Sarah’s Slice of Life: A Palace in the Mist
October is National Book Month, and to celebrate, I could spend time here recounting how books offer untold benefits for the whole world. Instead, I want to bring your attention to a palace by a river, hidden in morning mist.
We’re at the Grey Mountain, atop a steep slope leading into a gorgeous green valley. Orual, the daughter of the king of Glome, is looking for her sister Psyche there. Psyche is a beautiful young girl who, in typical mythological fashion, has been sacrificed to appease the gods’ wrath against Glome — chained to a tree to end the bad harvests, rebellions and sicknesses across the land. Orual believes Psyche has died, and she’s gone to bury her before much time passes.
Except, Psyche isn’t dead. She’s alive in that beautiful valley, standing across a river. When she and Orual reunite, she tells her that the god of the wind appeared, lifted her from her chains, whisked her away from the tree and brought her to a grand palace near the river. She talks of its beauty, giving Orual berries and water cupped in her hands, speaking of the refreshments as if they’re a banquet and wine.
Everything falls apart when Orual asks Psyche where this palace is. They are, in fact, standing at its gates, but Orual cannot see what Psyche sees. The berries and water are just that — berries and water.
So begins the spiritual conflict of C.S. Lewis’ book “Till We Have Faces.” This novel is a retelling of the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche. Lewis wrote this tale only a few years before his death, and it stands as his last fictional work. Many, including Lewis’ longtime friend and writing confidant J.R.R. Tolkien, and even Lewis himself, claim it was his most accomplished work.
The novel is both weighty and thematically heavy — facts I did not appreciate when my English teacher assigned it as extra reading during my sophomore year of high school. Despite my initial reluctance, however, reading the book quickly became one of the most enriching and formative experiences of my life.
Lewis’ imaginative storytelling about Orual, a woman who grows in power but never in love, first exposed me to some of the greatest theological questions. These topics include divine sight versus human sight, the nature of love and what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when he wrote that “for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.”
The most striking scene in the book, though, comes after Orual rebukes her sister for telling lies about the palace — the place Orual cannot see. At dawn, she sneaks back to the river for a drink, and for one moment, between the rising light and the night’s shadows, she catches sight of the palace.
Just as she does, the edges and ridges of the walls disappear into the morning mist, as if they hadn’t been there at all. Orual leaves, thinking this had only been a trick of the light and her tired eyes.
This scene sparked my love for ordinary things because it’s often in the ordinary that God gives us glimpses into the divine. But, like Orual shows, seeing is only accomplished when we have sight — the determination to actually see what God wants to reveal.
And that’s why I love books. Not only do stories give us glimpses of the divine through illustrating many of God’s truths, but they also expose us to new perspectives, people and ways of seeing the world. How often do we miss seeing that palace in the mist because we’re simply not looking — or not willing to look?
I’m not here to list all the educational benefits of literature and reading. I’m not even here to list all the personal benefits or the reasons we should celebrate books this National Book Month. However, I will say that like most ordinary things, books give us the capacity to see things in new, different lights — what Lewis himself calls “enlarging our beings” in his book “An Experiment in Criticism.”
After all, books might be the exact thing God uses to expand our vision, to be the rising dawn that illuminates that palace in the valley, solid and real by the river mist.
And if that’s not a reason to celebrate books this National Book Month, what is?
Tate is the Editor-in-Chief at the Liberty Champion. Follow her on Twitter