I’d say that this was an utterly unique story, except that it is meant to be a retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid. In this version, Maya and Psyche are both daughters of a king, though Maya is so much older than Psyche that she thinks of Psyche as her daughter. Maya is as hideous as Psyche is beautiful, but rather than lead her to envy Psyche in this version (as apparently she does in the original myth), she rather dotes on her with a suffocating kind of love reminiscent of the clinging mother represented in Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.” A plague comes upon the land, and in order to purge it, the priest calls for a sacrifice of the best and most spotless in the land to be the bride of Ungate, their god. But Ungate is perceived as a beast, and so to be wed and to be devoured are one and the same. The deed is done, and Maya travels out afterwards to find and bury Psyche’s remains in a desperate agony–only to find that Psyche is healthy, happy, and lovelier than ever. But she claims to have wed a god, and to live in a palace, which Maya cannot see. Psyche says that her husband has forbidden her to see his face, at which point Maya decides that her husband must be a fiend or a brute. She essentially blackmails Psyche into disobeying the god, and bringing a lamp to bed to see his face. He is furious and casts her out, wailing for the happiness she has lost. Maya, meanwhile, goes back to her palace, where she attempts to ignore her guilt for having brought Psyche’s downfall upon her.
I kept trying to listen for the allegory, since I know C.S. Lewis’s tendency to write it. I caught glimpses here and there–in Psyche’s robust health and ability to see what her meaner sister could not, and in her sister’s kind of love which was really all selfishness, a kind of love that is “nine-tenths hatred,” as he puts it. This part was reminiscent of both “The Great Divorce,” and also of “The Four Loves.” But overall, I could not quite find the allegory–probably because he didn’t write the story, he merely re-told it. The best part of the story were his keen insights into human nature, which he always does so well. And I love his prose, as always.
My rating: ****