'Till We Have Faces and the Power of Words

Are words more powerful than the sword?  Can words sway an evil heart or change the course of history?  I think so. That's why books mean so much to me.  Books change people when they evoke emotion.  In literature, when books are translated into different languages, how do we keep that emotional impact?Till We Have Faces used translation services to make it available in another language, do you think foreign readers would feel the same way about the book that you do? Would that emotion and lyricism still be conveyed?

Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis has been one of my favorite books since high school. This retelling of Cupid and Psyche drills into the heart of relationships; the interplay of love and jealousy, the terrible price of certain choices, and the ultimate power of redemption.

The power of this book is in the way that C. S. Lewis arranges his words. I love his description of how writing wrought a change in Orual, Psyche's plain older sister:

“What began the change was the very writing itself. Let no one lightly set about such a work. Memory, once waked, will play the tyrant. . .The change which the writing wrought in me (and of which I did not write) was only a beginning; only to prepare me for the gods' surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound. ” 

Orual's voice is realistic and emotional and her words resonate:

“Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, 'Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words.'

A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” 

I'm drawn to C. S. Lewis's  words because of their emotional impact. He uses common words in an uncommon way. His lyricism and the thought he puts into the placement of each word, shines throughout the story, creating empathy in the reader. Emotion transcends language.  So when publishers use translation services to make books like Till We Have Faces available in other languages, paying attention to the emotional impact of the words is key...literal translations relay meaning, but we remember the words that evoke emotion.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow. I can't believe I haven't heard of this. I love C.S. Lewis. I need to read this. Thanks.