Thursday, July 16, 2015

Surprised by Lewis

Earlier in the week I was reduced to laughing fits trying to read through C.S. Lewis' account of his early life in "Surprised by Joy". Somehow I knew what was coming and the anticipation made the ecstasy worse. 

[My father] relied wholly on his tongue as an instrument of domestic discipline. And here that fatal bent toward dramatization and rhetoric produced a pathetic yet comic result. When he opened his mouth to reprove us he no doubt intended a short well-chosen appeal to our common sense and conscience. But alas, he had been a public speaker long before he became a father. Words came to him and intoxicated him as they came. What actually happened was that a small boy who had walked on damp grass in his slippers or left the bathroom in a pickle found himself attacked with something like Cicero on Cataline, or Burke on Warren Hastings; simile piled on simile, rhetorical question on rhetorical question, the flash of an orator's eye and the thundercloud of an orator's brow, the gestures, the cadences, the pauses. [...] While he spoke, he forgot not only the offense, but the capacities of his audience. All the resources of his immense vocabulary were poured forth. I can still remember such words as 'abominable", "sophisticated", and "surreptitious". You will not get the full flavor unless you know an angry Irishman's energy in explosive consonants and the rich growl of his r's."

p. 22-23, Surprised by Joy, as collected in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis.


  1. As a rather vocal atheist back then (oh those crazy days) a Christian at work gave me a copy of 'Mere Christianity' to read which, he said, convinced him in his faith. I think he fully expected me to be converted. I don't think I made it to page 50 before I gave it back as unreadable...

  2. I don't recall being impressed by that work back when an ardent Christian shared it with me, but I've warmed to his other works. "The Great Divorce" was clever, "The Screwtape Letters" amazingly so, and "The Weight of Glory" had a most interesting essay in it about intellectuals in wartime. He urged students not to feel guilty for tending to their books during a war, because what was the war for if not to preserve civilization? Wisdom and the search for the good, true, and beautiful would prosper only if the young (young men, in Lewis' day) were encouraged and taught. That book gave me a new page quotation above..

    In days when the news is so obnoxious -- full of sick people going mad, full of violence and despair, fixating on the most bizaare and wretched aspects of itself -- I've found the old-fashioned search for meaning and beauty in literature to be a balm. When I read Durant or Lewis, or even someone with a more modern head like HG Wells, it's like retreating into some cozy backroom at a long-vanished Victorian hotel, talking about the Ideas of the Ages.

  3. Stephen said: I've found the old-fashioned search for meaning and beauty in literature to be a balm.

    I'm with you on that 100%. No matter how crazy the world gets sometimes there's always the words of wise people to pull you through.


Thank you for visiting! Because of some very clever spambots, I've had to start moderating comments more strictly, but they're approved throughout the day.