The Great Iconoclast
During the 1952 Christmas season, C. S. Lewis invited Joy Davidman Gresham—an American with whom he had corresponded for over two years—to spend the holidays at his home, The Kilns. Joy asked Lewis to autograph her copy of his book, The Great Divorce. He wrote, "There are three images in my mind which I must continually forsake and replace by better ones: the false image of God, the false image of my neighbours, and the false image of myself. C. S. Lewis 30 December 1952 (from an unwritten chapter on Iconoclasm)."
Though the planned chapter was never written, this simple inscription captures an idea central to Lewis's life and work: the idea that reality is iconoclastic—it breaks images or idols. An image of God (or of another person, or oneself) formed after reading a book, hearing a lecture or sermon, or having a conversation with a friend may temporarily give greater clarity of thought. But if it is held too tightly, it becomes an idol that must be broken in order to allow a better image to take its place. One might say that Lewis's entire relationship with the woman who eventually became his wife was encapsulated in the words he wrote on that December day.
Surprised by Joy
It was a story no one could have predicted. Lewis first came to know Joy through her fan letters. They met in person at Oxford's East Gate Hotel in September 1952. Lewis was a 55-year-old scholar and confirmed bachelor. Joy was a 37-year-old ex-Communist Jew from Brooklyn, a recent Christian convert, and a poet whose marriage to writer Bill Gresham was foundering on the rocks. As Joy went through a divorce, moved to England with her two sons, and was diagnosed with cancer, the unlikely romance that blossomed between her and Lewis shocked everyone.