Book Review of Surprised by Laughter: the Comic World of C.S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall, PH.D.

Every thing about this book cover and title appealed to me: “Surprised”, “Laughter”—I love surprises and love to laugh; “Comic”—right up there with laughter; “C.S. Lewis”—one of my favorite authors ever; and the cover, showing the juvenile markings of kooky glasses, a spiralling moustache and a goatee on the photograph of C.S. Lewis. I imagined a book filled with humorous stories about Lewis and funny passages from his books and letters. I planned to laugh heartily and smile often.

However, my first surprise came with the arrival of the book. It was heavy. When Thomas Nelson announced the availability of this book, I was so excited to get a copy that I didn’t look at any of the details. When I opened it, I found that it was 454 pages, not including the notes, bibliography and index.

The next surprise was realizing that this was something of an academic book. Was the author really going to dissect the meaning, purpose and various forms of humor? For 454 pages? What was my commitment to Thomas Nelson—did I have to read this? Nevertheless, the introduction encouraged me to keep turning the pages, as the author clarified his purpose in writing the book, and delighted me with his language.

Surprised by Laughter, he said, aims to put the signposts of Lewis’s travels across the landscape of laughter into a map of mirth, left as happy directions for weary travelers. It is not the purpose of the book to argue that Lewis was a comedian, but that this jovial man possessed an angelic mirth that constantly bubbled over out of his jolly reservoir. It is an encyclopedia of the various sources of laughter and wit that irradiated his writings, sources which include his father, Albert Lewis, Geoffrey Chaucer, G.K. Chesterton, Aesop, Beatrix Potter, Disney, Frederick Buechner and Madeleine L’Engle. Who could resist such a cast of characters in the background?

This book is a smile-inducing series of anecdotes, and not only is Lewis full of humor, the author himself writes with infectious joy. I did trip over the vocabulary now and then, as in one place where the author describes one of Lewis’s friends. “His pedantic posturing brought on an attack of malapropism. Trying to impress the ladies present, he… [mixed] the terms salubrious and salacious.” I had to look up many of those words.

It didn’t take long before I discovered another surprise. I found myself understanding life, and the Christian life, better as I read. I won’t list everything on my four hand-written pages of notes, quotes and page references, but here I share some of my own signposts and laughs on this reading journey.

Lewis was profoundly influenced by G.K. Chesterton, whom the author calls “a cheerleader of truth, goodness and the humorous ways of God.” According to Lindvall, “Fun, the joke proper, and flippancy can be planned and produced by any person. But joy can be received only from the One whose presence is absolute joy.”

Chesterton contrasted the simple people who tend to sing at their tasks with the most sophisticated who do not. “There were songs for reapers reaping and songs for sailors hauling ropes….Why should not auditors sing while auditing and bankers while banking?” So, he wrote “a thundering chorus in praise of simple addition”:
“Up my lads, and lift the ledgers,
sleep and ease are o’er.
Here the stars of Morning shouting:
‘Two and Two are Four’.”

Throughout the book, there are plenty of references to C.S. Lewis’s fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, which reveal Lewis’s huge heart of joy, which believed in a God with a huge heart. As I read, I appreciated the reminders of what actually makes for a happy life. Lewis believed that one finds joy when one finds one’s own place in the hierarchy of the universe and obediently fulfills it.

“Any patch of sunlight in a dark and deep wood,” the author says, “could well be described as a ‘patch of Godlight’.” He says that when God surprises us with laughter, we do well to remember that the gift is to remind us of the Giver of joy.

On the subject of heaven, Terry Lindvall says, “Earthly joys were never meant to satisfy our deepest needs.” Lewis says, “…heaven is [not] a club of good people singing hymns and taking offerings. (That kind of gathering would not appeal to many of us.)…Though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of such things, except perhaps as a joke.”

On the quiddity of life, the author believes that “To surrender to the quiddity of life—which means, to surrender to whatever life sends you—can be an adventure of unexpected and neglected delight.” He includes Lewis’s anecdote, when, on a run in the sleet with his schoolmaster, he first “discovered how bad weather is to be treated—as a rough joke, a romp”. Lewis added that our “happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and [receive] anything else (God, our fellow humans, animals, the garden and the sky) instead.” Lindvall refers to the sin of wanting to be like God, controlling what comes to us.

Inconveniences may be embraced as upside-down opportunities for fun, the author says, and G.K. Chesterton jokingly predicted that the sport of the future would be hat-chasing. Chesterton wrote, “…these men would be inflicting pleasure, rich, almost riotous pleasure, upon the people who were looking on. When I last saw an old gentleman chasing his hat in Hyde Park, I told him that a heart so benevolent as his ought to be filled with peace and thanks at the thought of how much unaffected pleasure [he was] at that moment giving to the crowd.”

I think the basis for my thorough enjoyment of this book is that I feel a camaraderie with joy-lovers C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and the author. I was pleasantly surprised to be trained in the godly habit of joy and fun, and encouraged to continue in my tendency to take childlike delight in life.


[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]

Revolution in World Missions

I kept running into a book entitled Revolution in World Missions: One Man’s Journey to Change a Generation by K.P. Yohannan. This book seemed to follow me from one bookstore to the next and insist that I bring it home, and I’m glad I ultimately did.

From the title I assumed it was one man’s journey to change a generation of people who had never heard the gospel of Christianity, and that assumption was partly correct. I’ve read biographies of missionaries and found them inspiring, but already had some biographies at home I hadn’t read yet, so I wasn’t going to buy another one. But when about twenty copies of this book were stacked near the cash register of a book store and offered for free, I took one, intending to give it away or donate it somewhere.

Before donating Revolution in World Missions, however, I decided to read a bit. But after reading the first few chapters describing K.P. Yohannan’s drive to share his faith among his people, and his culture shock at experiencing Western values and churches, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.

I now know that this book is also about one man’s journey to change a generation of Christians who have been numbed into inactivity by their own ignorance and their wealthy, comfortable culture. Hopefully, it will lead us out of our often purposeless and restless lives back to our commission to share the gospel.

In the first part of the book, the author describes seeing Americans taking wealth for granted, and being alarmed at how misplaced the spiritual values of believers were. He immediately sensed the awesome judgment that was hanging over this country (my beloved native land!), at the same time as he marveled at the supply of fresh water, electrical power, telephones and paved roads.

He was surprised at how Americans seemed to need noise and to be entertained, and how important eating and drinking and large church buildings were. After being given an offering at a church, he was horrified to see that the food and fellowship that followed cost more than the money that had just been donated to missions. His perspective was similar to my own growing discomfort with this disparity, and I felt a kindred spirit.

Yohannan went on to note that religion is a multi-billion dollar business in the U.S. and his experience with American churches and Christian media showed him how much time and money are spent on activities unrelated to Christianity. He quotes statistics that 80% of the world’s people have never owned a Bible, while Americans have an average of four in every household, and that only a tiny 0.1% of all Christian radio and television programming is directed toward the unevangelized world. Most religious media, he says, is “entertainment for the saints.” He found a church in spiritual decline, yet knows that God wants His Church to recover its moral mandate and sense of mission.

He quotes C.S. Lewis as saying, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this [hell]. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully, ‘All will be saved’.” Yet the scriptures say otherwise, therefore, the author says, the Christian mandate to share the life- and world-changing gospel needs to be a priority over the “social gospel”—social work that meets only the physical needs of a culture.

Yohannan believes that God has called him to the West to bring awareness of the needs of his countrymen in India, and find “senders” to pray for and finance the nationals who carry the gospel to their own neighbors. Of all the author’s surprising statistics, this one had the most impact on me: it costs between $40,000 and $80,000 per year to support a Western missionary on the mission field. Yet in India, for only the cost of the flight from New York to Mumbai, a national missionary can work for years!

I admire the honesty and integrity of this man enough to put my money where my mouth is by contributing to the organization which he founded, Gospel for Asia, which sends 100% of donations to the work of the gospel. I recommend this book to anyone who recognizes the spiritual and physical needs of the many peoples in the world, and believes that the message of Jesus Christ is the answer to those needs.

If you want a free copy of this book, the GFA website offers Revolution in World Missions and also many other free resources and valuable information.  For the printed book, go here.  For the electronic book, go here.]