Getting the chance to read is a luxury but it’s one I want to try and keep going even in term time. Don’t know quite how that will work but it is definately worth a try.
This holiday I have managed to read “Till We Have Faces” the allegory on love based on the myth of Eros and Psyche. Of the Lewis books it doesn’t seem to be that well known but it’s an excellent read. I found it much easier than some of his space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength) although it is a quieter book in many ways. Peter Kreeft has a great commentary on the book which I recommend-as I recommend most Kreefty stuff.
It’s a book about opposites and about the different faces love can show. Lewis writes first person as Orual the daughter of the king of Glome and does so with a remarkable womenliness that apparently came as a bit of a shock to critics when they discovered Lewis was the author. Hehehe. Orual is ugly and her two sisters are beautiful, Redival has only skin deep beauty but the youngest child Psyche is so beautiful she is saintly-or to the people of glome a goddess.
Orual is obsessive and possessive in her love leading to a kind of fear and jeolousy when Pyche is sent to be sacrificed to and wedded to the god of the mountains.
There is a Greek slave in the household, The Fox who is steeped in Greek philosophy of a purely material kind. Despite his deeply skeptical approach to both the dark goddess of Glome, Ungit and her bright son of the mountains who is unnamed, he does seem to love Orual, and even stays with her once he is made free, rather than returning to his sons in Greece.
Orual is a complicated figure and deeply human. All the characters of the story are interwoven into the question of what love is supposed to be, who the gods are and what is holy. Why is holiness so dark and veiled? Orual veils herself just before she becomes queen and as queen remains veiled-revealing only that her voice is beautiful.
I’ve recommended the book to Iona.
I am a great Louis de Wohl fan and have a small and growing collection of his books. He seems to have a brilliant grasp of history and the motives of its movers and shakers. They are not difficult to read and I think older teens would love them. Iona has read a couple of them.
Citadel of God is the story of St Benedict of Nursia. The book gets mixed reviews compared to some of his other work, the main criticism being that Benedict isn’t actually in the book enough. But I think there is subtle reason for that. Benedict wasn’t in the ‘world story’ in an upfront way at all.
The story de Wohl tells is centred around the household of Boethius the philosopher, his wife Rusticana who wants to change the fate of Rome and his foster son Peter who infatuated with Rusticana wants to change Rome and who entire world. Benedict enters this household briefly and tutors Peter, but the boy is lusting after power and glory.
Boethius wants to change the world through thought and philosophy but finds himself in a position of power he doesn’t really want under the Gothic King Theoderic who doesn’t even read let alone understand philosophy. Rome is disintegrating, not so much because it has fallen to the Goths, but because of the apathy and amorality of the people of Rome. Boethius stands out rather as a good man in a world of corruption. But politics breeds paranoia and Boethius is sent to prison where he writes his final book The Consolation of Philosophy before he is killed.
Benedict has had enough of Rome and its darkness and with his faithful nurse Cyrilla has retreated to the mountains to become a hermit. He eventually is lead to build his monasteries of twelve men in each. His enemy the occult practicing priest tries to destroy his work and dies himself. Meanwhile as Benedict simly builds and collects books for the library and schools the widow of Boethius and her admirer Peter set about changing the world of Rome and Byzantium for their own ends of revenge and power.
In the midst of all the shenanigans the work of Boethius comes into the hands and library of Benedict. Thanks to the father of St Placidus who along with St Maurus were early disciples of Benedict the monastery of Monte Casino is build like a huge mountain fortress against the powers of the world. Benedicts’ twin sister Scholastica founds her convent just a little down the mountain.
As the world spins into war, plague and famine and the machinations of Rusticana and Peter come to nothing Benedict adds the Philosophy of Boethius to his library so that the learning is not lost. He continues to pray and work and the order flourishes taking care of the sick, refugees, children and even the occasional Gothic king.
In the end even Rusticana finds her peace in the convent of St Scholastica and as the story ends with Rome in tatters and the Goths dispersed the only thing left is the world Benedict has served so well.
De Wohl’s epilogue points out that the monastery of Monte Cassino has been destroyed a few times, and each time rebuild. We owe the learning of the West to the Benedictines who preserved it and passed it on. Through their prayer and work it was the quiet unassuming monks in the mountains who actually changed the world.