Classic Myths Never Get Old, Ep. 216

By The Librarian Is In
May 5, 2022

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[ Music ]

[Frank:] Bonjour [brief laughter]. Guten tag? Is that German? Hello, and welcome to The Librarian Is In, the New York Public Library's podcast about books, culture and what to read next. I'm Frank.

[Crystal:] And I'm Crystal.

[Frank:] Hi.

[Crystal:] Hello.

[Frank:] Hello [brief laughter].

[Crystal:] Like, hello.

[Frank:] Here we are.

[Crystal:] [multiple speakers] a little later in the day, so I'm -- I need this caffeine.

[Frank:] Yeah. I know. We just did like a caffeine run, and I was thinking, "Coffee is such a crutch sometimes," like I don't really need more coffee, but the idea that it's there makes me feel like I can get through life, the next 10 minutes, [singing] for the next 10 minutes, we can handle that.

[ Laughter ]

Come on. It's a great song, actually, from the musical, The Last Five Years. Yeah.

[Crystal:] Oh, okay. Who's in that?

[Frank:] It was an Off-Broadway show, and then it became a movie with Anna Kendrick.

[Crystal:] Okay.

[Frank:] Really good. It's all sung. It's about a breakup. It's about a -- I've talked about this before. [brief laughter] it's about a breakup -- because I was obsessed with it when it first came out. And it goes forward in time with her point of view, and backwards in time from his point of view. And so they both meet -- alternating scenes are her view, his view. So her view starts off at the end of the relationship, his view starts at the beginning, and then they progress. They meet in the middle and then tears ensue at the end.

[Crystal:] Oh, that's interesting. I didn't know that there was this weird time element to it. It actually makes me more inclined to watch it.

[Frank:] Yeah.

[Crystal:] Like weird timelines.

[Frank:] And they each have a song that it's almost all sung. They tell their part of the story. But that's that song, the next 10 minutes, that line, [singing] the next 10 minutes, we can handle that. Because he's basically saying to her, you know, "We can handle, emotionally, our next 10 minutes. And then if we get through the next 10 minutes, can I ask you for another 10 minutes?" It's just -- it's sort of like this how difficult relationships are, and emotions, and he's just having the moment where he's saying, like, "Just get through the next 10 minutes." It's so sweet, it makes me cry, because boy, I know it's hard to get through the next 10 minutes, especially with you [multiple speakers].

[Crystal:] I know. [brief laughter] The next 30 to 45 minutes.

[Frank:] And then I'll -- well, I can rein it in a little bit. One of these days when we meet in person, it has to happen. Again, our cues will be such that we won't talk on and on as we do, or I do, really.

[Crystal:] I like it. I like just rambling about --

[Frank:] You're so sweet. [multiple speakers].

[Crystal:] Have you gone and seen a musical in person yet?

[Frank:] Yes, I saw Hadestown.

[Crystal:] You have? Okay, how was it?

[Frank:] I saw Hadestown. It was great, and it's [brief laughter] Coinky-dinky mcflinky. It's a musical based on the myth of Orpheus and you're witnessing where Orpheus has to descend to the underworld to [multiple speakers] the love of his life, Eurydice. And the book I read for today is also a book based on a Greek myth [brief laughter] coink.

[ Laughter ]

Not really, because I'm sort of obsessed with it but there you go. I mean, maybe I did go to this book because I saw the show on Broadway. I do, as you well know and listeners do, because they hang on my every word, love Greek myths and stories that are retold from them. I just -- I think I also mentioned this because my memory is gone, gone, gone, gone. I did a display at the library I'm currently working at before Jefferson Market opens on myths retold, and put on display like Cersei, Autobiography of Red, those -- books like that that current authors are retelling classic myths. Never get old. So actually, well, here we are. [brief laughter]. So I was working at that library and a colleague of mine recommended the book I read which is a book called, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold is the subtitle by C.S. Lewis.

[Crystal:] Okay.

[Frank:] You know, you must know C.S. Lewis, my darling.

[Crystal:] The -- what? The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Yeah.

[Frank:] I was wondering if you -- if I -- when I said that C.S. Lewis, you'd be like, "Oh," and have a story about the Narnia Chronicles.

[Crystal:] I was not a Narnia kid, so --

[Frank:] Well, you know, I read The Line, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It's the only one I read of the trilogy, I guess, four of the Narnia Chronicles. I remember, as a kid, putting it down and thinking, "Well, it was no Wrinkle in Time," because I love --

[Crystal:] -- well, I'm a remember Wrinkle in Time kid. Yes. [brief laughter]. That's funny [multiple speakers].

[Frank:] I never read C.S. Lewis since, and I know he has like a, -- I don't know a lot about him, but I know he was an Oxford professor, and he -- -- converted to Christianity at 30? Like later. He was an atheist and then became Christian, and so a lot of his work is -- has a lot of Christian themes.

[Crystal:] Mm-hmm.

[Frank:] So I just never returned, and then this colleague was like, "Well, did you know one of my favorite books is that myths that are retold called, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis? And it's a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche Myth."

[Crystal:] Oh.

[Frank:] Do you know that myth, my darling? [brief laughter].

[Crystal:] I think I do, but I could be wrong. Was it the one where he was coming to the bed chamber at night, and then she couldn't see his face --

[Frank:] Yes.

[Crystal:] Okay, yeah.

[Frank:] Look at Crystal.

[Frank:] Look, I only know these myths because I was convinced by some colleagues who read. I think Katie Roberts like romance retellings [brief laughter] a lot of like myths, which some are all right, but I think that maybe came up in it [multiple speakers].

[Frank:] What is it? Katie Roberts, you said?

[Crystal:] I think so. It's like romance erotica or something, and I don't know the first -- the first of one was called -- escaped me. I'll have to look it up.

[Frank:] Katie Roberts. Okay. Right. So Cupid and Psyche. So Cupid and Psyche, the myth, like for me, with Hamilton and the other sources is, of course, Psyche is a princess, the youngest of three daughters, who is, of course, gorgeous, beyond belief. And Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty is just like, "Uh-uh, no. Not on my watch. No one more beautiful than me. Uh-uh, no." You know the gods can be petty and vengeful. So she's like, "We got to do something about this beautiful girl because I got to be the only star here, baby." And so she tells her son, Cupid or Eros, the god of love. "You need to deal with this." [brief laughter]. "You need to get this girl." I -- you know, I forgot for a second because the retelling is a little different. "Get her, tie her up, have her be devoured by a giant winged serpent," or something. I mean, it's not as sharp, violently and horribly, just because she's pretty. So -- or Aphrodite thinks so. So then, Psyche is just like, "I'm living my life, loving it and loving it," but then Cupid grabs her, and, but of course, what happens? He falls in love with her because she's so beautiful. And it's weird that Aphrodite didn't sort of see this. I guess she was like, "You're my son. You'll do whatever I say, and we have a very entangled relationship as it is." So he does, and so he takes her to his palace and he doesn't let her see him, because if Psyche sees Cupid, she'll know he's a god and the jig'll be up. So she just says, "We will be in love forever, but you can't ever see me." So he comes to her at night and blah, blah, blah. So she's very happy, all right? [brief laughter]. Like, let's not judge here, even though it sounds a little dicey. And then Psyche's sisters, two other princesses come to visit and they're like, "Oh, lovely palace. Better than mine. I married a prince and it's not anywhere near this," and they're, like, all petty and evil and horrible. And they're just like, "Ha ha," so when they leave, they're like, sister to sister like, "We got to bring Psyche down. This isn't working." So they tell Psyche, "You know what? You're probably sleeping with this crazy maniac who's going to kill you, and -- or a nutcase, or, I don't know," whatever. Some terrible thing, some murderer. "So you need to light a lamp and take a look at this dude and just figure out what's happening with -- and just see him." And they leave and I guess they're intending that she will be killed by him, and now I can't -- this -- they'll -- something about myths, too. They give you these great driven plots, but they don't really get psychologically deep or motive deep. A lot of it's just like, "Oh, Aphrodite changed her mind, and everything is fine." So --

[Crystal:] And they shift a lot with the different people who are telling stories, which --

[Frank:] -- absolutely.

[Crystal:] -- is kind of the great things about myths.

[Frank:] Exactly. So Psyche does come into the bed chamber and with a gas -- an oil lamp and sees Eros, and she's like, "Oh my god, he's gorgeous. He's gorgeous." She's like, "I'm so happy," and then some of the oil in the lamp spills on Cupid and Eros, and he wakes up and goes, "You looked at me," and he flees. And then Psyche is pitched into a lifetime of torment and punishment. And that's sort of the myth. And then the Till We Have Faces is a retelling of that myth, and what do you think C.S. Lewis does in his retelling? He retells the story of Cupid and Psyche from the point of view of one of those sisters.

[Crystal:] Okay, interesting. That's kind of like The Chosen and the Beautiful, right? Where it was like not the main character? The side character? Yeah.

[Frank:] Jordan Baker, and Great Gatsby. So because C.S. Lewis, I think, was like, "Why were they so mean? Why were they so awful to Psyche when --" So just, you know, you could have said they're just jealous and they're not nice, but he was curious about that and wanted to investigate it. So he basically tells the story through the eyes of the oldest sister, who's named Orual, or Orial, O-R-U-A-L, Orual. I've heard it pronounced different ways, so Orual, and she tells the story. And she's, apparently, in this -- the words of the story, very unattractive and ugly. Whatever. I -- every time I see the word ugly, I'm always like, "What does that really mean?" But you know, the king, her father, treats her like horribly. He's just like, "Yeah, your face is pretty run to the core, like yuck," and then pulls her hair, and he's just not a nice guy. He is a complete tyrant. I mean, talk about world-building. I mean, this was written in 1956, and in the first 20 pages, you get sexism, looksism, ageism, slavery. I mean, the king, -- one of the young boy slaves, right there, slavery, dropped something in his chamber, and the king just stabs him to death. Like, -- well, he actually just goes -- with a knife, and the boy drops dead. And that's just like to show what a tyrant he is in the book, but like when I was reading it, I was like, all these issues like flying in my face that we discussed today about what slavery and equal rights and human rights. And right away, it's just like an awful world that exists.

[Crystal:] Mm-hmm. Does C.S. Lewis kind of address those issues at all, or just kind of puts them out there?

[Frank:] Well, see. That's an interesting thing. I mean, Orual is a princess and she does become queen. And she's very powerful, so there is that, but a lot of these -- the slavery issue and a lot of other issues are not -- it's -- I just think of it by the end of it, because what the message of the book was when I read it and thought about it, I was like, "How would that translate to today?" And I was like, "C.S. Lewis, and the Greeks too, or the ancients just looked at, in some ways, I'm sure --" not our -- no, wait, not everyone thought the same thing. There were a lot of people against these things. Not everyone was like, "Yes, slavery is what it is," but they there were people who didn't believe in it and thought it was wrong from the beginning of time. But also from the beginning of time, slavery existed, so he doesn't question it. It's like very hierarchical. And I did think about how myths are often told with aristocracy, usually like princesses and kings, and I think maybe for the audience, it was just like we watch Real Housewives. It's like you watch rich people do crazy things and learn from them. The regular peasant, so called, is not involved until later. Yeah, that's an interesting thing. I mean, I think the hierarchy is so observed that not everyone is considered equal, but yet in the book -- well, yeah, the -- actually, the king himself -- I don't think you'd still like the king at all. And Orual, when she's Queen, does free some slaves, for what it's worth. He does -- someone, -- a philosopher at one point says, "But King, we're all of one blood," and the king says, "I would hope not," like, "I hope we're different." Like I -- you know, because you're a slave. And that philosopher, actually, who teaches Orual and her sisters is a Greek slave. And it's mentioned later that he says, "Well, I was a pretty, you know, fairly well-known guy in Greece, and I guess my children have forgotten all about me," like because he became enslaved, and from a war. And now he's a slave in this northern -- north of Greece country unnamed, or it's called Glome, but it's fictionalized. So anyway, yeah, there was all that for sure. So the story, -- so Orual is the oldest of the sisters and Psyche is the youngest, in the middle is Redival. So Psyche is born and beautiful and lovely. And, you know, Psyche means soul in the ancient Greek, and she's just like pure love and selflessness. And Orual just falls in love with her younger sister and becomes like a mother. Their mother is dead, and the king is just a nasty old king. So she becomes fixated on Psyche as the love of her life. Like she's a mother, a sister. She's a caretaker and she delights in every aspect of Psyche. And then, various things happen in the kingdom, which are very interesting, politically, to watch and very relatable too, today. Like this -- much is made of the mob mentality of the village, like the kingdom, which you can totally equate to Twitter about how everyone is like, "Well, the king had three daughters, there's no son," this, again, here is this, that business. So he must feel like, you know, inadequate, so we're going to be like against him. And then, always what happens in myths and these ancient stories is when something goes wrong in a kingdom, the king decides to do what? Sacrifice, someone's got to be sacrificed because the public will -- wants blood. So there's a bunch of events that happen, but ultimately, Psyche is the one that is going to be chained up, and --

[Crystal:] Always a daughter. Why? [brief laughter].

[Frank:] I know. Right. It's never like, you know, the sort of indifferent looking, middle son. [brief laughter]. It's always like the beautiful, virginal girl. Yeah, well, there's tropes in there as you'll see, like, myths bring up a lot of stuff. So she's going to -- and she's, -- of course Psyche is just like, "Of course, I'll go. I'll sacrifice myself because that's the way it should be, and I'm selfless and loving, and I'll do it -- I'll take one for the team," said Psyche. So she goes, and then like the older myth, Cupid -- she's going to be sacrificed to this -- what everyone thinks is a horrible beast, but it's Cupid. And she's like, "Yay," and then she's taken off and then the sister -- sisters come to visit, and how it gets more psychologically in depth here is that Orual doesn't see the splendor, C.S. Lewis changes this, doesn't see the splendor of Cupid's palace. She meets Psyche who tells her about it. So Orual doesn't believe Psyche. She's -- or if she believes her, she's like, "She's got to be deranged." Like, "Something is wrong here," like she can't be so happy and in love with this guy she can't see, she's -- because that stays the same in the myth. And so she can't see it, so she -- but she just doesn't believe it. And she's just like, "You're, -- this is not going to stand." And so she basically advises her like, you know, "Get an oil lamp and see what this guy is about. He's going to kill you at night. He's -- just can't be good. This cannot be a good thing." And then the same thing happens. The oil spills on him. He sees that Psyche -- Cupid sees that Psyche has seen him and he flees, and then a lot of the narrative begins. And -- -- what ultimately happens, and I'm going to spoil it.

[Crystal:] Mm-hmm.

[Frank:] Everyone's like, "Yeah, okay," and -- is that it's Orual's journey from what is this very selfish love of Psyche, to a very selfless love. And there could -- obviously a lot of Christian, -- I don't think it's an allegory, but a lot of Christian motifs here that are harder for me to pick up. So I'll just tell it as like, -- as I understand it. But there's a great scene after great torment on Orual's part and Psyche's, where she's really writing this whole book, Till We Have Faces as a complaint against the gods for taking Psyche from her. Psyche, her youngest sister was the love of her life and she was taken from her when Orual was just trying to do good by getting her away from this potentially unseen force that she didn't trust for Psyche's love. But as she is making -- and the whole book as a complaint against the gods, and by the end of it, she's sort of at this like tribunal where she's supposed to read this book that she just wrote that and we, the reader, just read. And suddenly, she realized that she's not saying what we just read, she's saying something new, which is basically like, "You, gods, took her away from me. You took her away from me." And it's a very powerful scene where she says this and she realizes at the same time the reader does that she loved Psyche selfishly, that she was simply a manifestation of her own need. She was -- and it's a tough pill to swallow in some ways, because Orual, as she's described, is the unpretty, abused girl. And you would sort of feel like, "Well, she's entitled to reach out for any kind of love she could find," but yet, she's still punished because she's like regardless of what your situation was, your abuse, your physical looks, your societal place, your love for Psyche was the selfish love. You didn't, -- you did not love her for her, you loved her -- or selflessly, you've loved her because she was something you needed to love. And so you made a mistake by taking her away from Cupid, and doing what you did was selfish and punish worthy. That's a big, -- that's a hard deal, I think. And more and more proof is added to it. She has a relationship as a comrade when she's queen with a soldier who is by her side always. And he -- she works him to death, basically. She never wants him to leave his side, even though he has children and a wife, and there is a scene where he -- she go -- after he dies, she goes to his wife, and the wife just says, basically, "You killed him, because he wouldn't ever say no to you as the queen, and you just selfishly kept him." Orual is just stunned beyond belief. And there is a physical, -- interesting physical thing that happens that Orual does. She decides to be veiled for her life before she becomes queen, she decides to wear a veil covering her face. And it's, -- you think it first of all, because she's so ugly, so called, and this gives her a power of where people don't have to interface with her at all. She's just an entity that's unseen and can be extremely powerful. But what really turns out to be by the end of it is that she is really veiling herself to -- it's after Psyche goes to deny her her real feelings, to deny her real face, to deny her real culpability in Psyche leaving. She doesn't want to address it, and she cuts herself off like that. And at the end, when she rips the veil off, she's revealing her face. And the Till We Have Faces title really refers to how would the gods ever want to -- because a lot of it is like, "Why are the gods doing this to me?" And, you know, the philosopher of slaves says her like, "Well, why would the gods want to interact with us face to face, till we have faces ourselves?" Meaning until we are real, our real, real selves, we cannot interact with a god. And the other thing, which is a tough one too to understand is when she's at this tribunal, and she's like, "Me, me, me," and it's realized that her selfish love of Psyche was the thing that destroyed all of this, the answer, the gods' answer is her question. Meaning, when you say, "Why have you done this to me?" That's the question and the answer. Do you understand what that means?

[Crystal:] No.

[Frank:] I don't either. It's tough, but I -- but when you think about it, it's sort of, like, when you ask the question, "Why is this happening to me?" And they say, "That's the answer," it says, I think, "It lies in you." It doesn't lie in anything external. It lies in you to figure it out, to become self-aware. I mean --

[Crystal:] So the questioning is the answer?

[Frank:] Yeah, I mean, it sounds facile and trite, but it's -- -- it's something you have to contemplate. But it felt like when reading the book that it was some sense of when you get to the point where you're really raising your fist to the heavens, to the external world, like, "World, why are you doing this to me?" That's the beginning of your answer, is that you have to -- because it ends there. You cannot expect an answer if you're not investigating your own problem. And I think the -- I did have a revelation when I read it that was very powerful, and I felt emotionally sort of enlivened, and I sort of comes and goes now. I can grab it and not grab it when it -- and made me realize that that questioning is that you -- she wasn't acknowledging her own selfishness, and I guess this could be a very Christian thing in that it's like you're -- you have to acknowledge your own sin or your own, we would say now, biases, or your own issues, before you can actually even raise the question of, "Why is this happening to me?" Because it's happening in view. And there was sort of like a jolt of like, I was thinking of social media, and I was thinking of the world in which we live, how much of that is made up of, "I'm entitled, I am a good person, I am a worthy person. I deserve so much. I deserve love," and, of course, that sounds very persuasive. And I thought how few times do we see or hear like, "I am a bad person. I am a biased person, I am a selfish person." I mean, for someone to put that out there on social media, let's say, which to this book, is sort of this, -- that you have to do that. You have to say that -- to see that about yourself. To make it even more complicated and hard to understand is that in some ways, it's almost like then you'd say, "Well, all right, so if I acknowledge all my horrible stuff, then I'll be emotionally free and clear, and the gods will look favorably on me." It's like, not really, because self-awareness is not even enough in the book. It's a gift that's given to you. [brief laughter]. It's something that it seems to be like you have to suffer for a lifetime, before you can even be aware that you're being given a gift of selflessness and purity, and all the divine feelings and definitions, and -- that we've read about over the years. And yeah, it's a good read. You know, it's tough though.

[Crystal:] How much of it diverts from the original myth? Or is it like pretty close?

[Frank:] Well, the trials that Psyche is put through after she sees Cupid are similar. It's much more psychologically in depth, and the difference was from the sister's point of view. And so Cupid and Psyche are very much off stage for a lot of it. And it's Orual's sort of ascendance to the queendom, and her relationship with the soldier and her wars, and her actually, goodness. Like she does -- she's a really good queen, and that she frees slaves, she wins wars, the country is prosperous, but it has nothing to do with her inner soul. She still has a selfish, angry love about Psyche and the loss of her, and still blames the gods. So she can do good, but she's still not a fully divine person. She's not a -- that's not the right word, a fully -- I don't know what the religious term would be, but like a redeemed individual or cleansed of sin, until she realizes that she was the one at fault the whole way through. It was her own selfishness that devoured the people she said she loved. And so there's a lot there. I mean, again, always asking the big questions, always reading the books with the big question. C.S. Lewis is pretty intense, I got to say. You know, I almost -- I think I even read somewhere that some people originally even thought before they knew it was C.S. Lewis, that it was written by a woman because the woman is -- I mean, for all the issues I mentioned before that we would take issue with today, there is a full psychological portrait of this woman's in her life that seems very authentic, and her journey to her soul.

[Crystal:] I did find the book series that is also like a retell, which I'm kind of wondering to the connection between these retelling and like modern day fan fiction, if there is an overlap there. But the author I mentioned was Katee Robert not Katie Roberts, and it's the dark Olympus series and the first one is neon gods which is the Persephone, which is very popular. I feel like I read so many Persephone retellings recently like Lore Olympus, and the second book in the series is called Electric Idol and I think that one is the Eros and Psyche one.

[Frank:] You said Katee Roberts?

[Crystal:] Katee Robert without the S.

[Frank:] Oh.

[Crystal:] I think there's a big following of Katee Robert, like a lot of fans and this particular -- oh, with two Es.

[Frank:] Yeah.

[Crystal:] I know I'm not the best person to like sell these books [brief laughter]. I know I'm not like as much as a fan as some of my colleagues, some people that you know, but I think each book in the series focuses on a different myth. And it's like mostly based on the romantic relationships. I don't think they're so much of the inner thoughts. I think I had -- like my complaint about Electric Idol, which I, -- again, people I know, love it, rave about it, thinks it's the best book ever. It is like, yeah, in the original myth is Eros, right, is essentially Aphrodite's son?

[Frank:] Yeah.

[Crystal:] And it's his excerpt. So in Electric Idol, he is, in my opinion, essentially a murderer [brief laughter] and the fact that --

[Frank:] Who?

[Crystal:] Eros is a murderer. Like he kills the rivals of his mother, right?

[Frank:] Well, I did -- there have been myths told where Aphrodite and Eros, her son, have a very intense relationship, and some people question like how far some poets would retell that story.

[Crystal:] Well, on this one, I don't know this modern-day Electric Idol. I don't think it -- well, it's intense enough that like she essentially orders him to kill people and he does do so and is about to kill Psyche, but doesn't. And then the romantic relationship forms and three, -- for me, I'm just like, I don't find that romantic to like be in love with a murderer, but I don't know. Maybe it's a thing.

[Frank:] I mean, that's a good that's a good point, though, because like we touched on it at the beginning is that when you start reading this book Till We Have Faces. I mean, I wrote a note saying something, like I said before, like, "Wow," it's like, you know, slavery and abuse and sexism, like all in the first couple of pages that are not really, -- you know when you're reading it, these are not the issues he's going to be discussing, really. They're just part of the world in which you're living, -- in which you're reading about, and I was thinking how they stand out when you're reading it in terms of all the dialogue today about their own lives. So I hear you.

[Crystal:] Mm-hmm.

[Frank:] But you -- that's -- so that's Katee Robert, okay. She's more like a romance, like erotic romance.

[Crystal:] I think so. Yes. I think so. I think my biggest complaint about the books, and again, not to diss all the fans [brief laughter] out there because there are a lot of them, is just the world building is, I think it's missing something I want if there is going to be this retelling of like the Persephone myth, and it's set in this kind of modern-day underworld situation. I feel like it didn't really fill that world for me, you know? And I read more like maybe some of her previous works, where she was just contemporary romance. But I feel like maybe the book that you suggested does do some of that [brief laughter] in more interesting ways. Maybe I need to check that out instead.

[Frank:] Yeah. I definitely think it's definitely something worth reading for the ideas and for the emotions it brings up. And you could certainly have questions about how it builds the world, and you can't deny that the world existed in some form like that. It did. It absolutely did, but whether somebody really wants to read that or not is another question. It does go off in different directions. It really goes into the issues of the soul. [brief laughter]. Of anyone's soul. But that's not what you came here to discuss, Katee Robert.

[Crystal:] [brief laughter] No. I was going to say another thing too, which was like my, -- I also, -- when we're discussing or describing the book, you've also made me think about like morality things and stuff, especially with Cupid's and/or Eros', seems like you don't know which was the correct name. And the idea of like, -- I think when I first read it, it felt like it was a moralities story in the sense of like not the betraying your husbands, and it also reminded me a lot of like a current modern day romance thriller movies, where they're really about, -- you know, have you seen stuff like that, like, The Perfect Guy, Unforgettable, the Session. [brief laughter].

[Frank:] I know.

[Crystal:] There's a whole sub-genre of them. But if you watch enough of them, you start to realize that the message is when the woman like strays outside her marriage, or hooks up with a guy like a random stranger, it turns out that guy is obsessed with you, wants to kill you. [brief laughter] Things like that. And I think it says interesting things about maybe society and like what it means to be a woman and stuff like that. Anyways, I just feel like it's kind of an interesting reflection of that. And I wondered if some of that kind of morality stuff when it came to marriage and relationships also came out in this -- in your book.

[Frank:] That's interesting. I never -- it's funny. By the end of it, I've never thought of Orual's issue as the -- as related to her gender. This seemed to be completely a, -- to me, at least when I was reading it, that this is any person, at all. That's what was interesting about it, and I think why some people thought it was written by a woman because it didn't seem to be like, "Oh, you're being punished because you're a woman," it was -- she was punished because she was selfish and unaware. And therefore, didn't do really nice things because of her lack of awareness of her own self. And I'm always talking about like where we're culpable in our own relationships, and it seems to be the hardest thing. Maybe that's -- that is why it's one of the big questions is that it's one of the hardest things to acknowledge where you've done damage. It's so -- it seems like much more easy or common to say, "I was a victim," and, certainly, people are. I mean, they're -- it's not one or the other, but it's sort of that personal thing about where and why that's important. I wonder, -- it seems very important to me, and now, I wonder why because it is painful and I don't know what the result really is in terms of a non-religious view of it. If you do do that, are you freeing yourself? Or are you just destroying yourself? I mean, it could hurt -- destroy someone to realize, "I did a terrible thing, and I didn't even think of it that way." I mean, ultimately, it's your own decision, though. I mean, that's, -- I was thinking about this on the way and it's like sometimes I wish there were gods, you know, up there in some way that I could really say, "Okay, then if I really do this, then I will get your favor." But then, part of the god thing is that it's not about quid pro quo. It's not about like, "If I do this, I'll get eternal life if I do this," or at least according to C.S. Lewis, it's not that.

[Crystal:] Not transactional.

[Frank:] Right, it's not transactional. It's much deeper than that. That's why it's hard to grasp because it's very, -- when you start thinking about yourself, then you start realizing you're in that narrative of, "Okay, go. Okay, if I do this, I will -- then I'll get that." There's one point in the book where Orual is making just that decision about herself. She's like, "All right, I get it. I'm selfish. I'm not going to do this anymore," and then she basically describes how in the first half hour of waking up, she's already snapped at the maid, she's already thrown something across the room at a tribunal about a war. She's like, "I'm already losing my temper. I'm already getting crazy here. It's like I can't even maintain this for like one half hour." And how real is that for us? Like when we try to change or, -- you know, that's why it's so hard to grasp. It's like with Anna Karenina and Levin, his story when he comes to face the end. It's -- and the fact that I said before, it's not like something that if you do, you'll get. It's a gift to be given, but our souls have so much pride, C.S. Lewis says, we find that gift hard to accept. What does that mean? It's beautiful. I don't know. Maybe the whole thing is just trying.

[Crystal:] Definitely better than the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you would reckon?

[Frank:] I don't even remember. I read that so long ago. Oh, yeah. It's, yeah, an ongoing journey. The journey of life. [singing] Doo doo doo doo doo doo.

[ Laughter ]

[Crystal:] Where is that from?

[Frank:] Like, any cartoon we grew up with. [brief laughter].

[Crystal:] No, it's from -- is it from Mario? The game?

[Frank:] I think it's in a lot of things. It's in a video game form? Sure.

[Crystal:] That sounds -- [singing] Doo doo doo doo doo doo.

[Frank:] Like a laugh and -- so what did you read, dear?

[Crystal:] So I read quite a few things, because I was on vacation for a couple of weeks, so I had time to catch up on a lot of fun reading. So I was just going to highlight a few of my like top hits from all the books that I read law comics, mostly, right? So I was going to recommend four very quickly. So a couple are upcoming, so they're not out yet. They're going to be out in the fall, and a couple are ongoing comic book series. So those you can pick up, right? So the ones are coming out in the fall, I read this children's book called The Flamingo, a graphic novel chapter book, by Guojing, if I'm pronouncing that correctly. It's a really beautiful well done. If you've seen her arts before, I think -- what was with the [inaudible]? Oh, The Only Child which is a beautifully drawn picture book about a young boy who gets lost and then goes on this kind of like magical journey and eventually finds his way home. Oh, sorry. It's a little girl that gets lost and finds her way home. And it's a -- it's an entirely wordless picture book. This one is a graphic novel --

[Frank:] Like Owly.

[Crystal:] Which one?

[Frank:] [brief laughter] like Owly.

[Crystal:] I don't know that one.

[Frank:] It's a children's graphic novel, Owly, about a little owl and I thought it was so amazing [multiple speakers]. I was like, "It's so cute." Owly.

[Crystal:] I don't know. There's so many -- I kind of am like weirdly into picture books [brief laughter] recently. I don't know why. But there's some really beautiful arts that has been done, and this one is another one. I highly recommend it. It's about a little girl who visits her grandmother, and then there's like this flamingo, but I think it's a great metaphor for like letting go of family members who need to like emigrate or move to other places, and then they come back and connect. So that one's really well done. And that's going to be out in September. Another one that I read was Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra. And that one is, I would say, a middle grade to younger adults graphic novel about a girl named Marlene who has like really frizzy hair, and is kind of bullied for it, made fun of because of her hair and wants to have good hair like her cousins, right? And then she kind of has to go on this journey of like self-acceptance and love and figuring out her own hair. And she has some like great role models that help her through that process --

[Frank:] But does she also acknowledge her own badness?

[ Laughter ]

Like Orual has to. When you said the journey of self -acceptance -- no, I'm kidding.

[Crystal:] I think she does a little bit. I think she recognizes -- she does do certain things that kind of defies her mother who wants her to have like so called the tear because of her own history of being bullied and treated a certain way, because her hair wasn't straight. And so I feel like that one was -- that's a great book that's coming out in October, from First Second. And then the two comic book series I want to recommend that are currently ongoing. The first one was the Nice House on the Lake. I think Volume 1 is out by James Tynion IV, and Alvero Martinez Bueno. That one's kind of like a horror comic, right, where a group of people are essentially invited to a house by their mutual friend, Walter. And then when they're at the house, they realize that they've been invited there for a reason. The world is basically collapsing around them, but they've been chosen to be saved by Walter who appears to be maybe an alien. [brief laughter] and they have to kind of discover what that reason is. So this is just the first one. It was like really interesting, very engaging. I think people, if they've read the Department of Truth, that comic book series, I think they'll absolutely enjoy this one. And then the other one, series I was going to recommend was Once & Future, I think Volumes 1 through 4 are out and that's by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora. And that one reminds me a lot of fables if people have read that's, I think, a 23 -- 22 to 23 Volume comic book series where it integrates a whole lot of folklore and fables like Little Red Riding Hood being one of the central ones, and it kind of retells that, which relates to your book, and this one deals with the Arthurian legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, set in present day. And that legend starts to kind of coalesce in a lot of different ways. And then an older woman and her grandson has to go and try to like defeat King Arthur and all this other stuff. And it's really interesting. I think it's really well done. The art is a lot of fun and there's a lot of great action in it. So yeah, I highly recommend that one. Those are my four.

[Frank:] They're all children, middle grade, graphic novels.

[Crystal:] No, two are adults. The last two, Once & Future and the Nice House on the Lake are two adults. Definitely adults. [brief laughter]. They're not [multiple speakers], but older teens if they want to read it and it's probably fine, but yeah.

[Frank:] I was just thinking the -- I was, when you were talking, I was thinking, "Oh, I should read more graphic novels," and then I immediately flashed on one I'd read, God, I think this was last -- two years ago maybe, and why -- Sit was based on Beowulf.

[Crystal:] Mm-hmm. Oh, Beowulf is in Once & Future.

[Frank:] Oh, really? Okay, because I just [multiple speakers].

[Crystal:] Beowulf shows up, Grendel shows up. All sorts of things are showing up.

[Frank:] I always crawl back to the classics, I don't know. I just crawl back. I want to -- I guess I do like reading and thinking about works that were written many, many, many, many years ago to see what seems to still persist like the same questions, the same issues, the same behaviors. Somehow, I need confirmation that we're as human then as we are now. And also what seems to be an eternal problem for human beings. I don't know, I suddenly feel spent from like the idea of it because it's like, -- you know, I was all ready to read a rom-com, because I keep saying, "I have to read something lighter," and then that colleague was like, "Oh, C.S. Lewis wrote a retelling of Cupid and Psyche." I was like, "That's it." I have to read it. [brief laughter].

[Crystal:] Okay. I want to go back to your comment where you said, the -- what did you say? The thing about like humanity, that the questions that we're always trying to answer, I was thinking about that for a couple of the other books, like especially, I think, young adult books, like there's always this question of like self-identity, acceptance within society that it always seeks to answer, and I think that's what defines a lot of young adult books. And I think in the Flamingo, I think the idea of connection in some way, right, and that one was a generational connection, or communication, or finding ways to communicate. I don't know. It was an interesting question or interesting thought that you brought up.

[Frank:] Yeah. I mean, it's like -- I was just thinking when you just said like connection and identity and that's all important, of course, and I was thinking, "Well, what do I want? Like, what do I --" Then what am I reading these things for? And I think of the first thing that popped in my head was like, "I want a sense of freedom, a feeling of freedom," and it's not like, "Don't bother me, or don't legislate me," even though of course, that's the day-to-day reality, we need to do deal with that. It was sort of like a soul freedom, that my soul feels free, that it doesn't feel and encumbered or in suffer in pain. And I guess, I feel like reading these. A lot of it says it's up to you. I mean, it's up to oneself. But I was, -- like I said before, I was thinking about the messages of this book, at least as I understood them or tried to, trying to understand. Well, you do this journey and it's all well and good, but everybody else has to do it too in some ways, because I was thinking about, you know, how you can feel like analyze your own badness, so called, your own selfishness and then that could free you. But you still have to fight and activise in the world to attain rights in our culture. Like our culture still exists, our society still exists and it doesn't mean just because you free yourself, the society will see you as an autonomous individual, or as a, -- you have to still -- I don't know what I'm saying. I started out trying to say something and I lost it.

[Crystal:] I think that's interesting. I could to relate it to one of the books I brought up. In the, I think, more superficial way doesn't engage with it as deeply I think as you're engaging with it, but in the series Once & the Future, I think there is a lot about how the past kind of rears its head through these legends, right? And because the legends come up, people are almost like forced to take on certain roles like the grandson is personable, one of the nights but basically that becomes his defining role. And then people are going along these paths, because the legend has dictated that that's what happens. But they're also trying to like break out of it in different ways, like to break free of the past so they can go forward into the future and stuff. But I don't know, maybe that's one that you would enjoy, just some lighthearted reading.

[Frank:] Yeah, I think what I got bollixed up about is that it's actually -- really what the book I read is about soul freedom, like soul suffering and the lack of it, and not to do with societal morays and rules. Because she was the queen and she ran the country very well, but yet, in her own soul, she was still suffering. Like personal salvation, I guess. And then there's a whole other world out there as well, but I guess the core of it is that big question of personal salvation, [multiple speakers].

[Crystal:] She's [inaudible].

[Frank:] She dies. [brief laughter].

[Crystal:] Okay, never mind.

[Frank:] But she dies, you know, with that revelation known that she was selfish, and she abases herself to Psyche and realizes that she always hated the gods, but it was herself that she had to counsel and come to terms with. That's why it seems like it's almost that the message is it's a lifelong journey of self-discovery. And that it might never end or it might just end at the moment of death. It's -- It would be interesting to hear a theologian's view of this book. You know, like someone who is conversant in Christian, you know, tenets.

[Crystal:] No, I mean, they do have like, so for them. I think that's a really interesting idea. And then maybe think if I've ever read a book that actually has that, where maybe they acquire it by the end. And I doubt they have, really. I feel like people always get kind of dragged down into, I don't know, something else. Might be interesting to read the book where it does that effectively. And I'm not counting like memoirs or biographies where -- or not biographies, but more like autobiographies where people kind of suggest that but it doesn't really feel believable, because --

[Frank:] Right. Well, that's a good point, because that's such a narrative of memoirs and autobiographies that, you know, you write and when you actually can end with them saying, "And I realized that blah, blah, blah," now I'm a person, I'm a full, fully person. And, you know, you're two years later, that person was like arrested for spousal abuse or something. [brief laughter]. But -- -- just lost the thread, but that was -- you just -- about -- I forgot. I got caught up in the --

[Crystal:] I think what we were saying about how like it seems like it's a never ending journey, where like, it doesn't really happen, that kind of freedom, I guess I'm less than that, like in the book or something. But those are the books I have read, where it does really resonate, where people are trying to search for that. And they -- it is -- they never truly find it, but it is that journey that becomes really interesting, and resonance, because I think people are going through that, you know?

[Frank:] Right. I mean, it's that -- what I can equate it with is that, you know, that trope of when someone comes to faith, or someone has a conversion, and they're just like, "Christ is the way," or they seen so completely suffused with this revelation of faith. And I was trying to think of that in so called layman's terms, like, what if someone doesn't want to say Christ or say God or say these things? What would they say? And what would that feeling be equitable to? Because we know that type, like, you know, of someone who is suddenly like does seem to have radically changed in terms of their, you know, self-view and lack of suffering and that they've discovered religion of some sort. Without using those words, I mean, I'm always like, "What's the word?" Right, word for it. And it was an interesting self-conversation because I was like, "I don't know. I don't know what that would be." I mean, I think, you know, without using terms like gods, or, you know, Aphrodite or Jupiter and Christ and be like, "What would it be like?" It's something external, and I was trying to think about that because I in some ways I think like that externality is really in your head, is within our human heads. It just suddenly the world sometimes seems so incredibly beautiful, or so incredibly difficult that we feel like it has to be outside of us. It just has to be, and maybe -- [brief laughter]. Sorry. Wow, well, we're not going to solve that. I'd love to hear people's comments on this, actually, if they've read this book, too.

[Crystal:] I mean, do we have a tarot deck? Maybe the tarot deck will [multiple speakers].

[Frank:] Oh, I don't. You have yours?

[Crystal:] Magic eight ball, we can also get that.

[Frank:] I didn't read any quotes in this book either which I wanted to do but it's too late for that. People will just have to read it but there's -- C.S. Lewis is just one heck of a writer as well. That's for sure. So much in here, like little nuggets. Okay. Tarot deck.

[Crystal:] Okay. Really like feel the aura, Chrissy, of -- because this card is going to have all the answers [multiple speakers].

[Chrissy:] Am I picking for you guys?

[Frank:] Yes, this is going to relate to what we both read, our books about journeys and souls, and how we can --

[Chrissy:] Oh, boy.

[Frank:] -- free ourselves from suffering or --

[Chrissy:] [brief laughter] no pressure.

[Frank:] -- are we doomed to never find the answer? The big questions. You're going to answer all the big questions in other words.

[Chrissy:] The sun.

[Frank:] The sun?

[Crystal:] The sun? I never heard of such a thing.

[Frank:] I hadn't either.

[Crystal:] Tarot deck is so cute. [multiple speakers] tarot deck. Oh.

[Chrissy:] It's called the Cosmic Cycles deck.

[Crystal:] Was it upright or reverse?

[Chrissy:] It was upright.

[Crystal:] Okay, okay, so it's positivity, fun, warmth, success, vitality. The sun tarot card radiates with optimism and positivity. A large bright sun shines in the sky representing the source of all life on Earth. Underneath, four sunflowers grow tall above a brick wall representing the four suits of the minor arcana and the four elements. This is just the description of the card. Okay. [brief laughter]. The sun represents success, radiance and abundance. The sun gives you strength and tells you that no matter where you go, or what you do, your positive and radiant energy will follow you and bring you happiness and joy. People are drawn to you, because you can always see the bright side and bring such warmth into other people's lives. This beautiful warm energy is what will get you through the tough times and help you succeed. [inaudible]. You are also in a position where you can share your highest qualities and achievements of others, radiate who you are and what you stand for, shine your love on those you care about. And if you're going through a difficult time, the sun brings you the message you have been waiting for that things will get better, a lot better. Through the challenges along your path, you discovered who you are and why you're here. Now, you are full of energy and zeal for the future and can already perceive success and abundance flowing to you. You are brimming with confidence because you know everything will work out. It always does. Life is good. I don't -- this seems to be the least accurate card we've got. [brief laughter].

[Frank:] Well, you know, you just took me on a journey because like when you first started reading the definition, I was like, "Forget it, that's nothing to do with --" But then when you finished, I realized it directly relates to reopening of my library. And what I was contemplating after reading the C.S. Lewis book is that sometimes working in the library is so stressful, at least for me, in terms of planning and all the issues, and I have to think -- I'm thinking about the capital planning aspects, like all the room furniture, the integrity of the walls, like then the books that have to go on back on the shelf, and the staff which people are the best and worst thing about life in some ways that have come back and am I fair to them? And suddenly it's like overwhelming. And I was thinking about that, like, do I have an ego problem with what I do as a librarian? Like, -- and this question can go out to all librarians, and especially all people in service. It's like, why are you doing this? Is it because of an ego manifestation? I was like, "Do you do it because you get such praise when it works? Or you get such thanks when it works?" Are you doing it selfishly? Are you doing it selflessly? And I was like, "I wonder -- I know there's ego in there. For all of us, there is, for sure. But in terms of alleviating that suffering, sometimes it's just so hard to get through, you know, bureaucratic -- lovely, but bureaucratic institution like a lot of lots are. And all the things I just said. Like, I wonder if I -- I was walking on the street outside the library and somebody -- I heard my name and I immediately clenched up because I thought, "Oh, complaints coming," like, or, "A question about it that I can't answer," or some problem about the reopening. And then I -- after five minutes in the conversation, I was fully relaxed and enjoying it. But I, -- the -- what the -- what I'm saying is why is that my immediate reaction? I think it is something to do with selfishness, in that I feel like I have to be the god of love and sun to everyone and I can't be. And that makes me angry, in a split second. Like I can't be that or I can't feel it. So when you were like, "Enthusiasm --" like going on with, you know, vitality, and you're a source of this, I was like, "I want to be that for myself, too." You know what I mean? Did I just make sense?

[Crystal:] Mm-hmm.

[Frank:] I guess why we do what we do in life, and as a librarian in service, like, it -- just technically, it just sounds like it should be very beautiful. And a very, always lovely thing, but sometimes it hurts and I wonder why. I mean, I'd like to think about it more. But I think the core of it is a sense of ego. I think our sense of selfishness that you want something out of it that shouldn't be there. Then again, self-revelation is a gift. You can't just do with quid pro quo with the gods. So I don't know what to do. Do the best I can.

[Crystal:] Well, the card goes on to say the sun connects you to your power base, not fear-driven egotistical power, but the abundance in your energy radiating through you right now. You will sense it in your solar plexus chakra, which, I don't know where that is, calling you to express yourself authentically and be fully present in the world around you. You have what others want, which I believe and are being asked to repeat your energy your gifts out into the world in a big way. Tap into your power and use your divine will to express that power in positive ways.

[Frank:] Okay.

[Crystal:] Use your power, Frank, for good. Just this once.

[Frank:] So I think our session is over. Thank you, we'll see you next week. Therapy with Crystal and Frank, or therapy for Frank with Crystal. [brief laughter], and the produced -- producer. What?

[Frank:] I was just -- wait. I think you're like in a tough situation, because like just the market is such a like institution in in that area, and you're so well known, and I feel like it just like, -- you know, it feels like everything like reflects onto you, but maybe you should like try to disassociate that. I don't know. I feel like you're very tied into that library in like a great way but also sometimes in a harmful way.

[Frank:] It's the same thing where, you know, people say practice gratitude or kindness. It's like, we have to say that because even though we know we have it so good, and I do, yet why is it always not good? Like, why does he sometimes suffer? And it's interesting.

[Crystal:] Yeah, I think it's also because it's so like tied and suddenly we're not -- like it feels like the pressure increases, too. So like you're dealing with a lot of pressure of expectations and stuff versus like a library that nobody knows about, or, you know, you don't have that [multiple speakers].

[Frank:] It's almost like Psyche, you know, instead of believing in your own goodness, just being goodness. You know what it is like when you sort of say like, "I know I'm doing a good job, so I don't have to worry about that," like but then we do. And it's like I wish I could just be it rather than think about it. You know? There's something in that statement, actually, it's like that's -- in that regard, I could see how it's something that's given to you rather than something you can make happen like, just to be something, it does feel external in some ways. Like it has to come -- that external, -- all right, we got to stop. External stimuli [multiple speakers] feels like it's something outside of you, but it's not, really. It's inside your own head. It's almost offering up to a higher power, maybe inside your own brain or not. All right, we got to stop.

[Crystal:] Maybe for one more guest, we can have a therapist [brief laughter] to help us through all our issues. I actually feel like I do need a therapist [brief laughter].

[Frank:] It's weird because I've been posting on Instagram and marketing and a lot of the visuals that I've been posting people are commenting like, "This is sort of like a horror movie," because I -- and I was wondering if I'm sort of feeling slightly like anxious and, you know, emotional about the library and reopening and all that stuff, to highlight a few.

[Crystal:] You know my -- I brought up before my theory about horror movie is like is that introduction of chaos, that is the thing that unsettles people and not so much like the killing of murder or anything like that. It's the chaotic vibe. Yeah.

[Frank:] And also like, you know, boundaries destroyed, like boundaries that we sort of trust are removed. Which is a big thing like in terms of the gods, too, like what are the boundaries in which I can behave? Or which -- every, all of us should behave and those are broken down. Tell us what we're going to read together.

[Crystal:] Oh, so for our, what, June? Which date was it? [brief laughter].

[Frank:] June 2nd.

[Crystal:] For June 2nd, we are going to be reading the Light from Uncommon Stars by, was that Ryker Aoki?

[Frank:] Yep.

[Crystal:] And that Martha Sci-fi book has, I think, garnered a lot of buzz awards, and was on in White Hills top 10 list of last year. So very excited to read it. And I heard only good things about it from those that I know.

[Frank:] It's considered Sci-fi ish?

[Crystal:] Well, here is a spaceship on the cover, I think, so I'm going to say yeah. [brief laughter].

[Frank:] Well, the Hugo Award finalist. Okay. Among other awards. Okay, a Light -- Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, June 2, we'll be discussing that. If you want to read along, please do. Thank you, Crystal, for that recommendation, and I will look forward to reading it.

[Narrator:] Thanks for listening to the Librarian Is In: A podcast by the New York Public Library. Don't forget to subscribe and leave a review on Apple podcast or Google Play or send us an email at For more information about the New York Public Library, please visit We are produced by Christine Ferrell. Your hosts are Frank Collerius and Crystal Chen.