The Pilgrim's Regress

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The Pilgrim's Regress
First edition (UK)
AuthorC. S. Lewis
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreFantasy novel
PublisherJ.M. Dent and Sons (UK)
Sheed and Ward (US) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (US)
Publication date
1933 (UK)
1935 (US)
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)

The Pilgrim's Regress is a book of allegorical fiction by C. S. Lewis. This 1933 novel was Lewis's first published work of prose fiction, and his third piece of work to be published.[1] It charts the progress of a fictional character named 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 journeys, in a manner like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, in search of the Island of his desire, for which his longing is never quite forgotten even though he has received but a glimpse of it. 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 (where he starts), Zeitgeistheim (German for "home of the 'spirit of the age,'" or Zeitgeist), Dialectica, and 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.

The novel, though allegorical, deals for the most part with 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 philosophical trails and the imitations of Sweet Desire.

Lewis' character finds that many philosophical roads ultimately lead to a fascistic nihilism, his explanation of the flourishing Nazi movement and other totalitarian 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 (which he would return to in the non-fiction autobiography 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 which some of his readers were having and wrote a critical and explanatory preface to clarify some of the issues that resulted from unintentional obscurity and changes in the philosophical 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 that it could lead to a misunderstanding of the nature of allegory, which exists to reveal rather than to hide.


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