Pilgrim's Regress
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            Published in 1933, The Pilgrim’s Regress is both C. S. Lewis’s first work of fiction and his first Christian book.  He wrote it in just two weeks (August 15-29, 1932) while visiting his childhood friend Arthur Greeves in Belfast, Ireland.

 

            Playing off John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, Lewis’s allegory chronicles his journey to faith through various philosophies and –isms.  Why allegory?  Perhaps because Lewis was working on his academic treatise, The Allegory of Love (1936), about the same time.  Later, he would cover much the same ground in a more conventional format in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955).

 

            Lewis added an afterward to the third edition 10 years later, wherein he identified the book’s “chief faults” as “needless obscurity, and an uncharitable temper.”  Please consult the resources below to assist with the “needless obscurity” (almost 300 references and allusions, many in foreign languages).  As for the “uncharitable temper,” the book did not set well with Lewis’s Oxford colleagues and may have hindered his chances at tenure. 

 

            The so-called obscurity has caused this to be among the least read of Lewis’s books.  Nevertheless, a reader has much to gain from the undertaking.  Lewis had a grasp of 20th century pitfalls facing contemporary pilgrims – some in existence at the time of his writing and others mere seeds whose eventual fruition he foresaw.  Speaking of seeds, we also see embryonic concepts that Lewis would later develop in his books and essays.  E.g. the apologetics of desire; seeing through versus not seeing at all; the need for repeated self-surrender; myths as good dreams sent from God.   

 

Note:  Early in the book, the pilgrim, John, sees a naked brown girl who taunts him by saying that she is better than the “silly Islands” John has seen, which stirred up sweet desire within him.  Throughout the book, the brown girls (or lust) are a substitute for the joy John ultimately yearns for, as symbolized by the Island.  The term “brown girls” may sound racist to our modern ears.  However, as Lewis explains in “Early Prose Joy,” the idea for the brown girls came from William Morris’s book The Well at the World’s End, which featured the romantic allure of suntanned country maidens.

 

Resources

 

The Pilgrim’s Regress, Wade Annotated Edition, ed. David C. Downing, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI (2014).

 

Finding the Landlord: A Guidebook to C. S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, by Kathryn Lindskoog, Cornerstone Press, Chicago (1995)

 

The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith, by David Downing, IVP Press, Dowers Grove, IL (2004)

 

“Early Prose Joy”: C. S. Lewis’s Early Draft of an Autobiographical Manuscript.  SEVEN: An Anglo-American Literary Review. 30 (2013) 13-49.

 

“A Guide to C. S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress” by Henry Noel in CSL: The Bulletin of The New York C. S. Lewis Society, Vol. 45, No. 6 (Nov/Dec 2014) pp. 9-10, 12-22.  The same material appears in an earlier issue -- Vol. 2, No 4 (Feb. 1971), pp. 4-13.

 

“Quotations and Allusions in C. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress” compiled by Arend Smilde (Utrecht, The Netherlands), found at www.lewisiana.nl/regressquotes/index.htm.