What gives me the right to write about love, me a three-time divorcee? I believe in love, believe I have loved passionately (most recently the protagonist of my novel), and believe I will continue to experience love in at least some of its several forms; and I read–sometimes even stories or essays about love. Does that give me sufficient credibility to give advice on loving?
What I offer today is a painful lesson, one that confronted me after reading a C.S. Lewis science fiction novel, Till We Have Faces. In the reading I was forced to consider how much of my loving—if any—has been unselfish, directed toward the other person instead of my own desires. How can any of us know that? As I try to put in words what I fleetingly and shallowly recognized about myself in the tale of Queen Orual’s awakening, I know the meaning of her words, “the change which the writing wrought in me was only a beginning—only to prepare me for the gods’ surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.” (p. 253)
In her story, which is actually Lewis’ alteration of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Orual loves her half-sister, Psyche, so much that when she meets a changed Psyche after she had been sacrificed to the god, Ungit, Orual feels she must rescue her beloved Psyche even as Psyche protests she cannot leave the lover she adores, the one who gives her unspeakable joy, the god who comes to her unseen in the blackness of night. Orual forces Psyche to betray her lover, justifying her actions by professing the dreadful deed was an act of love and she, Orual, was the one sacrificing to save Psyche from some dreadful thing.
With Psyche lost to Orual’s world, separated from her husband/god and forced to wander miserably alone, Orual threw herself into her duties as queen. Even in her good works, she took all that others would give in the name of love, especially her servant, Bardia. He also sacrificed the best of himself, and without Orual recognizing how much of him she was devouring–until his death–when his wife revealed the little left to her after the queen had used him up in her service.
As her own death approached, Queen Orual got her chance to complain to the gods for seducing what was hers, those she had loved best. Their happiness should have been for Orual to give. Reciting this speech that had been at the center of her soul for years, she instantly knew, knew that she had been the most dangerous enemy of those she loved most. With the acknowledgment that their happiness had never meant as much to her as her need to possess them, she was unmade. Only then could she love as she would have thought it impossible to love.
I think I understand, at least in part, the moral of this story. I won’t repeat the lesson because your interpretation may be different( but please share what it means to you!). I could quite easily ignore the judgment of another person, but the message in “Till We Have Faces” is too compelling to reject.
May we as writers use sensitivity, wisdom and creativity to tell stories that “unmake” our readers…and probe our own wounds.