How does faith, laughter and joy interact with one’s life? Terry Lindvall answers that question by looking at the life of C. S. Lewis. Having been a fan of C. S. Lewis, especially his Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters as well as a fan of laughter and humor, I was eager to read this book, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C. S. Lewis.
Though the book is primarily about C. S. Lewis, it could also be described as a book about C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton. For Lindvall, Chesterton has a major influence on the humor of Lewis. The book as well delves into the depths of what comedy means in all its various forms through the lens of Lewis.
Lindvall’s approach is scholarly. He often chooses the words of academia, then the every day man. He readily admits that in Lewis”s echo of E. B. White’s insight that “humor, like a frog, dies when we dissect it, and the ‘innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.'” This is not a collection of C. S. Lewis jokes or humor, though there are plenty of references. Rather it provides a look at how wit, joy, faith combine in Lewis perspective on life whether in his published or private writings.
I came away from this book with a greater appreciation of Lewis, of the power of humor, and how such can be used for good intent or harm. By Lindvall not limiting his insights to Lewis or Chesterton, he goes back to Aristotle to Chaucer to Luther to Steve Allen to various popes, writers, theologians and scholars. I not only came away with a better grasp of Lewis but also of laughter’s history as well.
Reading the book was not a chuckle a minute, but a look at how humor has power to build, to destroy, and perhaps most of all to explain the intricacies and interactions of life under God. Surprised by Laughter did not surprise me with laughs, but learning the impact laughter makes.
Lindvall approaches Lewis’s humorous bent through 4 categories: Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper and Satire and Flippancy.
Joy for Lewis is the purest laughter on earth, and is at the heart of Christianity. Joy is possible even amid grief as Lewis experienced in the death of his wife Joy. Both Joys had impacted his life to see God and to experience the Eucatastrophe (the good catastrophe) of the joy of the happy ending found not only in fairy tales but in the gospel message.
Fun for Lewis fills the universe. As Landvall points out, “If joy is the serious business of heaven, then fun is the serious business of earth.”
The Joke Proper for Lewis is not that of a gag writer for the Tonight show, but more thoughtful, dry and whimsical.
Satire and Flippancy for Lewis are two sides of a coin. Flippancy for Lewis reveals more of the dark side of humor that tears instead of builds. Satire for Lewis moves more along his preferred style of humor, that of incongruity and the power of language. As such satire for Lewis made a lousy megaphone of communication, but a work of art that speaks for itself.
For me the book is worthy of 4 stars out of 5. I expected to laugh more as I read it. I found myself lost at some of the words and references that I didn’t know. Yet I am glad I took the time to read Lindvall’s work, I came across with a greater appreciation of the work of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, but also a stronger grasp on the power and use of humor, laughter and satire.
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