The first person narrative in the ancient kingdom of Glome, a land ruled by a tyrannical king and religious goddess Ungit. Narrated by Princess (later Queen) Orual. The first section of this novel presents itself as an open complaint against the gods, particularly the god of the Grey Mountain, who brought Orual such pain and distress over the years, yet offer no answers or explanations to justify the suffering.
Orual says she had suffered much at the hands of the gods, but what most torments her is the loss of her previous sister Istra (Psyche), in which loss Orual shares responsibility and blame: this loss of Psyche results primarily from Orual's jealously and rage at the gulf dividing herself (non-believer) and Psyche (believer). The second, and much shorter section of the novel, which breaks off with the dying Queen Orual's last utterance, proclaims the Queen's great realizations. She now understands why there can be no answer, no justification, from the gods and her charges against them : "How can they speak to us face to face, she asks, till we have faces?" (TWHF, pg. 201)
Throughout the book Orual expresses her love for Psyche, as well as her fear of loosing Psyche. The sin of jealousy and obsessive love leads Orual to resist yielding to the higher love destined for Psyche, and ultimately to destruction of the object of her love and the hardening of Orual's soul to the point of self-induced misery and guilt for the rest of her days.
Orual first feels the pain of the great gulf after the kingdoms subjects begin to perceive that the Princess Psyche is something more than a mortal, that she is somehow touched by the gods. Her beauty is remarkable, certainly, but it is not only her beauty that convinces the kingdom of her uniqueness. A certain radiance and artless perfection seem to emanate from the young women. The sick soon begin flocking in hordes to the palace gates to be touched by the "goddess". Psyche is praised and revered throughout the kingdom. Until, that is, the harvests turn meager ad the masses look for a scapegoat. Only one answer presents itself: a blood sacrifice. A perfect sacrifice. Psyche, the princess, the goddess. Orual raves in protest, nearly mad with pain, and falls into a temporary state of senselessness over the impending sacrifice of her beloved sister.
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...shadow. We toiled together over those burning sands, she with her empty bowl, I with my book of poison." (TWHF, pg.300)
In the end, however, Orual is allowed some comfort and redemption. She learns that Psyche has felt little emotional distress and anguish over the years, that her pain has all been of the physical variety. Orual instead has borne all the anguish. Orual learns as well, with her last breath, why the gods give no answer to her accusations, why these is no explanation for her suffering here in this world. "I know now, Lord, why you utter now answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions doe away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against the words. Long did I hate you, long did I fear you." (TWHF, pg. 301)
Here ends Queen Orual's "life's work", which she has realized, is itself the answer to her questions: "To have have heard myself making [the complaint] was to be answered." (TWHF, pg.294)
The Queen's body, still clutching the scroll is discovered by a priest, and the scroll is placed in the temple for safekeeping until it can be transported to the cultural and intellectual Mecca of Greece.
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