“Surprised by Joy is C.S. Lewis' "sort of" autobiography. In the book, he traces his early childhood through his conversion to Christianity while teaching at Oxford.
This year has been a year of C.S. Lewis for me personally. He's an author that I've admired for years, but only because of the admiration that other authors (whom I enjoy) have for him. Admittedly, I had never finished any C. S. Lewis book (with the exception of the first two Narnia books when I was a kid) until this year. Now I've finished five. Because of my current interest in Lewis, I read with great interest this autobiography of his early life and conversion.
Surprised by Joy is by far the most rapturous of Lewis' writing that I've encountered so far. His description of the English and Irish countryside is superb, his story is so far removed from my own that his story is other-worldly, and the depth of his understanding of literature and philosophy is inspiring. Lewis is at the same time both wonderful for his imagination, and wonderful for his understanding of complex ideas. He was a man who felt deeply and thought deeply. A pattern I would like to mimic in my own life.
The conversion of C. S. Lewis is beautiful. It is a story that unfolds slowly through the book. God first began to capture his heart through small glimpses of "Joy" in both literature, music, and nature. As Lewis sought to recapture this "Joy" it fled from him, proving unattainable time and again. Joy would reappear, unexpected, throughout his life, and eventually became a clue that helped point him towards the God he most desired to believe did not exist. His conversion, unlike many, was gradual and slow. God pursued and broke through the barriers in Lewis' mind until he could no longer deny His existence.
My favorite sentence in the book is, "The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation" (219). In this quote, Lewis betrays the miracle that the Spirit performed on his heart in bringing him to Christ. He did not want God to be real, and God's pursuit of him seemed at times "hard," but it was in fact "kindness." Jesus' pursuit of Lewis' seemed to be compulsive, but it proved to be liberating. This description is beautiful, and reminds me of what I felt at seven years old, when God drew me to Himself.
I love this book. It inspires me to read classic literature, enjoy the beauty all around me, think hard about God, and feel emotion fully. Surprised by Joy is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand Lewis, and it is by far my favorite Lewis book so far.
“Interesting, but not what I expected. More philosophical jargon than I am used to. Only recommended for C.S. Lewis fans or those into philosophy.”Tricia R wrote this review Thursday, April 8, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Interesting and engaging, as Lewis always is, though I wouldn't go so far as inspiring.”K.M. Weiland wrote this review Tuesday, February 16, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Wonderful!”Patricia K wrote this review Monday, January 4, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“A gem. I wish I owned this book. One of the few biographies I've read.”Leith H wrote this review Tuesday, December 29, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Wonderful. It sheds so much light on all of his books and philosophies, and shows so deeply the influence and plan that God has in each of our lives.”Josh D wrote this review Friday, November 27, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“An interesting look at the early life and Christian conversion of C.S. Lewis. Read for a university course on "contemporary Christian thinkers."”James C wrote this review Saturday, October 24, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Sadly, I can barely recall this book, but I do remember really enjoying reading it and being edified by it.”Gone and will hopefully not return wrote this review Wednesday, May 26, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“As usual, Lewis enlightened me to stuff that I'd never thought about. This one is not so entertaining as informative. It is not a novel, but a bit of a memoir of Lewis' own conversion to Christianity. I confess, his rational is often over my head.”phil m wrote this review Monday, September 21, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“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." ”