Friday, January 04, 2008

Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis

Having recently read Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, by George Sayer, I found Surprised by Joy very enlightening and a nice "filler" (although, perhaps, I should have read them in the opposite order). I am still finishing a book about Lewis thinking that I would like to have been friends with him while knowing that that would not be remotely possible due to the wide gap in our intellects. To put it simply, he would not have liked me and I think I would have a.) frustrated or b.) bored him. I, on the other hand, would have been fascinated -- I AM fascinated.

Lewis was definitely "brainy" in every sense of the word. I used to think that anyone that intense was really overblown but now I think that the world needs one or two Lewis' to give us all something to think about. Without the Lewises God has placed on this planet, I'm quite certain that most of us wouldn't think at all. So I've concluded that although such personality types are frequently snobby and lofty in their view of the world and others, they serve a great purpose (as much as I generally don't appreciate the attitude). Does that make sense?

In this particular work, Lewis spends his time explaining how he mentally came to the place where he believed in God. It is a story of his conversion. According to Sayer in Jack, Lewis wrote so as to work things out in his own mind. If that truly was the case, then I think Surprised by Joy was Lewis' attempt to walk through his own conversion experience and see how God worked all things together for good. It was a self-serving purpose which educated his foes and colleagues as to his mental processes. It's an interesting read, but more so to get a taste for his childhood and personality quirks than to hear what changed his mind.

I realize more and more how much I love to pay attention (and poke fun at) people's personality quirks. I confess it! I do! Lewis certainly had a boat load, but then, we all do! My favorite quirk of his is one that I share. He hated playing games. SO DO I! Of course, he words thing so nicely (in referring, particularly, to sporting games - but I feel it with all games). . .

"Not, indeed, that I allow to games any of the moral and almost mystical virtues which schoolmasters claim for them; they seem to me to lead to ambition, jealousy, and embittered partisan feeling, quite as often as to anything else. Yet not to like them is a misfortune, because it cuts you off from companionship with many excellent people who can be approached in no other way. A misfortune, not a vice; for it is involuntary. I had tried to like games and failed. That impulse had been left out of my make-up; I was to games, as the proverb has it, like an ass to the harp." (page 129-130)

As a non-gamer who married into a family of intense gamers, I found this particularly hilarious.

Sky suggested this book and then blessed me with my own copy (which I, surprisingly, did not own). I really don't know why it is taking me so long to get to Lewis' writings. You'd think if I were willing to name my son after him, I'd have taken some time to get to know Lewis better first. All the same, I'm happy with what I do know, what I have discovered, and what I know I will continue to discover. Lewis was an amazing man and an interesting one. I look forward to meeting him someday!


At 6:48 AM, Anonymous writer2b said...

You might enjoy Colin Duriez's 'Tolkien and CS Lewis: The Gift of Friendship.' I read it recently and learned a lot about Lewis the person, rather than Lewis the intellect. He wasn't the elitist we might expect.

A friend of mine also recommended 'The Narnian' (which I haven't read yet myself)as a book that gives a different perspective on Lewis's conversion, and not just the intellectual stages in 'Surprised by Joy.'

Thanks for your review.

At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Barbara H. said...

I have read a biography of Lewis, but I don't remember the title. I would love to read this. I enjoyed your review.

At 8:37 PM, Blogger calon lan said...

What a great way to start off the year! I loved this book, particularly Lewis's style of writing. I found myself wishing he were alive today; I think he would be a blogger.

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Wendy said...

I enjoyed your review and will put this book on my list of ones to read. I just started reading "A Severe Mercy" by Sheldon Vanauken (a friend of C.S. Lewis), so this book really caught my eye.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Queen of Carrots said...

When I go to heaven, I am going to spend a whole lot of time in the Heavenly Oxford. And maybe I shall get Lewis for a tutor some of the time. :-)

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Alaina said...

I too have really enjoyed this book and Lewis' writing. His ability to remember and interpret his youthful ideas, thought processes, and motivations is amazing. He had great insight into human nature and personality -- I love how he describes his father, and the elements of his nature that attracted and repelled Lewis.

His love of literature came as no surprise, but I was delighted to discover his great value of natural beauty and purposefully enjoying nature. One of my favorite chapters was "Fortune's Smile," especially the part where he talks about how motor vehicles had altered the concept of distance and space.

"The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it 'annihilates space.' It does. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure that his grandfather got from traveling ten."

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Mirlandra said...

C.S. Lewis is an author that most of us encounter in our childhood, and as a children's writer he is excellent. Crisp, clear, imaginative. Though I loved the Narnia series in childhood, I never moved in adulthood on to his other works.

Surprised By Joy is another excellent example of writing. Here, there is more depth, but the same clarity (well, minus the deep intellectualism which you don't have to follow presicely to stay with the book.) The thing I most enjoyed about this book was the deeply knowledgeable voice in which he writes. I often value voice and tone of a work over even the topic matter. There is a friendly, honest richness to his prose that invites the reader, welcomes, and shares in a deeply personal way as if we had been friends for decades. I suppose I am also drawn to the honesty with which he reviews his life, and the directness with which he approaches topics that others might shy away from in shame. But most of all, I am drawn because I like him as a person. When Lewis writes, "It took me years to make the discovery that any real human intercourse could take place at a mixed assembly of people in their good clothes." I'm hooked.

One of the most fascinating bits of the entire story is that Lewis comes to God through scholarship and literature. I think that we have lost some of the true merit and honesty of scholarship in modern times. Now, there is a sort of superficial bent to the study of literature at most liberal arts colleges that leads away from, rather than towards God. But that is my thought.

Bottom Line (since it is closing in on 1am, and I have to get up at 6am to leave for California!): I loved it. I would recommend it to anybody who was willing to savor it.

Favorite Quote: "It is properly called a rebirth not a birth, a reawakening not a wakening, because in many of us, besides being a new thing, it is also the recovery of things we had in childhood and lost when we became boys. For boyhood is very like the 'dark ages' not as they were but as they are represented in bad, short histories. The dreams of childhood and those of adolescence may have much in common; between them, often, boyhood stretches like an alien territory in which everything (ourselves included) has been greedy, cruel, noisy, and prosaic, in which the imagination has slept and the most unideal senses and ambitions have been restlessly, even maniacally, awake." So true, so many things I find that if I want to know the things, thoughts, desires, and personality bits that God created me with, I need to look back to childhood, to a time before the world tried to shape me, to search for the early dreams.

If you liked it you would like:
- Mary Oliver, start with House of Light
- Dante, Inferno
- Faerie Queene which after reading in light of Lewis, I would like to re-read "Be bold, be bold, be not too bold!"

This book goes best with:
- Cinnamon tea and Mozart in the afternoon
- Oregon raspberry wine and Bach in the late evening

At 6:54 PM, Blogger Ariadne said...

Ha! A lot of parallels here with my own reading experience. I enjoyed the Sayer book, and then after reading Suprised By Joy, found myself wishing that I had read them in the opposite order. I also came to the conclusion that while Lewis is incredibly fascinating, we would not have been able to be friends. :)

I've read a lot of Lewis (in fact, I'm currently finishing up a thesis on him), and I would highly recommend Till We Have Faces (fiction, based on the mythology of Cupid and Psyche). It's one of his best works, though not especially well known.

At 5:30 PM, Blogger scb said...

Wendy mentioned the book I was going to suggest to you -- "A Severe Mercy" by Sheldon vanAuken. It is a fascinating book for the description of the growth of the relationship between van Auken and his wife, but it also talks about their close friendship with C.S. Lewis ("Jack"). Just thinking about the book makes me want to re-read it, and review it!

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Elisha said...

Ahh... C.S. Lewis... This is one of my favorite books of his, but then again, all of his books are my favorite. :D

You really should read a Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken (a friend of C.s Lewis'). The book made such an impression on me and ties into "Surprised by Joy" and C.S. Lewis' relationship with his wife. :D


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