Surprised by Joy A Book Review

Surprised by Joy A Book Review

Title: Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

Author: C.S. Lewis

Genre: Christian Autobiography

Pages: 238

The People in Lewis’s Life

In this memorable account of his youth, C.S Lewis relays his encounter, his departure, and his begrudging but—what feels to be– inevitable return to Christianity in his characteristically analytical and conversational style.

As you amble down the avenues of his life, you not only hear his personal introspection but meet the collection of figures who have tangibly influenced him. Those figures include his parents, brother, teachers, tutor, college friends, and a myriad of writers and philosophers that he meets in beloved tomes.

Reading about his relationships with these people recalls to my mind the number of ways God has used particular people in my early Christian life to push, pull, hammer, straighten, and sharpen my faith. It brings to mind the numerous ways people and writers can play a latent yet vital role in our pre-Christian journeys. I say latent because a lot of times it’s not just the people who speak explicitly on spiritual topics who alone draw us nearer to belief but it’s anybody who has any credit in molding our temperament, attitudes, mentality, personality, interests, or really any aspect of us.

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis tends to emphasize more so the latter crew of influencers than the former. Halfway through the book, this tendency vexed me a bit because I couldn’t piece together how an excursion into his views on his schoolmates (fascinating as it was) or his senile headmaster had anything to do with his evolvement into a Christian. It was only by the end in retrospect that I experienced that quiet, “ah, I get it now” moment.

A Few Critiques Here and There

One downside to reading Surprised by Joy is the uncountable number of literary references Lewis makes. Herbert Spenser? George Herbert? Lord Chesterfield? I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not well-read enough to feel acquainted with such figures or their eminence. Because their ideas are important to Lewis’s journey to Christianity, simply recognizing their names from your high school english classes isn’t enough to help you grasp the nuances in his references. This naturally made some parts of the book harder to absorb than others. I’m categorizing this observation as a “critique”, but really, it’s more of a heads up for what to expect.

One critical element in Surprised by Joy that leaves me with mixed feelings is Lewis’s definition for the feeling of joy. He says, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’”. I completely agree that this “desire for something…’about to be’” exists in us. I also see how this desire fuels people’s wandering from one earthly satisfaction to another and how it might even drive people to God, as it did for Lewis. I just wish he’d chosen a different term other than “Joy” to encapsulate this longing because the emotional Joy God gives to his people is just as real and not to be overlooked. If you have a different take on this issue, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

Random Tidbits I Like

Something I enjoyed about this autobiography apart from its main objective to tell Lewis’s tale is its picturesque setting in the first two-thirds. There’s something peculiarly charming about an Irish moor cloaked in a fine sheen of mist or stone cottages speckling a bracken hill countryside. It draws my mind to fantasy settings and adventure, which no matter how old I get, can never seem to lose their appeal. Another thing is Lewis’s literary upbringing. His love for books, his preference for solitary study or a few enjoyable company over artificial society, and his logical approach to most things in life make him, at least to me, highly relatable as a person. I’m more inclined to visit his other works as a result.

Another thing I always appreciate about Lewis is his keen ability to explain concepts and narratives with acuity. This ability proves especially useful near the end when he justifies the final stages of his transition from atheism to theism to Christianity. I suppose his persona and his time spent with one extremely logical tutor had something to do with it.

Final Comment on Lewis’s Story

His logical progression into Christianity starkly contrasts my own personal encounter with Christ, which made Surprised by Joy an even more enjoyable read, believe it or not. That contrast in experiences both personal and spiritual affirms the uniqueness of each Christian’s testimony. God knows us best. He knows how to work with people’s temperament, personality, and background to instill Himself into their lives and make them recognize that He alone can fulfill the aching desire for something more.

I am truly amazed when I hear of testimonies vastly different than my own. To me, those testimonies are not just stories of God’s grace but also of God’s infinite creativity and intimacy with each one of our lives. No two testimonies are the same, and no two lives are the same. God has crafted unique stories for every single person who had ever lived, who is alive now, and who will live. This reality screams just how much God cares about people. Every person is worth enough for Him to create a special story for them.

This is the amazing and loving creator that C.S. Lewis, I, and countless other Christians worship. This is the amazing and loving creator that you too can get to know, if you have not yet. 

Helpful Resources: I’ve Become a Christian–What Now & What the Bible Says Christians Believe & How to Read the Bible

Surprised by Joy--C.S Lewis's autobiography of how he became a Christian

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