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Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life Paperback – March 23, 1966
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Mine has a production date of November 4, 2016.
Unfortunately, there are several attributable flawsSurprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life which make this a poorly produced item. The first printed page contains a simple listing of the content and a forward by C.S.L.
1 - There are no page numbers
2 - The typeset and layout are fatiguing to the reader with indistinct paragraphs and only vague chapter divisions with no break in pagination.
3 - There are many typos and "orphaned" words and sentences. I counted five on the 12th printed page alone.
I suggest you seek a standard published and printed version of the book.
This book describes C. S. Lewis's intellectual journey from Atheism to Christianity, and how the felt experience he calls Joy led him there. After conversion, the Joy that once made everything else in his life pale in comparison became a subject of disinterest to Lewis. His pursuit of the pearl of great price seems to end in an existential malaise. Was Joy just a cosmic bait-and-switch?
Lewis's journey begins with early experiences that produced in his imagination "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any satisfaction." (p. 18.) These inward experiences filled him with enormous bliss and created an inconsolable longing for something he knew not. The experiences would pass in a moment but they left behind "a longing for the longing that had just ceased" and "everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison." (16.) Of this Joy, Lewis wrote that "the central story of my life is about nothing else." (17.)
Yet, in connection with his final steps toward Christianity, "No kind of desire was present at all." (231.) Lewis did not attribute his eventual belief in Jesus as the Son of God to an intellectual or emotional decision, or even a determined will. Rather, he describes his conversion in existentialist terms: "[A] man is what he does; there is nothing of him left over or outside the act. As for what we commonly call Will, and what we commonly call Emotion, I fancy these usually talk too loud, protest too much, to be quite believed, and we have a secret suspicion that the great passion or the iron resolution is partly a put-up job." (237.)
Looking back on Joy, Lewis wrote, "I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer." The experiences of Joy were relegated to the "lower life of the imagination." They conveyed no spiritual knowledge and imparted no spiritual life: "This lower life of the imagination is not a beginning of, nor a step toward, the higher life of the spirit, merely an image. In me, at any rate, it contained no element either of belief or of ethics; however far pursued, it would never have made me either wiser or better." (167.) No wonder, then, that the subject of Joy had lost nearly all interest for Lewis as a Christian.
What leaves this book on a somewhat minor note is that Lewis never describes a real Christian spiritual experience that comes anywhere close to uplifting the soul as Joy did. Nowhere does Lewis speak of Christian experience that compared in any way to the Joy that had filled him with enormous bliss, created inconsolable longing, made all else insignificant in comparison, and of which he would say "the central story of my life is about nothing else." The book ends with the impression that the existential act of belief was the definitive mark of Lewis's Christian experience. There seemed to be no analog for Joy in his own Christianity as there was, for example, with Bernard of Clairvaux who could write:
"We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread
and long to feast upon Thee still
We drink of Thee the Fountain Head
and thirst our souls from Thee to fill"
As I re-read my initial review (Feb 28, 2014), I would say this book began phase 1 of my development after college. One of the first books I chose to read for myself. Very Very influential for me. I have since moved on and wouldn't call it the most influential, but I certainly wouldn't be where I am today without it. I am no longer in vocational Christian ministry, but anyone in Christian ministry should read this. The review:
I would love to give it 5 stars except the middle third of the book was so dry! I don't understand why he put so many details regarding his school days!
He was raised in a nominally Christian family, but gave up his faith at 13. He was in many different studying situations (if I remember correctly, even homeschooled for a couple years).
In college he kept running into thinkers he deeply admired, who were also Christians. He would say they were excellent people, but couldn't believe they were Christians too...Tolkien was the culmination of these people.
The way he describes his pursuit of god--like the mouses pursuit of the cat, is great.
He also has some one liners like "I somehow had smuggled in the idea that what I wanted was pleasure, but I got pleasure and found out it wasn't what I wanted" and something like: pleasure is available on demand, but joy is available only as a side effect.
For better or worse, this book stops when Lewis is in his mid twenties...a grief observed is a snapshot autobiography of a few years at the end of his life, and offers his insights into his life more matured. It is another must read for Lewis lovers.