So, right now, I’m reading two books to make it to the one book a week since I made the resolution late. Next week will also be a two book week. So I apologize for the inundation of blogs that will be happening over the next few weeks as I give the Friday reviews/mid-book discussions and then the reviews as I finish the books I discuss. It’ll certainly be an adventure. Hopefully, it’ll end soon.
Thankfully, I’ve read this book before, so this discussion is more of what I’m discovering again rather than what I’m hoping to see. I’m reading the book again because I read the book the first time with a specific purpose. The first time I read the book, I was working on my thesis. My thesis was a rewrite of Beauty and the Beast and my research was, mainly, reading as many versions of the faerie tale that I could get my hands on. I read several short story versions and two novel versions. This was one. Because I was reading with such specific goals, I know I missed certain things.
What I didn’t miss, and I’m so grateful I did not, was that this is truly his best work. I love what I have read of the Narnia books (I know, I know, they’re on the list) and I adore The Screwtape Letters, but nothing surpasses this book. The book is dedicated to Joy Davidman, the American woman who became his wife in a religious ceremony the same year around the same time (I cannot determine whether the book preceded the marriage or the marriage preceded the book–it was a near thing).
The couple had entered into a civil union as a matter of kindness on his part several years earlier so that she could remain in England. He enjoyed her company and intellectual companionship. However, she was diagnosed with bone cancer and when faced with this, Lewis finally saw something he had not been able to see before. Joy was on her hospital bed, but they were finally married. Joy finally had a face. To me, this book is proof of that. It is terrible and it is beautiful. It is an accusation and a celebration. These things I remember.
What I’ve noticed this time around is what a love letter this truly is. I think Lewis put much more of himself into the main character, Orual, than I previously noticed. I was paying much more attention to her sister, the Psyche character, than her. I think Orual, who presents her life as an accusation against the gods, is Lewis accusing the universe that dared harm his wife. This same Orual comes back to the book after she thinks she has finished it to discover–in one night!–how her perspective has changed and tries to share it but dies on the manuscript; this is Lewis attempting, in his poor way, to share his transcendent love with friends who could not accept his marriage to a woman who raised him beyond what he ever aspired to. Orual, who covered her face from the world for her entire life, ugly and afraid, is Lewis hiding the ugliness of his anger and fear of Joy’s death.
I’ll find out as I go on. The first time I read this book, I was unaware of the background. Having read it once, I’ve found its beauty. I have found Joy in this book. Now, I look for Lewis. Now, I look for the beast.
I wonder: are they the same?