The Pilgrim's Regress

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The Pilgrim's Regress
First edition (UK)
Author C. S. Lewis
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Fantasy novel

J.M. Dent and Sons (UK)
Sheed and Ward (US)

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (US)
Publication date
1933 (UK)
1935 (US)
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

The Pilgrim's Regress is a book of allegorical fiction by C. S. Lewis. This 1933 novel — Lewis's first-published work of prose fiction — and his third piece of work to be published[1] charts the progress of a fictional character called John, through a philosophical landscape in search of the Island of his desire. Lewis described the novel to his publisher as "a kind of Bunyan up to date" in reference to John Bunyan's 17th century novel, The Pilgrim's Progress, recast with the politics, ideologies, philosophy and aesthetic principles of the early 20th century. As such, the character struggles with the modern phoniness, hypocrisy and intellectual vacancy of the Christian church, Communism, Fascism and various philosophical and artistic movements.

John, the pilgrim -in a manner like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress- journeys in search of the Island of his desire, of which he has received but a glimpse, but which his longing for is never quite forgotten. Like the Pilgrim in Bunyan's allegory, John meets a fellow traveller, in this case called Vertue, and the two journey together.

The land through which John travels is composed of shires, with such names as Puritania (from where he starts), Zeitgeistheim, Dialectica, Pagus. He also meets figures with names such as Mr. Enlightenment, Mr Sensible, Drudge, Mr Neo-Classical, Mr Humanist, Neo-Angular and Mother Kirk.

The characters do not correspond to any in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, but Lewis uses the same literary model as Bunyan.

Though allegorical the novel comprises for the most part of moral philosophy, and describes the quarrel in John's soul, between The Rules (John's earlier instruction by the Steward), and The Pictures (his imagination and the Island), and his search to reconcile these. On his journey he must eschew the false philosophic trails and the imitations of Sweet Desire.

Lewis' character finds that many philosophical roads ultimately lead to a fascistic nihilism — his explanation of the then-flourishing Nazi movement and other fascist governments of World War II. This also highlights his own attraction to paganism and Norse mythology as his first spiritual awakening that led him to Christianity (as detailed in Surprised by Joy), while acknowledging the darker potential elements of paganism as well.

The novel was written over two weeks spent holidaying at the home of his childhood friend Arthur Greeves.

The Pilgrim's Regress initially received mixed reviews, and did not sell well, subsequently it was taken on by several different Publishers. By the third edition however Lewis had recognised the difficulties some of his readers were having and wrote a critical and explanatory preface to clarify some the issues which seemed to him resulted from unintentional obscurity and changes in the philosophic thought of the early twentieth century. This edition also introduced a running headline format, as a concession to the book's difficulty, but with reluctance as Lewis expressed concern it could lead to a misunderstanding of the nature of allegory, which exists to reveal rather than to hide.


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