Lauren Spohn


First, in his 1933 allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress and, later, in his 1955 autobiography Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis described his conversion to Christianity as a journey guided by the search for what he called “Joy.” In the 1943 foreword to Regress, Lewis defines this feeling as an “intense longing” that “pierces us like a rapier”; later in Surprised by Joy, he calls it a desire of “almost sickening intensity,” best captured by the German word Sehnsucht. David Downing offers a helpful formulation of this “Sweet Desire” as “the blissful ache for some paradise out of reach,” which acts as the central thread of Lewis’s conversion story in both its allegorical and biographical forms. By reading Regress’s glimpse of the afterlife alongside similar visions in Lewis’s other works of fiction and alongside variant productions of the allegory itself, we can begin to fill in this gap in our understanding of how Lewis envisions Sweet Desire after union with God in Heaven. Such comparisons reveal that death, for Lewis, brings not a consummation but a continuation of Sehnsucht, which leads the Christian infinitely closer to God even as he remains far enough displaced to take part in relationship with Him.