“Lewis' autobiography is just as entertaining and enlightening as most of his other works, and has the added bonus of revealing his own history, which has contributed so much to his thought. Surprised by Joy plots his early childhood, his school years, his attraction to atheism and the intellectual consolidation of that position, his pupilage under William Kirkpatrick (here called "Kirk" or "The Great Knock"), his days at Oxford and his stint fighting in World War I, and his final, gradual, and extremely reluctant "almost purely philosophical" conversion, first to Absolute Idealism (the belief that we, and nature, are only fragmented appearances of the Absolute), then to Theism (the belief that some sort of God exists), and finally to Christianity. It is in these final few chapters that Lewis really shines his brightest -- or, as he would probably prefer to put it, that a light from beyond the world most clearly shines through him; though the earlier chapters are both entertaining and insightful as well. In one chapter alone ("Light and Shade"), Lewis attacks the moral obsession against homosexuality prevalent in his and our time, and debunks the economic theory of history and society. Also brilliant, to me, are his contrasts of the flavors of different mythologies: the "cold, piercing appeal', the 'stony and fiery sublimity' of Norse, the 'green, leafy, amorous, and elusive world' of Celtic, the 'Mediterranean and volcanic, the orgiastic...but not strongly erotic', the 'harder, more defiant, sun-bright beauty' of Greek.
Perhaps the most interesting and captivating themes in the book is that of Joy, which is sharply different from either pleasure or happiness, and is a technical term for the elusive and transitory, almost romantic desire that we at times feel, an aching, burning desire for...we know not what, brought on by a sudden glimpse of a beautiful landscape, the sudden memory of our past, a suddenly heard piece of music. And Lewis' journey to find out what Joy really is, what it really longs for, and what it really points to, is in many ways the story of his life. As he wrote elsewhere, "The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things -- the beauty, the memory of our own past -- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited." ”