Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Surprised by Joy is essentially C.S. Lewis telling us his Christian testimony. It’s not the usual tale of rescue from the evils of drink, drugs or sex that you tend to come across; in fact, it’s right at the opposite end of the scale. There isn’t much mention of personal sin (at least in the outware sense) in this tale, probably because there wasn’t much of it in his life worth talking about. C.S. Lewis was a philosopher, and his conversion to Christianity was a journey of the mind. A staunch athiest, it was only after many years and much debate with himself that he finally came to accept the reality of God.

The book begins with Lewis’s boyhood, in particular his relationship with his brother and father, and the harsh realities of school life in the early twentieth century. It’s hard for me to say much about the factual content of the book, because it has become a bit of a blur. Essentially it’s a chronicle of various schools, colleges and people who were influential in Lewis’s life. It was fairly interesting reading, but I couldn’t help getting impatient with the book; I was more interested in Lewis’s inner pilgrimage than his outer life. But to be fair, the one can’t be told without the other. The only major gripe I have about the book is that the author presupposes that his readership is highly educated in classic literature; there are continual references to authors and books of which I have absolutely no knowledge.

I tend to approach C.S. Lewis’s books with a sense of caution, chiefly because I’ve grown to believe that philosophy is a dangerous minefield. I don’t like “truths” that are only discerned by adding together all sorts of complex building blocks in your mind, any one of which could crumble and turn your truth into falsehood. I didn’t really get that impression from Surprised by Joy, but Lewis’s journey was complicated enough that I’m left scratching my head when I try to recall if there was any one particular thing that was the major turning point for him.

Throughout the story, Lewis talks much about his search for a thing he calls “Joy.” This was a lifelong quest to grasp and hang on to an experience that he only remembers having in flashes, and one which seemed to be happening less and less as he grew older. As the book progressed, I began to see Lewis’s obsession with Joy was as very strange and slightly ridiculous. But the big surprise came at the end of the story, when I was delighted by Lewis’s own conclusions on the matter.

As an evangelistic tool, I’m not sure that Surprised by Joy is all that useful. My own return to Christianity involved the disassembling of an athiestic philosophy in my mind, but my journey was nothing like Lewis’s. Philosophy is a very widespread minefield and no one book can wrestle with everyone’s outlook. However, this is a fairly interesting look into an interesting life.

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