps conflict with previous understanding? When does love turn into obsession? Why do people brush away evidence that doesn't conform to preconceived notions? The reader comes face to face with these and dozens of other questions as Mr. Lewis weaves this powerful story.
Parents, younger readers, even teenagers, might not appreciate this book. The reader should be accustomed to and enjoy mining great questions and pondering them thoughtfully. Otherwise, with the lack of frequent intense action, he or she might find the book boring.
For example, when my homeschool class gathered, I asked how they enjoyed the book. They all gave me a "ho-hum" kind of response. But as I unwrapped the first half of this book during our discussion time, I could see the lights come on in their minds. They began to get into the discussion, frequently adding their insights as the story elements brought up question after question. By the end of our one and and a half hours of Q&A, one said she really needed to read it again, and the others were excited about finishing the book.
Anyway, I highly recommend Till We Have Faces for all adults as well as mature teenagers. Read it, soak it in, ponder, and wonder. I'm glad I picked it up again after all these years.