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    SURPRIZED by joy-impatient as the wind-
        -William Wordsworth, Surprized by Joy (1815)

Surprised by Joy is C. S. Lewis's intellectual autobiography, his personal account of his journey from childhood Christianity to Atheism to Theism and back to a more mature Christianity.  Along the way he describes his family life in Ireland, his misery at boarding school, education at Oxford, service in WWI, and return to Oxford, where his friendship with JRR Tolkien (who shared his love of Norse mythology) helped him to finally quench his lifelong Sehnsucht (longing), in Lewis's case a longing to discern the hidden something that we perceive lurking behind the physical world that we observe.   One such instance occurs when he is reading poetry :

    I had become fond of Longfellow's "Saga of King Olaf": fond of it in a casual, shallow way for its
    story and vigorous rhythms. But then, and quite different from such pleasures, and like a voice
    from far more distant regions, there came a moment when I idly turned the pages of the book and
    found the unrhymed translation of "Tegner's Drapa", and read:

        I heard a voice that cried
        Balder the beautiful
        Is dead, is dead,

    I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of the northern sky; I
    desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold,
    spacious, severe, pale and remote) and then...found myself at the very same moment already falling
    out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.

It is these fleeting moments of perception, occurring throughout his life, that Lewis refers to as "Joy", and it is they that provoke his longing :

    Joy, must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy has indeed one
    characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will
    want it again...I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power,
    exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.

His quest leads him through a course of readings that includes : Norse, Celtic and Greek mythology; the fantasies of George MacDonald and William Morris; the philosophies of Aristotle, Berkley, Hegel and others; and the Eastern religions. Each of them in their own way offers some sense that    Finally he arrives at such Christian authors as Milton and G. K. Chesterton and over the duration of a bus ride in 1929 he accepts the existence of God.  Finally, in 1931, after a long evening of discussing religion and mythology with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, Lewis spent the wee hours wrestling with the concept of Christ as a divine being and by the next morning had, in fact, become a Christian.

The most appealing aspect of this process is the way in which Lewis--with the help of friends and mentors--came to the realization that intellectual honesty required that he be just as skeptical about modern beliefs (in reason, and the like) as he had been about traditional religious beliefs and that he grant Christianity at least as much credence as he gave to the various mythologies with which he was so enamored (this appears to have been Tolkien's argument).  The importance of these steps can not be underestimated, particularly because they are steps that most of us would do well by taking.

Listen to the level of contempt that evolutionists heap upon anyone who questions their beliefs and you will hear the voice of fanaticism speaking.  The same people who are completely skeptical about God are entirely doctrinaire when it comes to Natural Selection.  If they could step back for a moment and actually listen to the questions that are raised, they might also stop to consider whether they have all the answers.  Instead, at the least expression of doubt they unleash their own version of the  Inquisition (witness Kansas).

Similarly, there's something strange about a society where people are so eager to reject the God of their forefathers but then turn around and embrace Wicca or the Dalai Lama or whatever.  One needn't necessarily accept the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection to see that they are at least as probable as astrology and reincarnation.  [Meanwhile, one arguably must have a tin ear to forsake the poetry and the power of the Bible for star charts and black magic manuals].  It's hard to avoid the conclusion that much of this is just reactionary.  To make a decision about your core spiritual beliefs on such an immature and emotional basis seems unwise in any case, but to abandon the great monotheistic religions that have bequeathed us Western Civilization, in favor of witchcraft and pantheism and the like, borders on cultural suicide.

So what then is the appropriate intellectual and spiritual stance for us moderns ?  Openness.  We must be open to the notion that the scientists do not have all the answers either, that they might, in fact, not even comprehend which are the right questions yet.  Equally important, we must be open to the idea that the traditional religious beliefs of our culture, though thousands of years old and in some ways showing that age, may still have some value to them.  We may then still choose to discard Christianity (Judeo-Christianity) but the decision to do so will not be based, as it is now, either on the mistaken belief that science has disproved God or on the impetuous basis of rebellion against our elders.

Which brings us to the central part of the story, of any conversion story, the moment when faith takes over :

    Every step I had taken, from the Absolute to 'Spirit' and from 'Spirit' to 'God,' had been a step
    toward the more concrete, the more imminent. . . . To accept the Incarnation was a further step in
    the same direction.

It sounds like such a natural progression, and as Lewis tells the story, it was.  Having arrived at the ideals of the Absolute and the Spirit by way of philosophical consideration, rather than by way of religious indoctrination, his was a mind that was open enough to accept the most obvious Absolute Spirit the culture has to offer.  In the end, having spent a life immersed in myths, he simply reached the moment when he was prepared to accept the truth of the most compelling myth of all.  After all of the caricatures of people of faith as sort of know-nothings and uncultured sheep, there's something really refreshing about this account of a fierce and questioning intelligence being led to, and then taking the leap of, faith.

This book will interest just about anyone with an open mind and an admiration for good writing.   Many Christians will seek it out only for confirmation of their own beliefs, but will be surprised, maybe even disturbed, by the depth of Lewis's skepticism and by the generosity of spirit which he displays, particularly in a rather charitable discussion of buggery at boarding school.  One would hope though that those who do not believe would read it too.  Lewis is unlikely to change their minds (for that, they too would need to be "surprised by joy"), but he's certain to change some misperceptions about what kind of people become Christians and what kind of thought process leads them to that destination.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

See also:

C.S. Lewis (5 books reviewed)
General Literature
C.S. Lewis Links:

    http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m2185/2_13/83520009/print.jhtml>-ESSAY: C. S. Lewis vs. Sigmund Freud on good and evil (Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., March 2002, American Enterprise)
   -ESSAY: A Mind That Grasped Both Heaven and Hell (JOSEPH LOCONTE, 11/23/03, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Why There Are Seven Chronicles of Narnia: A British scholar discovers the hidden design of C.S. Lewis' perennially popular series. (John Wilson, Christianity Today)
   -ESSAY: To See Truly Through a Glass Darkly: C. S. Lewis, George Orwell, and the Corruption of Language (David Mills, July/August 1998, Touchstone)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ESSAY : Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis: A Critical Summary and Overview (Dr. Bruce L. Edwards, Professor of English, Bowling Green State University)
    -ESSAY : The "Reluctant Convert" in Surprised by Joy and The Great Divorce (David Allred )
    -ESSAY : The Title and Epigraphs of Surprised by Joy (John Bremer)
    -ESSAY : One Man's Road to Jesus (Dr. David R. Reagan)
    -ESSAY : C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and Mathematics (David L. Neuhouser, Taylor University)
    -ESSAY : From joy to Joy: C.S. Lewis and the numinous in the world of relationships. (Jesse Thomas, Ph.D.)
    -ESSAY : C. S. Lewis' Images of the Character of God : According to his Writings on Grief and Pain (Brenda Erikson, May 2, 1997 )
    -ESSAY : Fellow Patients in the same Hospital: Law and Gospel in the Works of C. S. Lewis (Angus J. L. Menuge)
    -ESSAY : Lewis & Tolkien - An Analysis (Sarah J. Elliott)
    -ESSAY : "DARKNESS AT NOON": THE ECLIPSE OF "THE PERMANENT THINGS" (Peter Kreeft)
    -C. S. Lewis and Related Authors (Upland Campus)
    -Lewis, C. S. (Educational Paperback Association)
    -C(live) S(taples) Lewis (1898-1963)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: " c. s. lewis"
    -C.S. Lewis Foundation
    -C. S. Lewis Classics (Harper Collins)
    -Narnia.com (Harper Collins)
    -C.S. Lewis & Public Life
    -Into the Wardrobe: The C.S. Lewis website
    -C. S. Lewis Mega-Links Page
    -C. S. Lewis: His Enduring Legacy (Todd Kappelman)
    -15 Best Devotional Books of All Time (Christian Reader)
    -WEBRARY : 1995 Book Discussions: Screwtape Letters
    -Restoration of Man: Lecture for Fiftieth Anniversary of The Abolition of Man (J. R. LUCAS)
    -The Title and Epigraphs of Surprised by Joy (John Bremer)
    -Literary Research Guide: C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963 )
    -ESSAY: C. S. Lewis in the Public Square (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things)
    -ESSAY: C.S. Lewis on Mere Science (M. D. Aeschliman, First Things)
    -ESSAY: The Everyday C.S. Lewis (Gilbert Meilaender, First Things)
    -ESSAY : When Worldviews Collide : C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud: a comparison of their thoughts and viewpoints on life, pain and death (Armand Nicholi, Jr., M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School)
    -ESSAY : C.S. Lewis : The atheist scholar who became an Anglican, an apologist, and a "patron saint" of Christians everywhere. (Ted Olsen, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY : Still Surprised by Lewis : Why this nonevangelical Oxford don has become our patron saint. ( J. I. Packer, Christianity Today)
    -ESSAY : Marketing 'Narnia' Without a Christian Lion (DOREEN CARVAJAL, June 3, 2001 , NY Times)
    -STUDY GUIDE : Mere Christianity Study Guide
    -Personal Best: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis  (LAURA MILLER, Salon)
    -REVIEW: C. S. Lewis: A Biography By A. N. Wilson Passions for the Ordinary In an Extraordinary Life  ( CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: C. S. LEWIS A Biography. By A. N. Wilson THE MAN FROM NARNIA  (PENELOPE FITZGERALD, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CLIVE STAPLES LEWIS A Dramatic Life. By William Griffin YES, I ADMIT, GOD IS GOD (ROGER LEWIS, NY Times Book Review)
    -Lewis Remembered: C. S. Lewis: Memories and Reflections. By John Lawlor (Gilbert Meilaender, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis (complete review)
    -ARTICLE : New Narnia books drop Christian ethos : 'Prostitution' of C.S. Lewis: Publisher dreams of Potter-size sales (Heather Sokoloff, National Post)
    -ESSAY : What Lewis Wouldn't Do : When you take God out of Narnia, is there anything left? (Lauren Winner, Slate)
    -ESSAY : Off with his head: C. S. Lewis devotees point to corporate effort to de-Christianize his work (Marvin Olasky, World)
    -ESSAY : Holy War in the Shadowlands (Scott McLemee, July 2001, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    -ESSAY : Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis: A Critical Summary and Overview (Dr. Bruce L. Edwards, Professor of English, Bowling Green State University)
    -ESSAY : The "Reluctant Convert" in Surprised by Joy and The Great Divorce (David Allred )
    -ESSAY : The Title and Epigraphs of Surprised by Joy (John Bremer)
    -ESSAY : One Man's Road to Jesus (Dr. David R. Reagan)
    -ESSAY : C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and Mathematics (David L. Neuhouser, Taylor University)
    -ESSAY : From joy to Joy: C.S. Lewis and the numinous in the world of relationships. (Jesse Thomas, Ph.D.)
    -ESSAY : C. S. Lewis' Images of the Character of God : According to his Writings on Grief and Pain (Brenda Erikson, May 2, 1997 )
    -ESSAY : Fellow Patients in the same Hospital: Law and Gospel in the Works of C. S. Lewis (Angus J. L. Menuge)
    -ESSAY : Lewis & Tolkien - An Analysis (Sarah J. Elliott)
    -ESSAY : "DARKNESS AT NOON": THE ECLIPSE OF "THE PERMANENT THINGS" (Peter Kreeft)

THE INKLINGS :
    -CS Lewis and the Inklings Home Page
    -Avenging Aardvark's Aerie: The Inklings
    -C. S. Lewis & The Inklings
    -C. S. Lewis  (and the Inklings)
    -Tolkien and the Inklings Forum at Xenite.Org science fiction ...
    -The Inklings - CS Lewis - Upland Campus
    -A Beginner's Bibliography of the Inklings
    -The Inklings
    -The Bird & Baby
    -the inklings
    -The Inklings:   Religious and Literary Reflections  (drew university graduate school ~ conference in the humanities ~ october 31, 1998)
    -Inklings ?
    -Inklings Resources Web Site
    -The Mythopoeic Society, a non-profit international literary and educational organization for the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantasy and mythic literature, especially the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams
    -LINKS : The Inklings Site List : A collection of online resources on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and other members of 'The Inklings'
    -LINKS : Mythus : Verlyn Flieger - Studies in Comparative Mythology - University of Maryland
    -WEB RING : The Inklings Webring
    -REVIEW : of Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings (Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Green Man Review)

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