Monday, March 16, 2009

Surprised By Joy


Surprised By Joy
is a book by C. S. Lewis. It discusses his early life and childhood, and the evolution of his faith. But it's primary focus is:

The "stab of Joy"
It was beauty that inspired Joy. It was this Joy that Lewis sought.

The lack of beauty, and therefore Joy, as he grew up in a Christian home, made him think that Christianity wasn't enough. Because of this thinking, encouraged by several of his teachers in various boarding schools he attended, he slowly abandoned the Christian faith. He sought after the poetry and writings of ancient Greece and Rome, and the songs of Wagner and others that revealed to him a "stab of Joy".
In C. S. Lewis's own words, the stab of Joy
"....[I]s an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure" (Surprised By Joy, p. 17-18).
The book weaves in and out of Lewis's outer life and inner one, a sort of "dual plot." In the very end, Lewis comes to realise that the Joy he was seeking all the time was merely a sign, pointing to something better all along: to Jesus Christ Himself.

It is fun to note certain areas in which Lewis's experiences later led to characters in The Chronicles of Narnia. I have pointed out a few below:

The "New House" he moved into at age 7, he describes as large and full of all sorts of alcoves and rooms. Books of all kinds were scattered here and there, on bookshelves and in tall piles in the attic. The "New House clearly helped along the construction of: the Professor's house in the country (in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe).

Lewis describes driving to his first boarding school: "Now I am choking and sweating, itching too, in thick dark stuff, throttled by an Eton collar, my feet already aching with unaccustomed boots (Surprised By Joy, p. 22)." Where else was that collar? "In those days, if you were a boy you had to wear a stiff Eton collar every day, and schools were usually nastier than now" (in The Magician's Nephew, p. 1).

Perhaps the most obvious allusion made is with Professor Kirk. Professor Kirk was one of Lewis's old and best loved tutors. He was very much into logic. Of course this can only be one man: "'Logic!' said the Professor half to himself. 'Why don't they teach logic in these schools?' " (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, p. 45). We later learn that this character is named "Digory Kirk," or just "Professor Kirk."

I highly suggest reading this book for yourself. I enjoyed the humorous stories told about Lewis's absent-minded father, and the thorough explanations of English boarding schools (seeing that I am not English, I was very grateful for being introduced to English culture). It was also encouraging to have someone relate to my thoughts and feelings (or, rather, I relating to Lewis's) in a way more closely than I have found in other books.

I can guarantee that you will not regret the time spent in reading this book, or the amount of "intellectual stimulus" it will provide.