Notes on Lewis' Conversion

The glorious week end of reading was before me. Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George MacDonald. . . .
The woodland journeyings in that story, the ghostly enemies, the ladies both good and evil, were close enough to my habitual imagery to lure me on without the perception of a change. It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new. . . . I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos. I do now. It was Holiness.
Surprised by Joy, p. 179

That night [the night he first read Phantastes] my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.
Surprised by Joy, p. 181

It was here that I first read a volume of Chesterton's essays. I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me. It might have been expected that my pessimism, my atheism, and my hatred of sentiment would have made him to me the least congenial of all authors.
Surprised by Joy, p. 190

In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere--"Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratgems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
Surprised by Joy, p. 191

All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink.
Surprised by Joy, p. 213

When I began teaching for the English Faculty, I made two other friends, both Christians (these queer people seemed now to pop up on every side) who were later to give me much help in getting over the last stile. They were H. V. V. Dyson (then of Reading) and J. R. R. Tolkien. Friendship with the latter marked the breakdown of two old prejudices. At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.
Surprised by Joy, p. 216

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. [Comment: this account is of his conversion to Theism, not Christianity.]
Surprised by Joy, pp. 228-29

On Saturday night, September 19, 1931, Lewis invited Tolkien and Hugo Dyson to his rooms. That night they engaged in a long conversation that Lewis points to as the deciding factor in his conversion to Christianity. Humphrey Carpenter, in The Inklings, says this about part of Tolkien's argument:

    Lewis had a particular reason for holding back from Christianity. He did not think it was necessarily untrue: indeed he had examined the historicity of the Gospels, and had come to the conclusion that he was 'nearly certain that it really happened'. What was still preventing him from becoming a Christian was the fact that he found it irrelevant.
    As he himself put it, he could not see 'how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) two thousand years ago could help us here and now--except in so far as his example could help us'. And he knew that Christ's example as a man and a teacher was not the centre of the Christian story. 'Right in the centre,' he said, 'in the Gospels and in St Paul, you keep on getting something quite different and very mysterious, expressed in those phrases I have so often ridiculed--"propitiation"--"sacrifice"--"the blood of the Lamb".' He had ridculed them because they seemed not only silly and shocking but meaningless. What was the point of it all? How could the death and resurrection of Christ have 'saved the world'?
    Tolkien answered him immediately. Indeed, he said the solution was actually a development of what he had been saying earlier. Had he not shown how pagan myths were, in fact, God expressing himself through the minds of poets, and using the images of their mythopoeia' to express fragments of his eternal truth? Well then, Christianity (he said) is exactly the same thing--with the enormous difference that the poet who invented it was God Himself, and the images He used were real men and actual history.
    Do you mean, asked Lewis, that the death and resurrection of Christ is the old 'dying god' story all over again?
    Yes, Tolkien answered, except that here is a real Dying God, with a precise location in history and definite histoical consequences. The old myth has become a fact. But it still retains the character of a myth. So that in asking what it 'meant', Lewis was really being rather absurd. Did he ask what the story of Balder or Adonis or any of the other dying gods in pagan myth 'meant'? No, of course not. He enjoyed these stories, 'tasted' them, and got something from them that he could not get from abstract argument. Could he not transfer that attitude, that appreciation of story, to the life and death of Christ? Could he not treat it as a story, be fully aware that he could draw nourishment from it which he could never find in a list of abstract truths? Could he not realise that it is a myth, and make himself receptive to it? For, Tolkien said, if God is mythopoeic, man must become mythopahtic.

    It was now 3 a.m., and Tolkien had to go home. Lewis and Dyson came downstairs with him. They crossed the quadrangle and let him out by the little postern gate on Magdalen Bridge. Then, Lewis recorded, 'Dyson and I found more to say to one another, strolling up and down the cloister of new Building, so that we did not get to bed till 4.'

    Twelve days later Lewis wrote to Aruthur Greeves: 'I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ--in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tokien had a good deal to do with it.'
    Humphrey Carpenter, in The Inklings, pp. 47-48.