Last week for my birthday I only got two books. I know, I know: this is uncharacteristically restrained for me. But lately my book collection has become more about quality than quantity. (Not that quantity is every going to be a problem. At last count I was nearing 800 volumes—counting picture books, but not Kindle downloads—though my personal library is in a constant state of flux.) Most books I own I've bought myself, usually at obscenely low prices at book-sales, out of bargain bins, or even for free from "book drops." When I ask for a book for a gift, knowing it will be bought at full price, the titles I select are few and with a great deal of deliberation. So when I say I only got two books, what I mean is I got two books that I know I will treasure for years to come.
First I unwrapped Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. The subtitle is “A Novel of Cupid and Psyche,”
and is a dramatization of the Roman myth of how the god Cupid married a mortal,
Psyche, on the condition that she must never see his face. Overcome with curiosity (and manipulate into
suspecting he may not be the upstanding deity she thought she married), Psyche
eventually gets a gander at him when he’s sleeping, only to have him wake up
and vanish, never to allow her to see him again. Psyche then must go on a quest to find her
lost love. That’s the original myth,
anyway (and, interestingly, it bears many resemblances to the Scandinavian folk
tale, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”). C.S. Lewis writes his rendition
from the perspective of Psyche’s overprotective older sister, Orual, who is
arguably the villain of the story since she’s the source of Psyche’s distrust
of this shadowy Cupid guy. This book is pretty dark, but with distinct spiritual searching, with the god Cupid is treated with both suspicion and curiosity, as someone
elusive and unknown and yet someone who must be known and sought. One gets the feeling that Orual represents human love, and her perspective of Psyche's falling for some elusive, unknown deity mirrors how atheists see Christians.
Secondly, and on
a lighter note, at last I have completed my collection of Lloyd Alexander’s Adventures of Vesper Holly series, with
the final entry The Xanadu Adventure.
I’ve spoken at length of my admiration of Alexander’s writing style and characterization,
and this conclusion to the series doesn’t disappoint, bringing old friends and
enemies alike into new adventures. To
quote Nero Wolfe (who would totally be a Vesper Holly fan if he were a real
person and not a fictional character himself and slightly predisposed to misogyny):