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C.S. Lewis: Surprised By Joy

from Program One


"Jack's" idyllic boyhood is marred by his mother's death and his father's volatile grief.

Narrator: Clive Staples Lewis tells us his own life story with a purpose — his is a journey toward belief in God. He was born in 1898, 42 years after Freud.

He grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His grandfather was a Protestant minister. His father Albert, a lawyer. His mother Flora was a mathematician.

Walter Hooper: In 1907, they moved into Little Lee, which Albert had built for his wife. And there they were a very happy family. I think Flora knew her son better than the father did. She gave him a good foundation in Latin, and in French, and in English.

Narrator: When he was five, Lewis told his family that he would no longer answer to the name of "Clive." They were to call him "Jack."

Lewis: I am a product of empty sunlit rooms, indoor silences, attics explored in solitude ... Here my first stories were written and illustrated. They were an attempt to combine my two chief literary pleasures: dressed animals and knights in armor.

Narrator: Jack and his older brother, Warren, spent all their time together — playmates and companions. Together they made a magical private world.

Lewis: Once in those very early days my brother Warren brought into the nursery a box, which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers. That was the first beauty I ever knew.

It made me aware of nature — as something cool, dewy, fresh, exuberant.

Everything seems like a dream, anything seems possible, and all sorts of ideas float through your mind.

Lewis: It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure, something, as they would now say, in another dimension. It was a sensation of desire. But before I knew what I desired, the desire was gone ... the world turned commonplace again.

Narrator: Throughout his life, Lewis would often remember the feeling aroused in him by the toy garden. He named that feeling Joy.

James Como: There's a pang of desire that this garden brings back as though he once was someplace which is now beyond his reach. It's lost to him. And he wants desperately to return to that.

Lewis: I must now turn to a great loss that befell our family when my mother became ill. There were voices and comings and goings all over the house. Our whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises.

... I remembered what I'd been taught — that prayers offered in faith would be granted. I set myself to produce by will power a firm belief that my prayers for her recovery would be successful.

The thing hadn't worked.

Lewis: With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. And there has never been really any sense of security and snuggness since. I've not quite succeeded in growing up on that point. There is still too much of mommy's lost, little boy about me. My father's good qualities as well as his weaknesses incapacitated him for the task of bringing up two noisy and mischievous schoolboys.

Hooper: Albert was distraught. Now, we all know that if possible, the survivor needs to be strong for the children. But in this case, I think the children were simply partly devastated by the fact that not only had their mother died, but their father was falling apart in front of them.

Lewis: One day my brother made a tent. He used a dustsheet from the attic and a stepladder taken from the house and turned into tent poles.

My father came home from work. Then the lightning flashed and the thunder roared.

He said he would close the house and we should be sent away to America.

Being still a boy, I believed in these threats. I would awake at night and if I did not immediately hear my brothers' breathing from the neighboring bed, I often suspected my father and he had secretly risen while I slept and gone off to America — that I was finally abandoned.

... No more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.

Como: The most heart-wrenching episode in all of Lewis's literature, I think, happens in "The Magician's Nephew." When the little boy picks the apple that Aslan sent him for, and, knows that his mother lies dying at home in England and realizes that this magic apple could cure her. And the witch says, "Take it. Take just a slice of it. The Lion will never know. And it will cure your mother." But the little boy, Diggery, doesn't do it. He brings it back to Aslan and is so surprised when Aslan gives him a piece and says, "Take it back." Well, the little boy takes the apple back to his dying mother and gives it to her. And we see ... the middle-aged C.S. Lewis writing in his book of fantasy what he couldn't achieve in life.

Narrator: Jack Lewis was sent to boarding school in England. He had lost his mother and been abandoned by his father — and the faith that had failed him.