by Carl E. Olson
Friday, November 22nd, marks the 50th anniversary of the deaths of three famous and intriguing men: the author and agnostic Aldous Huxley; the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy; and the author and apologist, C. S. Lewis. (For a fictional discussion among the three, see Peter Kreeft's book, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley.)
While I think Huxley's Brave New World is a brilliant book that is that proven remarkably prophetic in many ways, and while I wonder where Kennedy would fit in today's political landscape if he were here today (perhaps a moderate Republican?), Lewis has had the biggest impact on my life and thought. The first book by Lewis that I read, while in high school, was Surprised by Joy, and I soon read several others. After all these years, what I find most remarkable about Lewis' writing is the wide breadth and the brisk lucidity. My favorite books by Lewis are Abolition of Man, the collection, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature, and, yes, Surprised by Joy.
The following is an essay I wrote a number of years ago, meant to be a short introduction to the his work and perhaps of interest to those who are just discovering Lewis.
The Thought and Work of C.S. Lewis
There’s no doubt about the ongoing popularity of C.S. Lewis’s many books and stories. He is one of the best-selling authors of all-time; his Narnian series alone has sold over 100 million copies since it was first published between 1950 and 1956. His works of Christian apologetics—including Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters—are read and admired by Christians ranging from Catholics to Baptists to Methodists to Eastern Orthodox. And his lesser-known works of literary criticism, such as The Discarded Image, a study of the medieval view of the world, and English Literature in the Sixteen Century Excluding Drama, are still greatly admired by specialists and students.
Like many prolific and accomplished authors, Lewis possessed formidable skills, discipline, and focus. Those who knew him were often astounded at his prodigious intellect; he could quote entire pages of medieval poetry from memory and most of his books and essays were "first takes" – he rarely revised a first draft. As a young man he was a top student who read widely and deeply, the recipient of a traditional classical education.
The Desire for Joy
However impressive his learning and skills, there is a much more mysterious quality behind the distinctive features of Lewis’s writing and thinking – the reality of Joy. It is for good reason that Lewis’s account of his formative years was titled Surprised By Joy since the elusive experience of "Joy" powerfully shaped his life and thought, as he indicated in many of his writings.