Monday, December 29, 2008

Your book of last week

If you can believe it, even while I'm NOT supposed to be working or keeping alert for suspicious activity on public transportation, I still sometimes read works of fiction.  Last week being the build-up to and eventual re-enactment of the birth of Our Lord and Savior, I decided to read something by C.S. Lewis, because I like lion metaphors.

However, I'm not great at reading titles or backs of books before I start into them, and was a little surprised to find that the book I held was called "Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life."  In other words, this was an autobiography, and there were no lions, witches OR wardrobes to be found*.  A warning on the back tells us that it is "The intensely intimate and sincere autobiography of a man who thought his way to God."  I am generally uninterested in the intensely intimate and sincere and particularly in spiritual autobiographies.  Pitewy on that, I say.

However again, C.S. Lewis turned out to be quite approachable and progressive and understanding when discussing his descent into Paganism, atheism and the occult, and also very charming and funny and not at all saccharine when explaining how he made his way back to the whole "God as Man and Spirit Three in One" thingamajig.  Having spent a youth and young adulthood in the pursuit of Joy through prostitutes and magicks, it's nearly the end of the book before he is "brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape" (p. 229).  Not despite of, but because of his earlier doubting, experimentation and dark nights of the soul, he is able to come to a faith that allows great humility before both God and Man.  

He also tells us late-20th century** American females about the intricacies of early-20th century British boarding schools for boys, with their explicit enforcement of class hierarchies based on ability at absurd English sports, such as Zucchini and Buggers or somesuch.  
It seemed to them self-evident that, if you left things to themselves, boys of nineteen who played rugger for the country and boxed for the school would everywhere be knocked down and sat on by boys of thirteen.  And that, you know, would be a very shocking spectacle.  (P. 106)
His straightforward style and sense of humor certainly does come across as both sincere and intimate, if by intimate you mean that I identified with him and would have liked to have a cup of tea with the man, not that he talked in detail about his venereal diseases.  Which he didn't.  Also, for the slightly literate in random English Christian authors, there are a lot of off-handed references to people with initials for first names, such as G.K. Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkein.  

So, all in all, this book gets 14 out of 15 Partridges in a Pear Tree for good Christmas reading without a Santa Mouse reference.  


* Random side-note: when I was in 1st grade I saw a poster for the book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and surmised that "wardrobe" referred to a large cast of anthropomorphic animals and trees standing around in the background.  I was a little disappointed when I actually read the book the next year.  

**Yes, I'm aware that we're into the 21st century or so by now, but I was in school in the late 20th century.

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