Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

In the preface to Surprised,  C. S. Lewis states he wrote the book “partly in answer to requests that I would tell how I passed from Atheism to Christianity and partly to correct one or two false notions that seem to have got about.” He continues, saying that the story will only really matter to others that have experienced “Joy” to some degree.  (We will learn what “Joy” is as we go along.)

He explains, right up-front, that the book we are holding in our hands is not the usual, run-of-the-mill autobiography and that writing an autobiography was not even his intent. Saying something like this takes a certain amount of boldness. He becomes even more bold when he explains that it is, instead, the account of his conversion back to Christianity after a period of time as an Atheist. The autobiographical aspect is needed, in his view, to set the stage for his departure from Christianity.

This seems to be a dangerous tack to take – even for a well known writer. It seems dangerous because a prospective reader may read that line and, because he doesn’t want to read about Christianity, put it right back on the shelf. If readers put books back shelves, it takes money out of the publisher’s pocket as well as the author’s.  At the time this was written, however, I suspect neither Lewis nor his publisher were too concerned about the finances.

But one has to appreciate Mr. Lewis’ honesty – and honesty is what we get throughout the book. Honesty and humor.

In the last paragraph of the preface he even critiques his own work, saying it is “suffocatingly subjective; the kind of thing I have never written before and shall probably never write again.” I, for one, am glad he wrote it and that it is subjective, because it is through the subjectivity that we actually see who C. S. Lewis really is. He shows us his humor, his disgust, and his reasoning.

He ends the preface saying he tried to write the first chapter so those who can’t bear such subjectivity will see what they are in for and will “close the book with the least waste of time.” It’s almost as if he is trying to get the reader put the book back and not read it.

Reading Surprised by Joy is an experience in learning. We learn about people; about life at the turn of theTwentieth Century; about school life in Britain at that time. We learn about the beginnings of the Narnia novels. We learn about the “Joy” that Lewis felt at different times of his life. And, since he held a Chair in English Literature at Cambridge, we can even learn a little about writing sentences and paragraphs.

I am not going to be laborious in describing his life – there are other sites out there that do a better job than I ever could. My aim is to focus on some of what one might call “gems” of insight or thought – something that I find interesting that might provoke a thought in our approach to writing or to life or to relationships or to God.

I also won’t be conducting this in one long page, but in smaller entries — at least one entry per chapter. I think there is just too much here to whisk through in one sitting.

I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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