on August 20, 2001
Lewis points out in "Mere Christianity" that mankind's worst sin is pride (setting his will before God's will)because ir is the root of all other sins. In "Surprised By Joy", Lewis describes his own willfullness, arrogance and pride as he wanders through his search for Joy down all manner of intellectual and aesthetic blind alleys. At last, having exhausted all options, he reluctantly surrenders and then, at last, finds the Joy he had been so diligently seeking. While the facts differ, Lewis' story is a familiar one to many of us who simply were unable to accept what was readily available without wasting time, energy and emotion first. Lewis' story is a reminder of the nature of Grace, freely given to the willing recipient. As with everything Lewis wrote, the prose is wonderful, the references challenging and Lewis' mental workings amazing. This is not the easiest reading and not the best introduction to the author (Screwtape and Mere Christianity are better for that purpose), but the volume is extremely rewarding, especially for one who identified with the journey described.
on May 9, 2001
This book is essential for anyone curious about the life of Lewis. Or anyone who his a fan of his thought.
This book is a bout the life and conversion of Lewis, told as an autobiography, as opposed to an allegory as in "Pilgrim's Regress." It culminates with Lewis's conversion to Anglican Christianity:
"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling . . . the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. . . I [finally] gave in and admitted that God was God, and I knelt a prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not see then what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked 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?"
This book, however is not religious mumbo-jumbo, and is not just strictly a religious text, but it encompasses other aspects of Lewis's life: his experience as a son, a brother, a student, an intellectual freebooter, etc.
On a human level, this book has touched and resonated with me more than any other book I have read, outside of Scripture. I have experienced many of the same things Lewis had experienced. In a slightly different way, and in a different order, but there was enough of the essence of the events to harmonize with me. I almost felt that I was Lewis in a way.
Even if you are a non-Christian, non-believer, or a non-interested person, I recommend this book as part of one humans experience in life, as one slice of humanity!
on September 1, 2000
Many people have written much about C S Lewis, and due to his wide appeal we have books on him from virtually every segment of the Christian world. Which leaves the aspiring Lewis devotee with a problem: Who to believe? For, as A N Wilson has rightly pointed out: 'Two totally different Lewises are being revered by the faithful.' Lewis himself has solved the problem many years before his death by writing this autobiography. It is a work of art in every sense of the word, and even though essentially an autobiography, filled with so much truth and clear Lewisian thinking that authors quote it as though it were a scholarly work.
Lewis traces his path from his early years in Belfast all the way to his conversion in England 31 years later. The book tells little of the relationships in his life, and one who has read widely on Lewis cannot help but wonder about other obvious omissions and evasions. However, we are given the Lewis as Lewis wanted to give him, and that is what makes this book unique.
Whilst reading it, I was reminded of Lewis' own advice in his Preface to St Athanasius's 'The Incarnation of the Word of God', later published as a chapter ('On the Reading of Old Books') in 'First and Second Things' (ed. Walter Hooper), 1984. It remains to me the final and authoritative words on why Surprised by Joy is the most important book on Lewis' life, straight from the horse's mouth: "... I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator."
Makes you think, doesn't it?
on December 27, 1999
This is a most remarkable account of one's conversion to belief. It is the eloquent yet highly readable language that Lewis uses which enables the reader to relate to his way of thinking. Lewis ultimately realizes that 'before God closed in on me, I was offered...a moment of wholly free choice...I could open the door or keep it shut...' This reveals the truth that God loves us to the extent that we are alloted a FREE CHOICE regarding whether we want to accept Him. However, it seems silly NOT to accept him! For if we abandon God, we act just as Lewis did..."darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape..."
But who in their right mind would really want to escape Joy?
This autobiography will fascinate the person who is perhaps searching for God or is unsure of God's existence. It will present a rather different perspective of conversion as it is taken from an intellectual standpoint. Finally, this book will reaffirm the authority of the One who simply declared 'I am that I am.'
on December 20, 1999
The mark of a good teacher is the degree to which his students learn even when, or especially when, he goes off on a tangent. By that measure, Lewis ranked among the best, and the Medieval cornocopia of miscellaneous ideas that is this book is an education. You learn philosophy, English and Irish topography, education, jokes, a theory of language study, a theory of C.S.Lewis, and most of all, everything you did or did not want to know about literature. Actually, some of what he says on that subject assumes more knowledge than most of us are likely to possess.
Yes, there is also a story here also, about how Lewis searched for Joy and found Jesus instead. (The title is a pun, by the way, worth five stars all by itself.) And the interuptions and detours tend to enhance the reader's appetite for the story, rather than detract from it.
I don't agree with the reader below, or with the criticism in A.N.Wilson's biography which it parallels. Reason clearly played a central role in his conversion. In this book, however, he describes the effect of the reasoning on him, rather than recounting the particular arguments in detail as he has done in other books. He said the book was going to be subjective, even apologized for the fact in the preface! To speak subjectively is not to belittle the objective facts which act on the subject; to make that equation shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Lewis' thought and of thought in general. For example, Lewis describes here how the "most hard-boiled atheist I ever met" came into his room one day and admitted that the evidence for the Gospels was "surprisingly good." Lewis describes his shock, and the effect this idea had on him. But if you want a fuller version of Lewis' reasoning on that subject, written just a little bit later than this book, see his brilliant and devastating little essay, Elephants and Fernseed -- which to my mind drove a stake through the heart of all Higher Criticism, including that written decades after his death, such as Wilson's silly biography of Jesus. Lewis also speaks of the effect the arguments of his Christian friends and the books he read had in converting him to Christianity, but again don't expect him to give you those arguments here.
My one criticism is Lewis ought not to have subjected his father to his satirical and rather cutting brand of humor as he does in a few passages.
Author, True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture
on August 23, 1998
This is not a novel and not really an autobiography, but rather a first-hand account of one man's journey from atheism to a belief in God (Christianity came much later and is not covered in this book--for that read his many religious works). I discovered this little gem while living and working as a graduate student in Scotland, at a time when I was neck-deep in the pit of atheism and feeling almost totally lost. I don't know why I was moved to take it off the shelf and buy it, but it was to be only the first of Lewis's books that I read. It's still my favorite because its theme is so close to me.
What makes Lewis's book so remarkable is its unashamed honesty and willingness to shed all masks in the face of reality, no matter how unpleasant or frightening that reality may seem. Lewis did not want to find God, and we feel with him that burning desire to run away once God has been discovered. The wonderful lightness and love that characterize many of Lewis's later works are not found here. Instead we see his defenses against God shattered one by one as he follows an intellectual path to belief. He tries his best to argue his way out of it, fighting every step of the way and using all the trivial excuses that human beings do, but we feel God's presence bearing down on him step by step like a great weight until he realizes that there is no escape. Lewis sees that it IS a burden at first if one has come to it honestly, because with it comes the realization that we are required to abandon ourselves and submit to God's will in order to find eternal peace. This is not an easy road for a human being to follow--indeed, it is the most difficult thing in the world for us to do, and Lewis knew that very well. We feel with him the pain and weight that came when he realized that there IS a God: the account of his final days as an atheist is absolutely excruciating for a reader who has had the same experience. One must actively and willingly choose to become what one is not by his very nature--what could be more difficult, particularly in this secular world?
Lewis's account of his spiritual journey shows that God can be discovered in the most unlikely places and in the most unlikely ways, no matter how hard we try to avoid Him. When we think we have trumped God, we find that He has in fact trumped us, always remaining well ahead of us on the path. Lewis's account often reads like a great chess match between one man and God, but it remains familiar because it is a match that we play again and again. As always, Lewis's honesty is disarming, his insight staggering, and his humor refreshing. I cannot recommend this book enough, but if you are looking for a biography of Lewis's life, this will not provide it. For that I recommend George Sayer's "Jack," but the best way to find out who Lewis was is to read his books.
on August 27, 2003
Owning all of C.S.Lewis' non-fiction works I believe this is the first book most people should own, simply because it shows his journey from being an atheist and a serious one at that, to becoming not only a Christian, but in many peoples opinion, including mine, the greatest Christian scholar on the twentieth century or many centuries. It is a book I recommend to any academia minded person who wants a literate and challenging work that lays out how a serious atheist and secular scholar can evolve into a scholar who also happens to be a Christian. Chapter fourteen titled Checkmate is where this really gets explained. The other interesting thing about this book is how it got me reading other works from the many people C. S. Lewis mentions as catalysts in his journey. People like George Macdonald, and G K Chesterton. Thus my home library has expanded a lot.
on November 26, 2003
This is a great book by a great writer, telling both of CS Lewis's life, including his education and his experiences as a front-line soldier in World War I, and his discovery of "Joy" and the sense of the scared, and his final conversion from Athiesm to Christiantiy. Full of wisdom, humor and fascinating historical description. His descriptions of his father, mother and brother, including his reaction to his mother's early death, are poignant and moving. He tells, also, of what it was really like to be a yong officer in the trenches of World War I, in which he was seriously wounded. In another key, how to really learn a difficult foreign language. This is a book to treasure and to read again and again.
on August 26, 2013
If you wanna know the person, character and life behind the man C S Lewis, this is the book that will do the job. I was personally interested in his idea behind the title "Surprised by Joy". What did he mean by "Joy". After a great deal about his life in the book, he answers that question very clearly in the end, saving the book from it being simply about his life.
His road to Christ is explained through his life, taking root in his quest for the imaginary joy that he longed for. This book is highly recommended for it gives yet another compelling evidence for the kingdom of God. This "Joy" that we seek is only met in His Kingdom and there is reason for it.
on September 8, 2001
Not all of Lewis's experience will be interesting to the average reader. You have to be somewhat of a Lewis lover to fully appreciate this book about his walk toward Christianity. I greatly appreciated the book for its embrace of mythology as the road that led Lewis to Christianity, where he believed he found the fulfillment of all he longed for. For Lewis, Christianity was the place where myth became fact. The book also provides an immense argument to support the importance of art and aesthetics, based on the divine role they played in this great man's life. I've found it inspirational to my own writing and affirming of my interests.