Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Book Review: C.S. Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress
I must preface this review by stating up front that I have never read John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, the book in which Lewis based The Pilgrim's Regress. One day I may go back and read that but right now my reading list is quite full.
Still, The Pilgrim's Regress stands up on its own merits. It was a great read that I enjoyed immensely. What Lewis was up to in this novel was pretty apparent from the beginning. A one sentence synopsis of the book would go something like this: One's journey through temptation and sin, the influences of the world, to ultimate acceptance of the truth about Christ and salvation.
This was Lewis' first novel after rediscovering his Christian faith. Some have claimed this novel is autobiographical in nature, and all agree that it is a book of Christian allegory. Lewis develops a rich world in the novel that is very similar in make-up to our own world, though more of a caricature.
The book has so much imagery and figurative language that it would be utterly impossible to delve into it all in a short review such as this. However, there are some obvious allusions that Lewis was drawing. The Landlord of course is God. The Island is the symbol of ultimate joy and pleasure (heaven). Most of the characters that the antagonist, John, meets along the way are symbolic of the different humanistic ways of thinking that have pervaded our world, especially over the last few centuries.
John, of course, is drawn into action by the Island. His journey's goal is to reach the Island. Some he meets along the way don't believe in the Island, and some even belittle him for believing in it himself. Others believe in the Island, but have their own ideas about reaching it.
John's idea for reaching the Island is very common among people today; he thinks he can reach it on his own. He thinks through his own travel and efforts he can ultimately attain the Island of his dreams. It isn't until he learns the truth, that he needs the Landlord and the Landlord's son to reach the Island, that he becomes aware that it is unattainable if he tries to attain it on his own.
After John's baptism, he journeys back, or regresses, to Puritania. Though the world looks different to him, the temptations continue and become even more intense. What Lewis is doing near the end of the novel is showing that our journey isn't over when we discover salvation, it has just begun.
While, as with all of Lewis' writings, there are some things in The Pilgrim's Regress that are more specific to his particular denomination, the overall theme of the novel is excellent. The writing and execution of the story are very well done. Some of the stones he throws in the direction of groups and people that are/were contrary to Christianity are well timed and spot on.
The novel is just a little over 200 pages long, so it is a very quick read. It is a book I will return to again in the future.