Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

“…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. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.” (p. 15-16)
I have been practically raised on the teachings of C. S. Lewis. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the first chapter book I remember my mother reading to me, and it mattered not to her that I was only five years old and could barely grasp the story let alone the underlying truths. I think it mattered to her that she exposed me to the eternal, which C. S. Lewis is so masterful in presenting.
His books lined her shelves; not only the Narnia Chronicles but The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and The Four Loves. When Arti proposed I join her in reading Surprised by Joy for the Christmas season, I felt immediately compelled to do so. For Christmas stories around this holiday abound, but the best ones are the ones with substance. The ones which tell why Christ is so important.
C. S. Lewis didn’t believe his whole life. He speaks of a terrible longing which he tried to fill with learning. How ironic it is, perhaps, that the very scholars he studied brought him full circle to the faith he embraced.
“You might sum up the gains of this whole period by saying that henceforward the Flesh and the Devil, though they could still tempt, could no longer offer me the supreme bribe. I had learned that it was not in their gift. And the World had never even pretended to have it.” (p.172)
When we acknowledge a hole in our meaning, an unfulfilled Joy however it is that you define it, we generally come to discover that it cannot be easily filled. Love affairs do not completely satisfy our inner longings, any more than vices or philosophy. I think we yearn for what only He can give us.
The turning point of understanding this came for Lewis one night when he turned to a bookstall and “picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George MacDonald…It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new. For in one sense the new country was exactly like the old. I met there all that had already charmed me in Malory, Spenser, Morris, and Yeats. But in another sense all was changed. I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos. I do now. It was Holiness.” (p. 173)
Of course upon reading that passage I have since downloaded MacDonald’s famous Phantastes in my nook. I want to see what it was that moved Lewis so thoroughly. And yet, I know what it is. It is the call of the great I Am. He who created us, who longs to meet us.
“I did not then see what is now the  most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” (p. 221)

Find Arti’s thoughts on Surprised By Joy here. 

11 thoughts on “Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis”

  1. My daughter enjoyed Narnia, & I tried the screw tape letters a few years ago, based on it's reference in another book I was reading but it didn't gel with me. Have you checked Tom's blog The Common Reader he has a project Gutenberg Xmas story you can download.


  2. I've enjoyed your very personal thoughts. It's so memorable to have your mother reading the Narnia book to you. I think Lewis too is quit personal in the account of his experience, which I appreciate very much. Thanks for reading this precious book with me. Have a wonderful Christmas and I look forward to more reading together come 2013. 🙂


  3. First, Parrish, thank you for all of your constant commenting on my posts. You are so gracious to me. Secondly, thanks for leaving me the name of your blog friend whom I'll have to visit soon.

    There are few children who aren't entranced by Narnia. I'm so glad your daughter liked the series, too.


  4. Arti, I thought your post was so complete in the way you covered all of Lewis' key points both in his life and intellect. His was such an interesting journey to faith, and even at the end he's not completely there yet. It gave me a whole new appreciation for Narnia when he spoke of creating Animal Land as a child. And who knew Squirrel Nutkin was his favorite Beatrix Potter character?


  5. I have not seen your blog before and am impressed with the range and quality of your content. I have added it to my blogroll.

    I read this book some years ago – in fact I think I read all CS Lewis's books about Christianity. It's hard to beat Mere Christianity as a primer on belief in God. If you enjoyed Surprised by Joy, perhaps you would be interested in a book by Sheldon Vanauken (a friend of CS Lewis) A Severe Mercy (you may have already read it).


  6. I was so taken with this: “But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?”

    I've wondered a good bit about the rage and ridicule increasingly directed toward Christian faith – and Christians – over the past decade.
    I've often commented on a blog who established a new theme for this season – “A Holiday Free Zone”. Humph. And I'm really rather tired of hearing “Christians…this” or “Christians…that”.

    Still, Lewis' words here are suggestive, and remind me just a bit of that snippet from Shakespeare. You know, that business about protesting too much.

    Merry Christmas!


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