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Surprised by Joy is surprisingly good?

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High King Pete The Magnificent
(@highkingpete)
NarniaWeb Nut

I just started reading Surprised by Joy, and am genuinely surprised at how funny Lewis is. 
Dont take this the wrong way, but I assumed it would be a much more formal and stilted experience. But, I wanted to be in the ‘in’ and take a shot at it. 
Lewis is funny here and charming, and it’s a refreshing read so far.

Has anyone else here read it? I’m guessing some of you have lol How was it? What was your favorite chapter?

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Topic starter Posted : September 21, 2021 8:59 pm
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coracle
(@coracle)
NarniaWeb's Auntie Moderator

I recently got a reprint to replace my faded 1959 paperback copy with the front cover fallen off. 

I have read it two or three times and I think I'll enjoy reading the new copy. I definitely must read it before I see the new film about his conversion, which uses a lot of this material, I think.

It does surprise me each time, because it's personal, it isn't dry, or scholarly. And yes, his sense of humour is woven through it. I'd like to hear from someone who knew him, whether this really is his 'voice', his way of speaking.

There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

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Posted : September 24, 2021 2:59 pm
Narnian78
(@narnian78)
NarniaWeb Nut

I read Surprised by Joy many years ago and remember the humor in it.  Lewis was a reluctant convert and the book, while serious, has a way of drawing you in with its lighthearted elements. So I guess he could even laugh at himself, and it would help him to understand what God was doing for him. 🙂

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Posted : September 25, 2021 8:02 am
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Friend of NarniaWeb

I read Surprised by Joy some years ago and I'm sorry to say I was disappointed by it overall. I also enjoyed Lewis's writing style and his humour, but I felt he spent far too much of the book going on about what a nastily stuck-up young man he was and how abysmal nearly all his schools were — while going into frustratingly very little detail about the process of his conversion and what REALLY changed his thinking, and how and why, in the end. Yes, I know it was God — as a former agnostic turned Christian, I've been there myself. But most of what I would have truly been interested to hear about Lewis's own transformation either wasn't there at all, or else was barely touched on.

Lewis does make clear enough that he was a very private person and it was difficult for him to write publicly about his deepest personal experiences, which is quite understandable. But I still came away feeling that the book was missing a lot and it was quite dissatisfying as a result. Am I the only Lewis fan who feels that way about it?? (Don't worry, I won't be upset if I am. Wink )

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 25, 2021 9:18 am
High King Pete The Magnificent
(@highkingpete)
NarniaWeb Nut
Posted by: @coracle

I recently got a reprint to replace my faded 1959 paperback copy with the front cover fallen off. 

Wow, Coracle you must have really enjoyed it! And it's pretty cool that you had a 1959 copy, did you get it from an antique seller? I'm borrowing my university's copy atm.

What's the new film called? I didn't hear any news about that and I'd be interested in watching it too after I finish the book.

@Narnian78 did you have a favorite chapter? So far, I'm gotten up to chapter 4, past the experiences Lewis had in the first boarding school, and am hoping there are some chapters about a outing Lewis went on, or more about Animal Land hopefully.

@Courtenay In the first chapter or preview (can't remember) he does mention that the book is not a formal focus on his conversion, and will feature some anecdotes and funny experiences along the way, and the reader shouldn't be confused into thinking he was writing something he wasn't. I wasn't sure what to think of that either, and since I've only read a little so far, I don't think I can make a good observation on whether his experience in conversion to Christianity was portrayed in the detail usual biographies of that sort are. What kind of details would you wished to have seen? Which experiences in the book did you feel were dissatisfying? 

 

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Topic starter Posted : September 25, 2021 1:21 pm
coracle
(@coracle)
NarniaWeb's Auntie Moderator

@highkingpete 

I bought several of my Lewis books from second hand book dealers or church fairs. 

The film is the one advertised on Narniaweb,  The Most Reluctant Convert.

There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

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Posted : September 25, 2021 1:48 pm
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
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Posted by: @highkingpete

@Courtenay In the first chapter or preview (can't remember) he does mention that the book is not a formal focus on his conversion, and will feature some anecdotes and funny experiences along the way, and the reader shouldn't be confused into thinking he was writing something he wasn't. I wasn't sure what to think of that either, and since I've only read a little so far, I don't think I can make a good observation on whether his experience in conversion to Christianity was portrayed in the detail usual biographies of that sort are. What kind of details would you wished to have seen? Which experiences in the book did you feel were dissatisfying? 

It's several years since I read the book, so I'm not sure how good an answer I can give, Pete! But I was just left without any real sense of what God meant to him, and exactly how and why God became so REAL to him that he could no longer argue for God's non-existence. Or what impact that had on his life — how it changed him, and how those changes reinforced his conviction that this was God's doing and not just some new notion of his own. He keeps it all rather vague and nebulous and abstract, at least to my sense of things.

There's the famous passage near the end (only about one chapter from the end, if I remember rightly!) where he "gave in and admitted that God was God" — but as far as I can recall, he doesn't give any clear explanation of WHY he did so. It obviously got to the point, somehow, where he could no longer deny that there was some supreme being or power that not only existed, but demanded his attention and obeisance. And it wasn't even (at this stage) that he felt God's love for him or believed God had somehow spoken to him directly — by his own admission, his concept of God was still something very abstract and distant, until he converted specifically to Christianity a little later. So I would love to know more about precisely what convinced him — what thought-processes he went through and what actually changed his thought from denial to acceptance — and what broader effects this had on his whole life and thought and actions from there on in. But he's maddeningly near-silent on all those points.

Seriously, if I'd read Surprised by Joy as the agnostic I used to be (one who didn't deny the possibility of there being a God — I rather hoped there was — but I was convinced that there is no way God's existence or non-existence can be proved for certain), this book wouldn't have impressed me at all, let alone swayed me. Even as one who was already a committed Christian myself by the time I read it, I just couldn't relate to Lewis's own conversion process, because I couldn't fathom what it actually was.

And yes, by the way, I know I'm being a bit of an iconoclast here. Grin What makes it all even more frustrating for me, though, is that this is the author whom I could most succinctly describe as "The man who first introduced me to God" (i.e. through Narnia and Aslan). And yet the only extensive piece of writing he did about his own faith-journey leaves me baffled as to how he got to where he got to!!!

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 25, 2021 1:56 pm
Narnian78
(@narnian78)
NarniaWeb Nut

@highkingpete 

As I remember, I liked the beginning chapters of Surprised by Joy the best.  It was years ago that I read it so I am not sure of all the details. It is interesting to read about Lewis’ skepticism about the Christian faith. It seems that in this biography he took a long journey to find his faith in God.  I think the edition that I have includes the entire book.  It is from The Family Christian Library and it also includes Reflections on the Psalms, The Four Loves, and The Business of Heaven. I like having several of Lewis’ works in one volume, although other editions may have more material than just the original book.

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Posted : September 25, 2021 4:39 pm
Reepi
(@reepi)
NarniaWeb Nut

I remember liking it back when I read it years ago, but I kinda wish he'd written it only after Narnia so there could've maybe been something about the creation and the events of his life surrounding that as well.

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Posted : September 27, 2021 2:29 am
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Friend of NarniaWeb
Posted by: @reepi

I remember liking it back when I read it years ago, but I kinda wish he'd written it only after Narnia so there could've maybe been something about the creation and the events of his life surrounding that as well.

Yes, I would have liked that too — I have to admit, whenever I do pick up something biographical about Lewis, I always want to skip ahead to where it talks about Narnia and what inspired him to create it and what was going on in his life at the time. Not that the Chronicles are the only significant things he ever wrote, but for me they're the most important! Grin  

There's also the fact that by some incredible coincidence, later in his life Lewis was more than "surprised" by someone called Joy who ended up becoming his wife... I read somewhere that "Have you heard about Jack? He's been surprised by Joy!" became a bit of a running joke among his somewhat baffled friends and colleagues who were never expecting him to get married! Giggle

He did, of course, write something very autobiographical and personal in A Grief Observed after Joy's death; I haven't read that one yet, but from the excerpts I've seen quoted, it's clearly heart-wrenching. Lewis originally published it under a pseudonym to preserve his privacy, which apparently resulted in one of his friends recommending it to him because it described so exactly what Lewis was going through!

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 27, 2021 4:03 am
Reepi
(@reepi)
NarniaWeb Nut
Posted by: @courtenay

There's also the fact that by some incredible coincidence, later in his life Lewis was more than "surprised" by someone called Joy who ended up becoming his wife... I read somewhere that "Have you heard about Jack? He's been surprised by Joy!" became a bit of a running joke among his somewhat baffled friends and colleagues who were never expecting him to get married! Giggle

That's really funny! I never heard of that.

I did read "A Grief Observed" a long time ago. It's definitely not something to read for entertainment value, but perhaps more as an inside look or perhaps for those undergoing similar hardship as Lewis did at the time. It clearly shows his very raw and powerful feelings at the time.

But I like thinking that writing it down helped him process everything.

Interesting if it was actually recommended to him! Perhaps reading his own thoughts later also gave him a better perspective on himself.

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Posted : September 27, 2021 4:16 am
Col Klink
(@col-klink)
NarniaWeb Nut
Posted by: @reepi

I remember liking it back when I read it years ago, but I kinda wish he'd written it only after Narnia so there could've maybe been something about the creation and the events of his life surrounding that as well.

Well, while I haven't read Surprised by Joy, but it sounds like it was written about a very specific part of C. S. Lewis's life experience. Even if he'd written it after writing Narnia, it's possible that he still wouldn't mentioned it. We fans may like to imagine everything in his life related to Narnia, but he may have felt differently. Wink  

 

Posted by: @courtenay

I was just left without any real sense of what God meant to him, and exactly how and why God became so REAL to him that he could no longer argue for God's non-existence. Or what impact that had on his life — how it changed him, and how those changes reinforced his conviction that this was God's doing and not just some new notion of his own. He keeps it all rather vague and nebulous and abstract, at least to my sense of things.

Have you read The Pilgrim's Regress? I've only read it once a long time ago. Going on what little I remember, I'd say it's also rather abstract, being an allegory, but if you'd really like more insight into Lewis's relationship with God, maybe it'd be worth a try.

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Posted : September 27, 2021 7:20 am
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Courtenay
(@courtenay)
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Posted by: @col-klink

Have you read The Pilgrim's Regress? I've only read it once a long time ago. Going on what little I remember, I'd say it's also rather abstract, being an allegory, but if you'd really like more insight into Lewis's relationship with God, maybe it'd be worth a try.

No, I haven't, but it's on my list! I'm aware that it's something he wrote fairly soon after his conversion; it was discussed in one of the biographies I've read and the author of the biography (I can't remember which one it was) seemed to think it was rather rough and not as effective as most of Lewis's later writing. I'm guessing it also helps if one has read The Pilgrim's Progress, which of course he was taking inspiration from, and I haven't!

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : September 27, 2021 7:49 am
Cleander
(@the-mad-poet)
NarniaWeb Junkie

By coincidence, I revisited the book this past weekend! I've had it for a little over year and have read it through once.

 I'm with Narnian78 in that I seem to have enjoyed the first few chapters most. The forces of wonder at work in his youth are extremely well described. His first experiences with longing are probably the most resonant part for a lot of people just because of how close he hits the mark of how it feels as a child to desperately want something one can't fully define or lay hold of, and then try and satisfy the craving with stories.

And I also have a sneaking fondness for the  bits about his barbaric schoolmaster Grin  

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Posted : September 27, 2021 10:05 pm
coracle
(@coracle)
NarniaWeb's Auntie Moderator

@courtenay 
@col-klink

The Pilgrim's Regress is a journey taken by the character 'John' through ideologies and philosophies. I had not studied philosophy and did not recognise some of them when I first read it, but these days you can get a useful descriptions of things like these on Wikipedia, to help understand what he is 'going through'.

It is completely allegorical, and reflects the structure of The Pilgrim's Progress. It is quite short, and has a map! It was written in 1933, and in my copy there is a 'Preface to the Third Edition' which was written ten years later during World War 2 (he refers to it).

It indicates that a lot of it is Lewis's own journey to the Christian faith. Yet he states at the end of the preface, "In this preface, the autobiographical element in John has had to be stressed because the source of the obscurities lay there. But you must not assume that everything in the book is biographical. I was attempting to generalise, not tell people about my own life."

It was not until 1955 when Surprised by Joy was published, that he did in fact tell people about [his] own life.

The final chapter of Surprised by Joy briefly tells of two conversion events, one in 1929 and one in 1931.
We might feel disappointed at there being so little; and yet he has given us so many chapters, in both chapters, about the events and experiences leading up to it. 

Thank you to whoever raised the subject of the 'Regress'. Smile  

There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

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Posted : September 28, 2021 2:20 am
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