Book Review: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis


Surprised by Joy is C.S. Lewis’ “sort of” autobiography.  In the book, he traces his early childhood through his conversion to Christianity while teaching at Oxford.

This year has been a year of C.S. Lewis for me personally.  He’s an author that I’ve admired for years, but only because of the admiration that other authors (whom I enjoy) have for him.  Admittedly, I had never finished any C. S. Lewis book (with the exception of the first two Narnia books when I was a kid) until this year.  Now I’ve finished five. Because of my current interest in Lewis, I read with great interest this autobiography of his early life and conversion.

Surprised by Joy is by far the most rapturous of Lewis’ writing that I’ve encountered so far.  His description of the English and Irish countryside is superb, his story is so far removed from my own that his story is other-worldly, and the depth of his understanding of literature and philosophy is inspiring.  Lewis is at the same time both wonderful for his imagination, and wonderful for his understanding of complex ideas.  He was a man who felt deeply and thought deeply.  A pattern I would like to mimic in my own life.

The conversion of C. S. Lewis is beautiful. It is a story that unfolds slowly through the book.  God first began to capture his heart through small glimpses of “Joy” in both literature, music, and nature.  As Lewis sought to recapture this “Joy” it fled from him, proving unattainable time and again.  Joy would reappear, unexpected, throughout his life, and eventually became a clue that helped point him towards the God he most desired to believe did not exist.  His conversion, unlike many, was gradual and slow.  God pursued and broke through the barriers in Lewis’ mind until he could no longer deny His existence.

My favorite sentence in the book is, “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation” (219).  In this quote, Lewis betrays the miracle that the Spirit performed on his heart in bringing him to Christ.  He did not want God to be real, and God’s pursuit of him seemed at times “hard,” but it was in fact “kindness.”  Jesus’ pursuit of Lewis’ seemed to be compulsive, but it proved to be liberating.  This description is beautiful, and reminds me of what I felt at seven years old, when God drew me to Himself.

I love this book.  It inspires me to read classic literature, enjoy the beauty all around me, think hard about God, and feel emotion fully.  Surprised by Joy is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand Lewis, and it is by far my favorite Lewis book so far.

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