Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life Essay - Critical Context

C. S. Lewis

Critical Context

Lewis’ life and work have been the focus of countless books since his death in 1963. Ironically, he may eventually suffer the same fate as other authors he himself championed and “rehabilitated” during his scholarly career. Surrounded by volume after volume of analysis, paraphrase, and critique, Lewis’ own canon may be dwarfed by secondary sources, a development he opposed all of his life in reading others. One does not need the critics to enjoy Chaucer, he once said, but Chaucer to enjoy the critics. As it stands, both his fiction and his theological writings have been endlessly anthologized and hypercritically explored, creating a trail of footnotes and asides long enough to camouflage the essential viewpoints and facts about his life—thus discouraging even the most diligent student of Lewis. It must be said, however, that Lewis’ own works remain the most reliable sources and insightful interpreters of his thought and personality. Surprised by Joy, while, as noted, emerging as one of the most personal of Lewis’ books, retains the characteristic stylistic and thematic modes found elsewhere in his oeuvre.

It is in Surprised by Joy, for example, that one learns the extent to which Lewis is indebted to a romantic view of both life and culture, that is, a mind-set in which reason and imagination are held in tension at all times and neither is allowed to dominate or cancel out the other. Haunted in his search for joy, Lewis...

(The entire section is 523 words.)