Book Review: The Pilgrim’s Regress

The Pilgrim’s Regress, by C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Michael Hague

As an early Christian, shortly after returning to the fold, so to speak, after a youth and a young adulthood spent as an atheist, C.S. Lewis wrote this book. The book is an obvious reference to the classic work by John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress [1] and seeks to provide a discussion of the moral landscape of his life outside of Christianity as well as the difficult process of his conversion back to the Anglican faith he had, albeit not with personal conviction, as a child growing up in the Protestant Ascendancy. This particular book, despite some lovely and medieval-themed illustrations by Michael Hague, has long been one of the more obscure and less popular books to read by C.S. Lewis, and it is somewhat easy to understand why, as Lewis himself admits in the afterword that the book is marked by two difficulties, one being the obscurity of its allegorical presentation and the other being a certain lack of charity about the other people in the book who are being written about and their worldviews, although for the most part the author continued to stand by his work even despite these flaws.

The contents of this book are divided as a straightforward journey, or at least as straightforward as a highly intellectual allegory about people and intellectual movements that have mostly been forgotten, can be. Those who are fond readers of books and poems will be able to catch a few references. In one passage, for example, the book makes a clever and biting reference to the poem Invictus [2], and knowing the poem makes the bite all the more potent. The contents of the book are divided into ten books, each of which can be considered as a chapter, totaling about 200 pages in the edition I read, and the first seven books deal with the author’s blundering attempts to live life apart from God (The Data, Thrill, Through Darkest Zeitgeistheim, Back To The Road, The Grand Canyon, Northward Along The Canyon, and Southward Along The Canyon). The eighth chapter, At Bay, looks at Lewis’ conversion process, the ninth chapter examines Lewis’ crossing of the great divide between man-centered and God-centered ways of thinking, and the tenth chapter is basically a trip along the same ground the author had tried to cross alone, only this time as a Christian, providing a sense of echoing, if not exactly repetition, before the roman-a-clef ends with John (an obvious reference to John Bunyan) crossing over the brook into the Kingdom of God. Since Lewis was at this time an early Christian, he wisely did not write too much about the ground that he was just starting to trod.

Despite the fact that reading this book almost requires footnotes to call to mind the precise intellectual heresies that Lewis was poking at, some of which are nearly entirely forgotten today, as important as they were for Lewis and his contemporaries, and despite the fact that some of the aspects of this book are patently uncharitable, there is still a great deal of worth in this book for readers who share the author’s sense of longing for the Island that is God’s Kingdom. For fellow romanticists (and Lewis here discusses the term in a very detailed way) of the stripe of Lewis or Goethe, the book offers an understanding of how both the pull of lust (which Lewis cleverly, if in a mildly racist fashion, relates to brown girls) as well as intellectual vanity and pride and other sins of mankind relate to our fallen nature on this side of the river, which appears to man to be a Grand Canyon cutting us off from the Kingdom of God unless we have his help. Not all people will understand this work, or appreciate it, but for those who do, this is a thoughtful minor work that allows Lewis to have a first pass at a memoir as well as an intellectual history of his time from the point of view of England’s most miserable convert to Christianity during the early 1930’s, as well as providing an early example of Lewis’ deep and abiding love for masque and allegory [3] as well as the writing and thinking of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, of which this book is a very belated tribute.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/book-review-pilgrims-progress/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/naming-our-abuse-driving-again/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/book-review-the-discarded-image/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/book-review-the-four-loves/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/book-review-planet-narnia/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book Review: The Pilgrim’s Regress

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The World’s Last Night And Other Essays | Edge Induced Cohesion

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