At the end of his sojourn on Perelandra (the planet Venus), the protagonist Ransom sees or otherwise perceives the “Great Dance” in which all things are interrelated in a Dante-esque hierarchy. He watches shifting points of light which represent those facts and figures taught by history: “peoples, institutions, climates of opinion, civilsations, arts, sciences” (Perelandra 218). These together merge into a complex fabric of meaning:
It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and mutually embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties. Each figure as he looked at it became the master-figure or focus of the whole spectacle, by means of which his eye disentangled all else and brought it into unity—only to be itself entangled when he looked to what he had taken for mere marginal decorations and found that there also the same hegemony was claimed, and the claim made good, yet the former pattern not thereby dispossessed but finding in its new subordination a significance greater than that which it had abdicated (ibid).
It is possible to examine the work of C. S. Lewis, a writer of great variety in both subject-matter and genre, according to the analogue of the Great Dance. On any given journey through his corpus, a discerning reader might pick up one ribbon or thread and trace it through the work as if it were the primary or even the sole idea. Said reader might choose to follow Lewis’s adaptation of the Platonic doctrine of Forms; or his use of Aquinas’ ontological arguments; or his importation of Classical, Norse, and other mythologies; or the idea of Christianity as True Myth; or the resuscitation of Jove and the Ptolemaic cosmology ; or the necessity of Free Will; or the concept of Aslan/Eros/Maleldil/Christ as The Answer ; or a nostalgia for Romantic poetry; or “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction” (Surprised by Joy 18).
This desire or longing (“I call it Joy,” wrote Lewis, ibid) can be considered the (or “a”) center of Lewis’s polymorphous literary consciousness. It is integral to each of the seven other themes enumerated above, and can be seen as the catalyst for each and that common denominator which unites them all. In this paper, I will investigate the varying conceptions of this so-called “Joy” throughout Lewis’s writing, examining its intentional construction and retrospective application in The Pilgrim’s Regress and Surprised by Joy, describing its use as an essential plot element in the fiction and poetry, exploring its centrality to his other essential ideas, glancing at how “Joy” was informed by some of the cultural conversations in which Lewis was engaged, opening out some of the contradictions in his work, and culminating in a close examination of occurrences of the diction of Joy in his newly collected correspondence.