Surprised by Joy
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Surprised by Joy


Lewis published Surprised by Joy in 1955, eight years before his death.  In April of the following year, he married Joy in a private civil ceremony to prevent her deportation.

It is merely coincidence that Lewis married a woman named Joy.  The title of this book was not intended to be associated with her.  Rather, the title comes from a Wordsworth poem:

            Surprised by joy - impatient as the Wind

            I wished to share the transport - Oh! with whom

            But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,

            That spot which no vicissitude can find?

The book is not a comprehensive autobiography, but rather contains only the people, events and ideas that were part of Lewis's journey toward faith.  In the opinion of one reviewer, "the deliberate, methodical way in which Lewis narrates his life parallels the meticulous arguments with which he constructed scholarly treatise and theological brief alike." (Dr. Bruce Edwards, Bowling Green State University, "Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis: A Critical Summary and Overview" at   Lewis's friend and physician, Dr. Humphrey Havard, took a different view.  He said the book should have been called Suppressed by Jack because many people were hoping for more personal disclosures.

Susan Wise Bauer offers an excellent summary of Surprised by Joy in her guide to reading the classics:

Lewis's autobiography is partly the story of his intellectual and imaginative development, and partly the tale of his coming to grips with Christian faith.  This double tale is haunted by the possibility that the two might conflict, perhaps fatally.  The title of Lewis's story comes from his attempt to discover the source of Joy, a piercing experience that he is not entirely able to describe in words . . . .  Lewis's pursuit of Joy turns out to be the thread that binds his intellect and his faith together.  At first, he chases Joy with his intellect, studying Norse mythology and other subjects that have brought him that unexpected stab of Joy in the past.  The middle section of the book traces Lewis's education, painting a delightfully vivid portrait of his life at school, the tutor who introduces him to Greek, and his delight in finding book after book that speaks directly to his longing for Joy.

But as Lewis's delight turns "imperceptibly into a scholars' interest," he realizes that Joy has flown. . . . Joy, imagination, and intellect do not come together until the story's end, when Lewis's will is finally converted in a way that is completely inaccessible to his reason . . . . Only then does Lewis again find himself able to experience Joy-not as an end in itself, but as a signpost pointing him to the divine. (Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, W. W. Norton & Company (2003), pp. 155-56.)

As you read, think about how God has shaped your life.  What experiences influenced you?  Which people?  How did God weave all that together to draw you to himself?  To form you into the person you are today?

Thanks to Pat Poret who wrote the questions and notes to chapters 5-8.

Other Resources

Downing, David C.  The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis's Journey to Faith.  Intervarsity Press (2002).

Green, Roger Lancelyn and Walter Hooper.  C. S. Lewis: A Biography.  Harcourt Brace  & Company (1974).

Hooper, Walter, ed. They Stand Together: the Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963).  MacMillan (1979).

Lewis, C. S., The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism (1933), reprint Eerdmans (1992).

Lewis, C. S. and Warren.  Boxen. HarperChildrens (2008).

Lindskoog, Kathryn. Finding the Landlord: A Guidebook to C. S. Lewis's Pilgrim's Regress. Cornerstone Press (1995).

Sayer, George. Jack: C. S. Lewis and His Times. Harper & Row (1988). -- Dutch scholar Arnend Smilde has compiled notes on many of the quotations and allusions Lewis uses in Surprised by Joy.  This website is an excellent resource for this and other Lewis works.