C.S. Lewis often talked about his longing, which he called Sehnsuch in German, for another—a better and more “distant” country—than the one we are living in. Why is this longing present if no such place exists? Living in our present place and life does not satisfy the longing. We find the hope for such a place throughout his writings.

Brown, Devin. 2013. A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis. Foreword by Douglas Gresham. Grand Rapids, MI: BrazosPress.

“While other biographers have provided excellent comprehensive, broad-ranging accounts of the events—large and small—which surrounded Lewis’s life, my goal is to focus closely on the story of Lewis’s spiritual journey and his search for the object of the mysterious longing he called Joy (always capitalized), a quest which he claimed was the central story of his life” (xi).

“This book is different. It is the story of Jack’s real true live—not the more flash of the firefly in the infinite darkness of time that is our momentary life in this world, but the one he left the world to begin—and how he came to attain it” (x, from the Foreword).

Devin Brown (Ph.D., University of South Carolina) is a Lilly scholar and professor of English at Asbury University, where he teaches courses on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Carnell, Corbin Scott. 1974. Bright Shadow of Reality: C.S. Lewis and the Feeling Intellect. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co.

“Many writers have seen in nature some evidence for the existence of a divine being, and this awareness has come not only in her sunnier, more benevolent aspects…. [But] often in fear, in awed surmise, in the lush of the deep mystery of man’s finitude and creatureliness” (15).

Sehnsucht may be thought of as one of the rooms in the house of literature; it has a variety of ‘furnishings’ and associations, but these are united in a common basis—a sense of displacement” (23). “I am indebted chiefly to C.S. Lewis for my understanding of Sehnsucht, I turn now to the subject of his development as an author and thinker” (ibid).

Chapter VII, “Sehnsucht and the New Romanticism,” deals with Lewis’s theory of it, how his concept meets recent theology and aesthetics, contemporary modifications and the value of his concept. Sehnsucht is related to “joy” which is often “a sense of displacement or disorientation which seems often to unite them in the vocabulary of poetic language….. Lewis uses the terms interchangeably” (143).

Goetz, Stewart. 2015. A philosophical walking tour with C.S. Lewis: Why it did not include Rome. NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Part one: 1) Hedonistic happiness; Common sense and happiness; The nature of happiness, good and evil; Euthyphro and action; Hedonism; The relation between happiness and morality; Eudaemonism; Possible objections to Lewis’s understanding of happiness; Joy or Sehnsucht; Can we really understand the nature of perfect happiness? 2) Supernatural persons; The body and happiness; Lewis’s view of the body; Mental to mental causation; Mental to physical causation; The soul is the person; Once more on common sense; The pleasure of the soul.

Glaspey, Terry W. 1996. The spiritual legacy of C.S. Lewis. Nashville TN: Cumberland House Publishing.

Lewis had a romantic temperament and the vision of his surrounding geography gave him a longing—a Sehnsucht—as a kind of symbol for the supernatural joy that he longed for (7). His first stories (called Boxen by Hooper) were created in imaginary place, complete with chronologies, maps, and lists of rulers” (8) The author maintains that if Lewis were alive today he would (not so musch be “longing” but see:

  • A generation who had lost touch with any moral law
  • Men who were unable to reason in their hearts
  • An education resulting gin violence, moral chaos and the breakdown of families
  • Ethical chaos
  • The loss of human dignity because of moral relativism

“The tragedy of our current state is mad more pronounced by contemplating the glory from which we have fallen” (183).

Glover, Donald E. 1981. C.S. Lewis: The art of enchantment. Athens, Ohio: Ohio U. Press.

Contents: Acknowledgments. Preface. Introduction. I) Letters; II) Critical Theory; III) The Fiction: 1) The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933); 2) Out of the Silent Planet (1938); 3. The Dark Tower (1938) (1976); 4) Perelandra (1943); 5) That Hideous Strength (1945); 6) The Screwtape Letters (1942); 7) The Great Divorce (1945); 8) The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956); 9) Till We Have Faces (1956); Conclusion. Endnotes. Index.

“Lewis has clearly distinguished his reader from his critic. The good reader is what most of those who have come this far in the book are: open, receptive to all the works have to offer, ready to look, listen, and receive….The good reader feels the theme more than the form…and that look will deepen and broaden our appreciation of what Lewis meant to say to us….Lewis had essentially one message: the search for truth begins with a longing to recapture an impression which has tantalized our senses and our minds. We look and long to find that truth and search through life in books and music, in paintings, in nature, and in other people, and ultimately we discover that we have mistaken the earthly experience for a spiritual one. We have accepted the reflection of the truth for its reality” (201).

Hannay, Margaret. 1981. C.S. Lewis. NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.

3) The Cord of Longing.

“C.S. Lewis should provide a starting point, a map of Lewis’s two worlds, that of his life and that of his imagination. Lewis emerges as a man haunted by longing, a man both passionately romantic and scrupulously logical, a man who, through love and suffering, progressed from dogmatism to gentleness” (xiii).

Holmer, Paul L. 1967. C.S. Lewis: The shape of his faith and thought. NY: Harper & Row.

Contents: Preface. 1) Some Reminders About Lewis and His Literature; 2) About Theories and Literature; 3) Concerning the Virtues; 4) What People Are; 5) On Theology and God.

“A prominent theologian who was also an acquaintance of C.S. Lewis offers an engaging, lively discussion of one of Christianity’s greatest apologists. Lewis’s great insight…was in understanding the special role that literature can play in drawing the reader into new constellations of emotion, virtue and belief.” (From the back cover.)

“The things in Lewis’s account of human life that are also the best are clearly the most costly. The gospel cost God the life of Jesus Christ. We do not have to sacrifice our intellects in order to be redeemed, but we do have to be converted, even in thought. Lewis gives us a clue to the transformation that is like a restoration. Once effected, it as if the unbidden reward is a world that once more makes sense. Our daily life hides a longing so pervasive, a need so powerful, that noting save God, immortality, and redemption will assuage them” (116).

Paul L. Holmer is Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School.

Kreeft, Peter. ed. 1994. The shadowlands of C.S. Lewis: The man behind the movie. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

  1. Joy: The Mysterious Longing (“Joy”); Two Mysteries of Desire (From the Preface to The Pilgrim’s Regress).

Happiness, Not Unhappiness, Begets Longing (From Till We Have Faces): The Preciousness of Longing (from Poems).

“This anthology is a necklace of gems from C.S. Lewis’ mine of some fifty books. Its unifying principle is the point of the title of the movie Shadowlands, in five steps, as summarized above” (11) [1-haunting sense, 2-innate longing, 3-soaring imagination, 4-knockout argument, but not, 5-escapist fantasy].

Lindvall, Terry. 1996. Surprised by laughter. Thomas Nelson Publishers.

6) Sehnsucht.

Menuge, Angus J.L., ed. 1997. Lightbearer in the Shadowlands: The evangelistic vision of C.S. Lewis. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Chapter 4, “Longing, Reason, and the Moral Law in C.S. Lewis‘s Search” (103-114).is by Corbin Scott Carnell. He first discusses Lewis’s inner journey (family relationships) and then his outer one (his education and scholarly output). “The three ideas tht so haunted Lewis’s intellectual and spirutal search—longing, reason, and the moral law—allcame to be understood by Lewis as being the results of living in a world made by a gracious Creator who seeks to draw human beings to Himself” (112). Lewis used various genres in his literary works: narrative, space fiction, children’s stories, and others but he is always careful to do two things: 1)not talk down to readers, and 2) use varied images and analogies (113).

Sammons, Martha C. 2004. A guide through Narnia. Revised and Expanded Edition. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing.

“For Lewis, marvelous literature evoked and satisfied his intense longing” (168) In his book, The Weight of Glory, Lewis speaks of a “far off country’ that contains secret desires, but something that has not occurred in experience. Longing is a spiritual exercise to receive beauty, often by means of gods, goddesses, nymphs and elves—“such creatures present to us an old reality we have forgotten, help us see nature and man in a visionary way, and illustrate the idea of heirchy and cosmic order” (169). Such stories are not escapism but rather “their true significance lies in their ability to arouse one’s mind a longing for something” (170).

Puckett, Joe, Jr. 2012. The apologetics of joy: A case for the existence of God from C.S. Lewis’s argument from desire. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, Publishers. [Also on my Kindle]

Contents: Foreword by Mark Linville. Preface. Introduction.

Part 1: C.S. Lewis and the argument from desire: 1) The argument as presented in selected works of C.S. Lewis; 2) Defining “joy” as Sehnsucht; 3) Plantinga and Lewis: Balancing the mystical and the natural in Sehnsucht; 4) A word on the different forms that the argument can take.

Part 2: Examining Beversluis’s objections of the argument: 5) Does Lewis “Beg the Question”? 6) Does the quality of Sehnsucht lack innateness? 7) If “Joy” is so natural and desirable then why did Lewis run away from it? 8) Does the concept of Sehnsucht contradict the Bible? 9) Why do some people never experience what C.S. Lewis calls “Joy”?

Part 3. Haunted by desire: 10) Echoes and evidences of the second premise; 11) Imagination and the heart’s deep need for a happy ending; 12) In the defense of beauty; 13) Lewis, leisure, and Sehnsucht.

Part 4: Concerning the conclusion of the argument from desire: 14) The evolutionary objection; 15) Is there a human gene for Sehnsucht? Conclusion. Appendix: The end of human desire. Bibliography. Subject/name index.

Schakel, Peter J., ed. 1977. The longing for a form: Essays on the fiction of C.S. Lewis. Kent, OH: Kent State U. Press.

In addition to the editor, some 14 authors contribute to provide “a critical study of Lewis’s works of fiction” (ix) with the aim of having “each essay suitable to general readers of Lewis” (ibid). The authors are intent on drawing “attention…to Lewis as a creative artist” (xi). To Lewis “form” was a type of literary composition, subject to his control. There was always a “shape” to his compositions, such that arrangement and handling of material were critical for unity (xiv).

Schakel, Peter. 1979, Reading with the heart: The way into Narnia (A Reader’s Guide). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Schakel has three chapters that relate specifically to “longing”: Chapter 6 on “Longing and learning in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and Chapters 9 and 10, which deal with endings and beginnings in The Magician’s Nephew and endings and transcendings in The Last Battle.

Schakel, Peter J. 1984. Reason and imagination in C.S. Lewis: A study of ‘Till we have faces’. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Chapters 6 and 7 deal with “Love” and longing. “It would not be unfair or misleading to call Till We Have Faces a development in fiction of the central themes Lewis would spell out a few years later in The Four Loves” (27).

Starr, Charles W. 2012. Light: C.S. Lewis’s first and final short story. Hamden, CT: Hinged Lion Press.

The story is about earthly Longing and the story of a man born blind. Starr analyzes the story, first of all, as one of intrigue: “an unknown manuscript by the twentieth century’s most famous Christian author” (1) that suddenly appears out of nowhere some 20 years after Lewis died.

Stellars, J.T. 2011. Reasoning beyond reason: Imagination as a theological source in the work of C.S. Lewis. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Contents: Acknowledgments. Introduction. 1) The nature and limits of naturalistic reason; 2) The function of the imagination; 3) The imaginative drive; 4) Desire and longing in Lewis, Plato and Augustine; 5) The ethics of fairyland; 6) Poetic labors; 7) The theological imagination. Bibliography. Subject index. Name index.

J.T. Sellars is an instructor of philosophy and humanities in northern California and southern Oregon.

Sellars attempts to: 1) place Lewis’s work in a premodern era; 2) enlist others to show that Lewis views the imagination “as purely phenomenologically funded” (p. 5): 3) show how Lewis’s imaginative self developed; 4) examine the role of desire in Lewis’s work; 5) demonstrate that Lewis rejected a purely rationalistic approach; 6) explore his debt to MacDonald; and 7) connect his reasoning and narrative framework to theology.

Travers, Michael, ed. 2008. C.S. Lewis: Views from Wake Forest. Collected essays on C.S. Lewis. Wayne, PA: Zossima Press.

This collection, edited by Michael Travers, professor of English at Wake Forest, contains 15 chapters, divided into four parts. Chapter 8 (137-155), “Wilderness, Arcadia and Longing: Mythic Landscapes and the Experience of Reality” is by Kip Redick of Christopher Newport University. “His specific research interest centers on the study of wilderness trails as sites of spiritual journey” (279).

Redick notes that “Lewis’ mythopoeic construction of vivid landscapes associated with spiritual journeys enlivens the reader’s interaction with characters and places” (137). This was indicative of the longing that Lewis experienced (Sehnsucht) and was evident in particular kinds of landscape. This desire was not more than intellectual and but rater communicating with God through the medium of nature.

Williams, Thomas M. 2005. The heart of the Chronicles of Narnia: Knowing God here by finding Him there. Nashville: W Publishing Group.

The enthusiasm of Lewis for adventure, fun and joy comes alive in the Narnia series and Williams blends them together in Part 1, with chapter titles like The song of Aslan, Not a tame lion, Deep magic before time and Romping with the Lion. The second part of the book is equally entertaining with Aslan on the move and The Blind Dwarfs. But it is in the 3rd part of the book that we have the chapters: Beyond the Shadowlands, Further up and further in and Longing for Aslan. It is this last chapter that includes the features Lewis best captured in the notion of Sehnsucht. Aslan, in The Last Battle, reminds his earth children that “This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you might know me better there” (173). Lewis had learned about “looking for joy in all the wrong places” (174), which led to the question, “How can we love God?” We find out when we reach Aslan’s country because “If Aslan no longer looks like a Lion, it’s not too hard to guess just what he does look like or who he is…. One whom we were created to love” (180).