Christianity, Plays

A Lesser-Known But Intriguing Christian Play

Book Review:

The House by the Stable by Charles Williams (Spoiler-Free)

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is not one of those books I just picked up for the fun of it. It was actually a required text for my Modern Christian Writers class, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it!

Although some Christian works appeal to people of all religions as well as those who embrace no religion, this is likely one that will almost exclusively be appealing to Christians.

Background

Charles Williams is a British playwright, novelist, poet, and theologian. He was also a member of the Inklings, a group in which J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were also members.

Some of his other works that I have read include War in Heaven and Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury.

Summary

The House by the Stable is an allegorical play about a man who courts Pride both literally and figuratively, and unknowingly engages in a battle for his soul against Hell. He also alludes to the innkeeper from the Bible who refused Joseph and Mary a room but offered them a place in the stable.

Pros

  • Compelling dialogue
  • Unexpected choices when it comes to characters
  • The Christmas Story from a different point of view
  • Strong message
    • Powerful understanding of how Pride can corrupt and change a man
    • A testament to the value of grace in a Christian’s life

Cons

  • A little heavy-handed with the message
  • The perfection of the good characters and the extreme wickedness of the bad ones mean that the only relatable character is Man.

Review

Dialogue

The dialogue of this play contributes to its long-lasting value and immediate appeal to readers. For instance, this is what Man’s mistress–fittingly named Pride–says when she is asked why she adores Man so much:

It is no surprise–if you think what you are. Indeed, it were stranger if I adored you less. You are Man, the lord of this great house Earth, or (as its name is called in my country) Sin; you are its god and mine.”

You can tell immediately that Pride is a dangerous character–not only does she pretend to worship Man, she also encourages him to worship himself. Her influence on Man has caused him to lose his friends and to think only of himself. This is undoubtedly a toxic relationship–and that’s the point–that humankind’s relationship with pride is unhealthy and damaging to one’s self and others.

Unexpected Choices

Having the character who represents the angel Gabriel be just a shuffling butler, “that old gossip of heaven” is an unusual choice.

It was also clever to have Pride be the literal mistress of Man, and for Man to be the man who let Mary and Joseph shelter in his stable.

Point of View

Even though Mary and Joseph and the stable where Jesus is born are all part of this play, the focus is on Man, who is a stand-in for all humans who are trapped in sin.

Message

If I had to pin down the message for this play, I would say it is that the negative aspects of pride are humankind’s worst enemy. Charles Williams treats it as one of the most terrible sins. Pride ruins one’s relationship with others and damages one’s relationship with God.

This quote offers another message that is important:

You are my worshipful sweet Pride; will you be so arrogant always to others and humble to me? Will you always make me believe in myself?”

Man

It reveals that self-confidence, while good in reasonable quantities, can be a trap if it is excessive. Overconfidence can be dangerous when it leads to pride and causes one to sin.

Conclusion

This play has some strong insights that made it worthwhile to read, as you saw above. It’s also incredibly short, so if you aren’t a fan, it’s not like you wasted a bunch of time. I would say, give it a try!

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

Books

My Favorite Book: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold: Lewis, C. S.: 9780062565419: Amazon.com:  Books

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Intro

In my book reviews, I consider the literary merit of the book by examining aspects such as character development, world-building, illustrations, and storytelling.

Just as a precaution before you delve in–my opinion and preferences have an impact on the rating. When it comes to judging literature, it is impossible not to let personal biases interfere.

I will, however, honestly evaluate the aspects of the book to the best of my ability so my review can help you determine if it sounds like it’s the book for you.

If you disagree with my evaluation for any reason, feel free to leave a comment.

Background

C. S. Lewis is a Christian writer and theologian. He has been extremely influential to Christians of all denominations and has written over 30 books.

Till We Have Faces was written in 1956 and was the last of Lewis’ fiction. Although it was unpopular at first, Lewis said it was his favorite of his fictional works. Lewis felt that all myth had some rudimentary truth to it, a certain value that people could receive from it. His book, Till We Have Faces, is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche.

Pros

  • Creative and unique character name choice
  • Tough and relatable protagonist with a strong voice
  • Benefits from the structure of the Psyche and Cupid myth with an unexpected point of view
  • Engaging storytelling style
  • Clever descriptive language
  • Tone like all those fairy tales and myths I used to be so pumped up about
  • Yet defies common fairy tale expectation
  • Setting has own culture and mythology
  • Demonstrates how even positively-viewed emotions such as love can be twisted and abusive
  • Considers our relationship with fiction and why stories are important
  • The name of the book holds powerful meaning

Cons

  • I cannot think of any cons. Obviously this book isn’t for everyone–but really, what book is?

Review

Character Names

The names of the characters are creative and unique, such as Orual, Redival, Barda, Undit, and Batta.

Protagonist

The point of view character is Orual, the sister of Psyche. While in the myth of Cupid and Psyche the sister has a very minimal and cruel part, in this story she is humanized.

Orual has a strong voice with daring opinions. She rails against the gods themselves and is the sort of person to take her life in her own hands. She claims to be objective, but it is clear she is swayed by her emotions at times.

The story starts with her as an old woman looking back on her life. These are her first few lines:

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me. My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please.”

Orual

Storytelling

The way that C. S. Lewis tells the story makes it hard to put it down. It has the tone of a fairy tale or myth, with the qualities of an epic story.

For example, Orual describes Psyche like this:

When she trod on the mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver.”

Orual sometimes speaks directly to the reader, giving it more of that oral storyteller vibe.

You know how it is when you shed a few tears or none, but there is a weight and pressure of weeping through your whole head.”

The seeming indifference or hatred of the gods is a source of conflict and struggle for many of the characters. This reminds me a lot of epics like that of Odysseus.

We are their bubbles; they blow us big before they prick us.”

Orual

I wonder do the gods know what it feels like to be a man.”

Barda

The way Lewis uses descriptive language is also unusual and interesting, such as when he says something is as “quick as thought.”

Expectation

With its fairy tale tone and its status as a retelling of a myth, there are certain expectations readers may have. Many of these expectations are subverted. One of the more minor instances of this happens in the first chapter when a stepmother comes into the picture. Anyone who has read fairy tales can’t help but think stepmother = trouble, but this stepmother is young, frail, and terrified.

Culture

The way Orual describes the kingdom of Glome (where she lives) makes it seem like a real place. She speaks of it in the way someone might if they were describing it to a traveler.

The city of Glome stands on the left hand of the river Shennit to a traveler who is coming up from the south-east, not more than a day’s journey above Ringal, which is the last town southward that belongs to the land of Glome. The city is built about as far back from the river as a woman can walk in the third of an hour, for the Shennit overflows her banks in the spring.”

The people of Glome worship an assortment of gods, but especially the goddess Undit, who can be equated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. They also acknowledge the power of Undit’s son, the god of the Grey Mountain.

There are little aspects of culture of Glome that come out over time, such as the fact that grieving women cut their hair. There is a special oath taken with a sword blade, called an “oath on edge,” that it is sacrilegious to break. There are many other interesting things about Glome that you will figure out if you read the book.

Treatment of Love

Love is rarely acknowledged to be capable of causing great harm in the same way that other emotions like anger are. C. S. Lewis, much like he does in his other book The Great Divorce, demonstrates how love can be corrupted and abusive even when it claims to be for the loved one’s good. I think this is an important message that adds depth to the book.

The Value of Fiction

There is a character named the Fox who has a great love of poetry and yet is ashamed of it when he teaches it to Orual. He frequently brushes off comments about fictional works, saying:

It’s only the lies of poets.”

It is clearly his background in reading myths, poetry, and other works of fiction that contributes to his wisdom, however. This part of the story is relevant to readers because at some point any reader of fiction will wonder–what’s the point?

The point is that it helps one to grow and mature as a person who is able to understand others, to value different points of view, and to think creatively. There are many lessons that I have learned from reading fiction that would have been much hard to learn otherwise–such as the fact that even love can be corrupted and evil, as I mentioned above.

Title

Without spoiling anything, all I can say about the meaning of the title is that it has partially to do with knowing oneself and not masking one’s intentions. Other than that, it suffices to say that it was a profound and well-chosen title–to see why, you should read the book.

Conclusion

I read this book this semester and it has become my favorite book.

It has so much to offer–teaching lessons without beating you over the head with them.

Its powerful storytelling swept me along until I had finished the book. This is a book I would say is far better even than Lewis’ acclaimed Chronicles of Narnia series.

While this book would be more appealing to a Christian audience, I see no reason why people who follow other religions or no religion would not be able to read and appreciate it.

It is the only book thus far I have rated 10 out of 10 stars, and I did it for a reason.

If you have any questions or comments about the book, feel free to leave a comment.

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.