It was her last semester in our Charlotte Mason Truth, Beauty, Goodness Co-op for High School. Hard to believe that my youngest will be graduating! I decided to let her choose our literature selections from a short list of titles. She chose Till We Have Faces and The Great Gatsby. At first, I was a bit hesitant to tackle two rather difficult, heavy, and challenging titles. But Charlotte Mason has taught me that it doesn’t matter what I know or don’t know – her teachers will be C. S. Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald and I will be walking alongside the students.
I needn’t have worried. The insight, discussions, and delight from the students were incredible. Let me tell you how we went about reading and enjoying Till We Have Faces. (I’ll save The Great Gatsby for another post.)
Till We Have Faces is C.S. Lewis’ last fictional work. In it, the old queen, Orual, looks back on her life and shares her “complaint against the gods”. We read, and often cringe, as we see ourselves in her selfish, pagan ways as she comes to grips with who the real problem is. We recognize morsels of the truth in every experience, every chapter, and we wonder if we, too, are veiling ourselves in order to not look at our hearts. Each student grasped different phrases and I focused on the phrase, “Die before you die” and the truths in that statement.
How Our Charlotte Mason High School Encounters Literature
Our group meets twice a month with most of the work done at home. We come together to discuss and grapple with the readings. Before the first meeting, I assigned C.S. Lewis’ Note from the back of the book. They were to read his explanation of the Cupid and Psyche myth (Till We Have Faces is a sort of retelling, “a myth retold”, of Cupid and Psyche) and then write a narration of it to bring to class and share. Most of the students had extensive knowledge of Greek mythology (which happened to be the reason my daughter chose this title and the fact that it was by C.S. Lewis to which I replied, “Just so you know, we won’t be in Narnia.”) and they enthusiastically wrote their narrations and read it in class.
Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest
I wanted to ensure that they would be doing a close read via Mason’s method which is to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” So, I assigned about four chapters over two weeks. They were to keep a designated notebook and for each chapter they were to:
- Choose and write out a commonplace entry.
- Choose to do a written narration, drawing narration, or discussion question.
When we gathered for co-op, I would share a small bit of background information on C.S. Lewis and myth and then we would share our commonplace entries and other items from their notebooks. All of our discussion flowed from their work. It was beautiful. Their insights were just as profound as the insights of the adults I’ve read the book with.
But most of us have little chance of seeing men and things on a wide scale, and our way to an instructed conscience is to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. We must read novels, history, poetry, and whatever falls under the head of literature, … Herein we shall find the reflections of wise men upon the art of living, whether put in the way of record, fable, or precept, and this is the chief art for us all to attain.-Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, Volume 4, Book 1, Page 70
Other Resources for Till We Have Faces
This was my third time through it. The first time on my own I was just confused, the second time the book was book discussion selection at the Living Education Retreat and that brought a little more clarity hearing others’ insights, but this time with the Charlotte Mason High School students, it just came alive. And as I read work from other scholars about the book, I realized I will probably read it a few more times and just like the scholars, I will understand a little bit more each time.
Reading various articles around the internet was helpful. I found The Literary Life podcast on the book to be enlightening for me, the teacher. But I don’t think you will need much more than that to give you the confidence to share this classic with your students. Clearly, reading other titles by Lewis would be helpful. I happened to be reading Surprised by Joy at the same time and even that gave me some insights.
The notebooks were a stunning display to me of what they had inwardly digested. Most of the students did a variety of discussion questions, written narrations, and drawings but what I liked about the choice of narrations was that they could use the medium that helped them express their thoughts most clearly. My dyslexic daughter will always choose a drawing narration if she can! Here are some samples from her notebook. The highlighting of the quote actually has a key as she uses an interesting color system to mark her books.
I encourage you to read this classic book with your high school students. Their insights just might teach you a few things in the “art of living,” as Mason says.
Teaching from Peace,