Surprised by Joy: How Joy Davidman Shaped C.S. Lewis by Dr. Crystal Hurd

This weekend was the 100th anniversary of Joy Davidman’s birth. An important American poet and writer in her own right, I know about her because she was married to C.S. Lewis. This late, surprising marriage absolutely took over Lewis’ life and transformed his understanding of love. An atheist, Jewish, Marxist, playwright, poet, critic, mother and love–I’ve been struggling to come to terms with this enigmatic and attractive figure. On top of her sheer colour and intrigue, I have the image of Debra Winger in Shadowlands in my mind’s eye. 

I’ve also been struggling to write a post about it. I’ve reading Lyle W. Dorsett’s Surprised by Love, an early biography of Joy. Still nothing has come. When I saw this brilliant blog by Crystal Hurd, though, I knew I could do nothing better than direct you to her site. In this case, the blog is a talk by Dr. Hurd about the shaping influence that Joy’s presence had upon Lewis. Enjoy this talk, and props to Crystal!

Surprised by Joy: How Joy Davidman Shaped C.S. Lewis

Dr. Crystal Hurd

Given on April 18th, 2015 at the Inklings Fellowship Retreat in Montreat, North Carolina

In 1922, a young Oxford scholar named C.S. Lewis scribbled some verses to a narrative poem that he would later title “Dymer.” The poetic reinvention of “Dymer” was based upon a prose version originally written in 1916 (when Lewis was a mere eighteen years old) called “The Redemption of Ask.” The poetic version, which was published in 1925, chronicles the odyssey of a young man out of the territory of his youth and into a dense forest where he meets a mysterious and enchanting woman.

“He entered into a void.
Night-scented flowers
Breathed there – but this was darker than the night
That is most black with beating thunder showers,
A disembodied world where depth and height
And distance were unmade.
No seam of light Showed through.
It was a world not made for seeing.
One pure, one undivided sense of being
Though darkness smooth as amber, warily, slowly
He moved. The floor was soft beneath his feet.
A cool smell that was holy and unholy,
Sharp like the very spring and roughly sweet
Blew towards him
The same night swelled the mushroom in earth’s lap
And silvered the wet fields: it drew the bud
From hiding and led on the rhythmic sap
And sent the young wolves thirsting after blood,
And, wheeling the big seas, made ebb and flood
Along the shores of earth: and held these two
In dead sleep till the time of morning dew…”

After having an intimate encounter with his enigmatic lover (marked by a sensation he calls “holy and unholy”), she disappears and Dymer, over the next several cantos, searches for her. Eventually, he is killed by his own offspring, a product of that evening together, and becomes a god.

…. keep reading, click here!

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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41 Responses to Surprised by Joy: How Joy Davidman Shaped C.S. Lewis by Dr. Crystal Hurd

  1. Hanna says:

    Thanks for posting this, Brenton! I think the story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman’s relationship is fascinating. It’s a wonder so few people know who Joy Davidman was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been thinking about that–who we should know. She was hot in the 1930s, but faded as an artist in the 1940s. Had she continued to grow in WWII and after, we might know her.
      But, she is a poet primarily. How many poets do you know of the 1000s of American poets in 1930-1960? I know very few!


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