Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

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Overview

"A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere . . . God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous."

This book is not an autobiography. It is not a confession. It is, however, certainly one of the most beautiful and insightful accounts of a person coming to faith. Here, C.S. Lewis takes us from his childhood in Belfast through the loss of his mother, to boarding school and a youthful atheism in England, ...

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Overview

"A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere . . . God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous."

This book is not an autobiography. It is not a confession. It is, however, certainly one of the most beautiful and insightful accounts of a person coming to faith. Here, C.S. Lewis takes us from his childhood in Belfast through the loss of his mother, to boarding school and a youthful atheism in England, to the trenches of World War I, and then to Oxford, where he studied, read, and, ultimately, reasoned his way back to God. It is perhaps this aspect of Surprised by Joy that we—believers and nonbelievers—find most compelling and meaningful; Lewis was searching for joy, for an elusive and momentary sensation of glorious yearning, but he found it, and spiritual life, through the use of reason.

In this highly personal, thoughtful, intelligent memoir, Lewis guides us toward joy and toward the surprise that awaits anyone who seeks a life beyond the expected.

"Lewis tempered his logic with a love for beauty, wonder, and magic . . . He speaks to us with all the power and life-changing force of a Plato, a Dante, and a Bunyan."—Christianity Today

"The tension of these final chapters holds the interest like the close of a thriller."—Times Literary Supplement

C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis (1898–1963), one of the great writers of the twentieth century, also continues to be one of our most influential Christian thinkers. He wrote more than thirty books, both popular and scholarly, including The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves, Mere Christianity, and Till We Have Faces.

The autobiography of a man who thought his way to God.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156870115
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/28/1966
  • Pages: 252
  • Sales rank: 182,589
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

C. S. Lewis

C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis (1898-1963), one of the great writers of the twentieth century, also continues to be one of our most influential Christian thinkers. A Fellow and tutor at Oxford until 1954, he spent the rest of his career as Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge. He wrote more than thirty books, both popular and scholarly, inlcuding The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves, Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy.

Biography

C. S. Lewis was famous both as a fiction writer and as a Christian thinker, and his biographers and critics sometimes divide his personality in two: the storyteller and the moral educator, the "dreamer" and the "mentor." Yet a large part of Lewis's appeal, for both his audiences, lay in his ability to fuse imagination with instruction. "Let the pictures tell you their own moral," he once advised writers of children's stories. "But if they don't show you any moral, don't put one in. ... The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author's mind."

Storytelling came naturally to Lewis, who spent the rainy days of his childhood in Ireland writing about an imaginary world he called Boxen. His first published novel, Out of the Silent Planet, tells the story of a journey to Mars; its hero was loosely modeled on his friend and fellow Cambridge scholar J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis enjoyed some popularity for his Space Trilogy (which continues in Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), but nothing compared to that which greeted his next imaginative journey, to an invented world of fauns, dwarfs, and talking animals -- a world now familiar to millions of readers as Narnia.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book of the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia, began as "a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood," according to Lewis. Years after that image first formed in his mind, others bubbled up to join it, producing what Kate Jackson, writing in Salon, called "a fascinating attempt to compress an almost druidic reverence for wild nature, Arthurian romance, Germanic folklore, the courtly poetry of Renaissance England and the fantastic beasts of Greek and Norse mythology into an entirely reimagined version of what's tritely called 'the greatest story ever told.'"

The Chronicles of Narnia was for decades the world's bestselling fantasy series for children. Although it was eventually superseded by Harry Potter, the series still holds a firm place in children's literature and the culture at large. (Narnia even crops up as a motif in Jonathan Franzen's 2001 novel The Corrections). Its last volume appeared in 1955; in that same year, Lewis published a personal account of his religious conversion in Surprised by Joy. The autobiography joined his other nonfiction books, including Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Great Divorce, as an exploration of faith, joy and the meaning of human existence.

Lewis's final work of fiction, Till We Have Faces, came out in 1956. Its chilly critical reception and poor early sales disappointed Lewis, but the book's reputation has slowly grown; Lionel Adey called it the "wisest and best" of Lewis's stories for adults. Lewis continued to write about Christianity, as well as literature and literary criticism, for several more years. After his death in 1963, The New Yorker opined, "If wit and wisdom, style and scholarship are requisites to passage through the pearly gates, Mr. Lewis will be among the angels."

Good To Know

The imposing wardrobe Lewis and his brother played in as children is now in Wheaton, Illinois, at the Wade Center of Wheaton College, which also houses the world's largest collection of Lewis-related documents, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

The 1994 movie, Shadowlands, based on the play of the same name, cast Anthony Hopkins as Lewis. It tells the story of his friendship with, and then marriage to, an American divorcee named Joy Davidman (played by Debra Winger), who died of cancer four years after their marriage. Lewis's own book about coping with that loss, A Grief Observed, was initially published under the pseudonym N. W. Clerk.

Several poems, stories, and a novel fragment published after Lewis's death have come under scrutiny as possible forgeries. On one side of the controversy is Walter Hooper, a trustee of Lewis's estate and editor of most of his posthumous works; on the other is Kathryn Lindskoog, a Lewis scholar who began publicizing her suspicions in 1988. Scandal or kooky conspiracy theory? The verdict's still out among readers.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Clive Staples Lewis (real name); Clive Hamilton, N.W. Clerk, Nat Whilk; called "Jack" by his friends
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 29, 1898
    2. Place of Birth:
      Belfast, Nothern Ireland
    1. Date of Death:
      November 22, 1963
    2. Place of Death:
      Headington, England

Table of Contents

Preface
I The First Years 1
II Concentration Camp 20
III Mountbracken and Campbell 40
IV I Broaden My Mind 53
V Renaissance 67
VI Bloodery 79
VII Light and Shade 97
VIII Release 113
IX The Great Knock 127
X Fortune's Smile 143
XI Check 159
XII Guns and Good Company 176
XIII The New Look 191
XIV Checkmate 205
XV The Beginning 222
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2006

    Insights into the backgound of one of the Twentieth century's most important writers

    This book was very interesting. It would be best classified as an autobiography, but as the author notes at the beginning, it isn't a normal autobiography. The reason for that is because the book is really written about the author's search for 'joy,' and how that eventually led to him to faith in Jesus Christ. It has always been interesting to me how the individual who was probably the most vocal defender of Christianity from a logical perspective in the 20th century was an athiest before being a Christian. This book lets you see how the transformation took place. It is easy to get wrapped up in minor details of this book. For example, I did not know that C. S. Lewis was actually Irish, and not English. But he is Irish (North Irish, if that matters to you), and where he grew up had (as it always will) an affect on his thinking and beliefs early in life. I also didn't know that private English schools in the early 20th centure were hotbeds of homosexuality. It doesn't really mean much, and the author just notes that it occurred, and doesn't even pass judgement on it, but it was something that had never once crossed my mind as being possible. Stuff like that could lead you off track, but the way that the author logically works through all others ideas and in the end finds that Christianity is the only one viable is really fascinating, and is the true meat of the book. Highly recommended for C. S. Lewis fans still recommended, but not so highly, for those of you who care about the logical side of Christian faith.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2005

    Informative, Incomplete, Inspirational, and Interesting

    In C.S. Lewis' book, Surprised by Joy, he describes his own childhood and young adulthood experiences and maps his meandering path to conversion. C.S. Lewis is both candid and reticent at the same time. He describes many of his most personal struggles and insights, while witholding some important details from the reader, and exagerrating others. Lewis does not pretend to be an objective observer of his own life. He tells the story as he means to tell it, nothing more and nothing less. C.S. Lewis enthusiasts will proably not find this book to be joyful and uplifting, but they may find it inspiring to follow C.S. Lewis' steps from atheism to Christianity. For those who 'read to know we are not alone,' they will indeed get their wish. In Surprised by Joy, they will find a truly genuine person.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2000

    Surprised by Familiarity

    While I grew up in the United States and never attended boarding school, I found amazing similarities between Lewis' quest for understanding the existence, power and authority of our Divine Creator - and my own. Lewis was not a theologian, but in terms of relating human experience to Christian faith, there was none better in the 20th Century. The Four Loves, Mere Christianity and his works on grieving (written after the death of his wife) are all excellent for a reader desiring to better understand his or her own experiences.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 1999

    It was a FREE CHOICE to loosen the rein...

    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 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.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2014

    Wonderful book, terrible Ebook

    B&N usually has great Ebooks. This is a dramatic exception to that rule - this copy is really poorly done. About two or three times a page there is a misread of the original text. For example, "He" is often switched to "Fie, " and the like. You can figure out the meaning, but it's terribly distracting and annoying. I've never paid for an Ebook with quality this low. If this bothers you, too, get the book in another format or from somewhere else.

    That being said, this book is totally worth the read. It would be both thought provoking for the curious non-believer and encouraging to the doubting believer. However, readers looking for a scientific argument for Christianity will be disappointed - the content of the book is chiefly literary and philosophical. And unless you're a literary buff yourself, you may be bored or turned off by most of Lewis' description of his own life, which revolves mainly around literature.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

    Very Insightful

    Lewis is a very intriguing character, as are the characters that he wrote about. This was a very compelling and enlightening look into Lewis' account of what made him who he was. I have enjoyed reading it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2000

    Good to the last page

    This book is a great story of fath and hope

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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