A realistic historical fiction which kind of glances at the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

Publication year: 1956
Format: print
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Finnish translator: Kirsi Nisula
Finnish publisher: Kirjapaja
Page count: 304 including two introductions to the book.

I’m familiar with the original myth but it’s been so long since I read it that it was great that one of the introductions has a brief recounting of it. It’s also fascinating to see the differences in the myth and Lewis’s version.

The story is told through the eyes of Orual, the eldest of Psyche’s sisters. If you’re expecting to see Cupid or much of the other gods, you’ll be disappointed. Also, Cupid is barely seen and Psyche is absent for most of the tale so I can’t really call this a retelling. Rather, a story inspired by the myth.

In this story, the Greek gods are very much out of the picture, rarely seen or heard, and not interacting with the humans. Even their famous tempers and desires are gone, apparently invented by humans. Although, some manner of jealousy might be seen near the end. Indeed, this reads like a historical fiction. The brief scenes where the deities are seen can be interpreted as dreams or visions.

Orual wrote this book when she is an old woman, as a memoir of what happened to her and her sister. She loved her sister very much and is bitter that the gods have twisted their story.

Orual is the eldest daughter of the king of Glome. Much to the king’s disappointment, she’s a girl and worse yet, ugly. Her sister Redival, however, is pretty. But the king’s wife died soon after Redival’s birth and he does his best to get another bride. The king is very temperamental and cruel. His kingdom is poor and he doesn’t have many allies. However, he manages to get another bride who dies giving birth to Psyche who even as a child is so beautiful that everything changes. Because Psyche’s mother is dead, Orual raises.

While Glome isn’t a real, it’s described as a realistic place. The people worship Ungit who requires sacrifices, mostly animals. Orual describes the scent of “holiness” as thick and pungent with blood.

The book has allusions to Christian thought, especially at the end. So, it can be read as a historical fiction, fantasy, or even Christian allegory. But it’s not too heavy handed, except at the end. But it has other themes as well, such as the difference between jealous, selfish love and selfless love which only wants the other’s happiness. Another is a the difference between “pagan” thought and Greek philosophy. Fox, Orual’s Greek tutor, teaches the “barbarians” Greek philosophy and tries to lift Orual and Psyche out of their barbarism.

The Finnish translation is excellent.