If you are a fan of C.S. Lewis with fond memories of reading his The Chronicles of Narnia to your children, or perhaps you found comfort in A Grief Observed, then you might relish this account of an unlikely friendship turned into true love. The novel is subtitled The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.
Improbable because they are an ocean apart, he in the illustrious halls of Oxford, England, she, a child of Ukrainian immigrants, raised in the Bronx. When Joy, an atheist at age 31, discovers the presence of God in her life, she turns to Lewis for answers, for he, too, was a converted atheist.
After reading an article by Lewis in the 1946 Atlantic Monthly, Joy, a well-respected author in New York literary circles, writes Lewis a letter, seeking answers about her new-found faith. They continue to write to each other for six years while she copes with an alcoholic and philandering husband, Bill, and Lewis remains a confirmed life-long bachelor. Finally, in 1952, at age 37, Joy visits England and meets her pen-pal C.S. Lewis.
During the writing of the novel, author Callahan traveled to Wheaton College’s Wade Center in Wheaton, Ill., where most of Joy’s and Lewis’ papers are housed. The author says, “Alone in the Wade Center, surrounded by Joy’s handwriting, her letters, her poems, her divorce decree and passport, Joy came alive for me.” And she certainly made her come alive for this reader also.
The heart of the story is their developing relationship and eventual marriage. Lewis marries Joy secretly, first in name only so she can remain in England. They are at this point still just friends. But when she is diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, he becomes acutely aware of the possibility of a life without her, his dearest friend. They declare their love, marry again, and consummate their marriage.
Other beautiful parts of this book are the descriptions of daily life at Oxford and the Lewis’ home in the Kilns. Equally endearing are the scenes where Joy’s sons spend time with the author of their favorite book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
As the book jacket of Becoming Mrs. Lewis says so well, “…we meet a brilliant writer (Joy), a fiercely independent woman who changed the life of this respected author (Lewis). Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for him gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.
A few movies have been made through the years of their story. I recommend Shadowlands with the version starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. I believe it’s available on Netflix.
Reviewer Violetta Armour is a Sun Lakes resident from Ahwatukee where she owned the bookstore Pages. She is the author of four novels, including award-winning I’ll Always Be With You, a book club favorite. Her books are available at Chandler and Phoenix libraries and on Amazon. She also reviews books on her blog at www.serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com.