by C.S. Lewis


(in order of their relative importance)

1. ORUAL, the Narrator and the subject of the story, who brings her "complaint against the gods" and who learns, at the end, how selfish her love for Psyche (and others) has really been.

2. LYSIAS, the Fox, captured Greek, a slave then a freeman in the court of Glome; mentor of Orual and her best friend.

3. BARDIA, captain of the troops of Glome; Orual's steadfast friend and servant.

4. TROM, King of Glome, a bloated man ridden by coarse passions, sudden in anger but not without craftiness, with some remnants of a good heart; father of Orual, Istra, and Redival.

5. ISTRA, Psyche; third daughter of the King of Glome; half-sister of Orual and Redival; the victim in the Great Sacrifice to the Shadowbrute; object of Orual's love; the "natural Christian."

6. REDIVAL, second daughter of the King of Glome.

7. ARNOM, Priest of the local goddess Ungit, after the death of the old Priest.

8. PRIEST OF UNGIT in the time of troubles, who orders the Great Sacrifice.

9. ANSIT, wife of Bardia

10. TRUNIA, prince of Phars, seeking to wrest the throne from his brother Argan.

11. ARGAN, prince of Phars, designated by his father to succeed him.

12. TARIN, brief paramour of Redival, later returns to Glome as emissary of the great king of Persia.

13. BATTA, old nurse to Orual, Redival, and Istra; vulgar, shrewish, tattling.

14. GRAM, a subordinate officer to Bardia.

15. POOBI, young serving-girl to Orual.

Synopsis of Chapters

Book I, Chapter 1: Childhood of Orual and Redival. Their hair shorn when their mother dies. The Fox put in charge of them. The King takes a second wife, hoping for a son. Orual and Redival sing and attend their stepmother on the wedding night.

Chapter 2: The King's anger when the child is another girl. Dispute between the King and the Priest of Ungit. The Fox becomes the King's scribe and counselor. Psyche, the unwanted girl, grows more and more beautiful and beloved by Orual and the Fox. Orual takes Psyche away from the wet-nurse to whom Batta had given her.

Chapter 3: Redival grows wanton. She is caught with Tarin, who is castrated. Redival becomes spiteful toward Psyche, mocking her as a "goddess." The people begin to venerate Psyche, asking her to touch babies to make them be beautiful. Redival threatens to tell the Priest of Ungit about this; Orual buys her off with a necklace. Rebellion and pestilence in the land. Psyche is clamored for and, with the King's consent, goes among the people, touching the sick ones. Redival conspires against her with the Priest of Ungit.

Chapter 4: Pestilence, drought, famine, rebellion in the land. Psyche now is called the "Accursed" by the people, for making herself into a goddess. The palace is virtually under siege.

Chapter 5: The Priest of Ungit comes to the palace and tells the King that the Great Sacrifice to the Shadowbrute must be made. The King fears that he must be the sacrifice, vainly calls on Bardia to drive away the Priest's guards, threatens the Priest himself, is vastly relieved when he learns that the lots have designated Psyche not himself. He feigns grief.

Chapter 6: The King will not heed the attempts of Orual and the Fox to save Psyche. He mocks Orual's offer to take Psyche's place. Redival's false grief. Orual, through Bardia's help, arranges to visit Psyche, locked up alone, awaiting the day of the sacrifice.

Chapter 7: Interview of Orual and Psyche in the latter's cell. Psyche, unafraid, wonders about the nature of the gods. Orual, frantic with her grief, protests her love, chides Psyche for not reciprocating it. Psyche confesses the fascination--even attraction--that death has always had for her. She is eager for the moment: going to her fate seems like going home.

Chapter 8: Orual, bruised from her father's angry handling of her, becomes ill and delirious. She sees the procession depart with Psyche for the place of sacrifice on the mountain. She is very ill and unconscious, or with bad dreams, for many days, nursed by the Fox. Glome is restored; the King is well-liked; the Great Sacrifice has solved all immediate problems. Orual resolves to go up the mountain to recover Psyche's remains.

Chapter 9: Bardia seeks through kindness to distract Orual from her grief by giving her lessons in swordsmanship; she is an apt pupil. He agrees to go with her up the mountain. During the trip Orual feels a joyous mood trying to break through, but deliberately represses it to be faithful to her grief. They reach the tree of sacrifice (to which Psyche had been bound) and find no trace at all. Dismayed and uneasy, they search, and find a ruby that Psyche had worn to the sacrifice, some distance away. They find a secret valley, and in it, Psyche.

Chapter 10: Interview between Orual and Psyche, who is alive, well, and happy. She recounts in detail the day of the sacrifice as she lived it. Long after all had departed and left her bound to the tree, the West-wind came and carried her away to the palace of the god, whose bride she was to be. Invisible servants attended her, and at night, in her sumptuous chamber, the god came to her. Orual is incensed and demands to see the palace. Psyche is amazed, saying that they are at that moment standing on the main stairs. Orual see nothing but the mountain meadow.

Chapter 11: Dispute between Orual and Psyche as to the existence of Psyche's palace. Orual accuses Psyche of pretending, but knows it is not so. Psyche will implore her bridegroom, the god, to let Orual see the palace. Orual becomes jealous of the god, for Psyche now belongs to him, not to Orual. Psyche's first loyalty is clearly to her husband-god. Psyche herself, on the god's strict orders, has never seen him, only felt him as he comes to her at night. It begins to rain. Psyche says they are under a porch of the palace; Orual sees the raindrops on her cheeks. Orual tries to force her to come home, but Psyche is too strong. Bardia will not come to help Orual. Psyche sends Orual away, but says she may come again soon.

Chapter 12: Orual bivouacs with Bardia on the ridge over the hidden valley. At night, in the storm and fog, she catches one fleeting glimpse of the huge marble palace the god prepared for Psyche, -- then doubts her own eyes, then doubts the doubt. On the journey home Orual asks Bardia his option, but he is noncommittal. He doubts that Psyche is mad or lying; as the the affairs of the gods, it is not for him to say. Orual thinks Psyche may be the bride of a monster, resolves even to kill her, if necessary, to save her from such desecration. She will sacrifice even Psyche's obvious happiness.

Chapter 13: The Fox gives Orual a rational explanation of the whole thing. Psyche is with some vagabond on the mountain, who found her so crazed, tied to her tree, that he could seduce her and make her believe anything; Psyche is fantasizing. They resolve that Psyche must be brought away, but the Fox will have none of Orual's plan to kill Psyche, if necessary to save her honor. Alone, Orual prays to the gods for a sign, and receives none. Bardia's and the Fox's two explanations seem mutually contradictory to her. In her conflict her generous self says not to meddle, anything might be true, leave Psyche to her happiness. But her possessive love wins out: she must be stern.

Chapter 14: Since Bardia must guard the palace while the King is lion-hunting, Orual is accompanied on her second trip up the mountain by the taciturn Gram. She finds Psyche and the dispute begins again. When Psyche will not obey her command to return, Orual thrusts her dagger through her arm, warning that next time she will kill herself, -- and Psyche too. This threat becomes the blackmail by which she gets Psyche to agree to disobey her god and look at his face that very night by the light of the lamp.

Chapter 15: Camping on the ridge with Gram, Orual sees Psyche's lamp across the valley. Then, as the god awakes, the storm breaks loose, the palace crumbles, all nature rages. The god appears and speaks to Orual, telling of Psyche's unhappy fate now, and of Orual's own fate. Orual cannot find Psyche, only hear her go off weeping into exile. Orual sees all the gods as her enemies.

Chapter 16: Orual home again, the Fox chides her bitterly for what she did, she withholding only the coercion of the self-wounding. Time passes. The King makes Orual help the Fox with secretarial duties. She becomes a good swordsman under Bardia's guidance. The King has a bad accident and falls into his last illness. At the same time the old Priest of Ungit is dying, and his place is taken by Arnom. Orual assumes the duties of Queen even before her comatose father quite dies. She has Bardia's loyalty, and drives a hard bargain with Arnom, securing also his.

Chapter 17: Trunia, at war with his brother Argan for the throne of Phars, takes refuge in Glome. Orual makes him prisoner and sends word to Argan that the matter should be decided by a single combat: an unnamed champion (to be Orual herself) to fight for Trunia's life, Argan to fight against him. If Trunia's champion wins, Trunia takes the throne of Phars and is Glome's friend; if Argan wins he may take back Trunia to do as he wishes, and so will not have cause to wage war against Glome. Bardia's and the Fox's amazement that Orual should plan to be the champion herself. She is already thinking like a queen.

Chapter 18: Bardia has Orual kill a pig as a preparation for the killing of her man. She frees the Fox, who first thinks of returning to Greece, then decides to stay with Orual. Orual visits Trunia in his cell, and they arrange for him to marry Redival if all goes well in the single combat. The King dies.

Chapter 19: Orual kills Argan in clean single combat, and feasts the officers of the force from Phars. Orual's loneliness when Bardia, saying that the day's work is over, begs leave to return to his wife and children. Orual, who loves both Bardia and Psyche, imagines herself married to Bardia, having Psyche for her daughter. Then she uses wine to banish sorrow.

Chapter 20: Many years pass, with Orual a wise and valorous Queen of Glome. She avoids too many foreign wars. She saves Bardia's life in an ambush, killing seven of the enemy. She never removes her veil, which she had first put on after the banishment of Psyche by her god. She hangs Batta and frees Poobi; she enobles the Fox and Hellenizes her court somewhat. The Fox dies, and after his funeral Orual resolves to go on along trip in foreign lands. All is in good order in Glome; Bardia and Arnom can run it.

Chapter 21: In Phars, Orual agrees with Trunia that his second son, Daaran, will be the King of Glome when Orual dies. In Essur she comes upon a shrine, whose priest tells her that it is for a new goddess, called Istra. He then relates the story of the goddess, who is indeed Istra who was Psyche, but the story is all mixed up and different in many details from the facts as Orual knew then from personal acquaintance with them. It is the classic story of Psyche, as told in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, but with local barbarian names replacing those of Psyche, Aphrodite, Eros, etc...When Orual hears how garbled the story has become she resolves to write her own, true account of it all. Worst of all, for her, is the part that has her able to see Psyche's palace, and so believe in it, but wishing to destroy Psyche's happiness anyway, because she is jealous of her. She, Orual, had been jealous of Psyche? -- impossible! Thus she brings her book to its first close, bitter against gods, convinced that they are only noxious to man, and doubting that they themselves have the answers to any of her questions.

Book II, Chapter 1: Old and weak Orual takes up her book again. The embassy of the King of Persia comes. The ambassador, a hugely fat eunuch, turns out to be Tarin, doing very well in the eastern court. He casts his mind way back, to his affair with Redival, and says that he really did it because he took pity on Redival, she was so unhappy. Unhappy? says Orual. Yes, says Tarin, because after the Fox and Psyche had come, you didn't love her any more. Orual realizes that she had never thought about that aspect of it before. Shortly thereafter Bardia dies, and Orual, going to comfort Ansit, learns from her that Bardia's loyalty to the Queen's service had virtually deprived his wife of his company, all their life long. How could you be jealous of me? says Orual, removing her veil to Ansit; and they are reconciled. But Orual learns that her love for Bardia had seemed very much to Ansit like the love of the Shadowbrute for its victim: a loving that was also a devouring. Orual is left wondering about her affection for Bardia--what had it really been?

Chapter 2: Orual visits the temple of Ungit on the day of the Year's Birth--a great holy day. Back in her room in the palace she has a vision stronger than an ordinary dream. Her father the King returns and takes her underground with him. "Who is Ungit?" he asks. Looking in the mirror, Orual knows that she is. Waking, she thinks to kill herself, but has no strength to wield the sword. She goes to drown herself in the river, but the voice of a god tells her NO.

Chapter 3: She dreams again, wandering in terrifying places. She is taken before a judge and made to read her "complaint against the gods," over and over again. Then she knows that the answer to her complaint is its own absurdity.

Chapter 4: Amid visions of Psyche's tasks and trials, with the wraith of the Fox her Guide, Orual glimpses the Christian redemption arising, from the consummated myths that foreshadowed it, "wet with tears that do not flow in this country."

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