An allegory of the author's intellectual journey

The Pilgrim's Regress - C.S. Lewis

After I started reading this book for a second time I suddenly kicked myself for not reading [book: Pilgrim's Progress] beforehand because it is quite clear that the former book has heavily influenced this work. However, I have read it (a while ago) and are somewhat familiar with the story, so it wasn't that big of a mistake. Anyway, following the tradition of Pilgrim's Progress, Lewis sets out to write an allegorical spiritual journey which, while based on his life, is not necessarily strictly following it (and there are a number of instances where the allegory diverges from his own experience). Once again, like [book:Surprised by Joy] Lewis' journey is one through the intellectual sphere as the character John (no doubt taken from the writer of Pilgrim's Progress – [author: John Bunyon]) travels to seek the island that as a child gave him so much joy.

There has been some discussion as to why Lewis' chose the title 'Pilgrim's Regress' in that the Christian journey is not one of regressions. However I feel that that completely misses the purpose of the book. Pilgrim's Progress is an allegorical story of everyman's journey from becoming a Christian and the struggles that many face as they go on that journey. This is not the case with Lewis' story because it is not the Christian journey that Lewis is exploring, but the journey to becoming a Christian. It is the case that once John finally overcomes the final obstacle the road suddenly becomes clear, however the journey to that point is anything but smooth.

Another factor we need to consider is that this is not the journey of the everyman, but the journey of an intellectual as he navigates the various philosophies that are thrown up against him and the lies and deceits that he encounters. The allegories are presented in numerous ways, such as hedonism being painted as brown boys and girls (and these creatures come across as being little more than automatons who act like snares to entrap the unwary traveller), or Freudianism being painted as the land of the giants.

It is interesting to see how John navigates these obstacles, though to understand some of these obstacles, one must first know a few things about the world in which Lewis is writing. To explain this though I need to show you a map of the world:


As you can see, there is a path that travels directly across the continent effectively dividing it in half. As Lewis explains in his introduction this divides the two spiritual points on his compass – to the south of the line you have emotion and feeling while to the north of the line you have the world of intellect and reason. You will notice that a lot of the time John spends to the north of the road, which suggests that he saw that emotion could not really provide anything of substance, so he crossed into the intellectual sphere (which is very much a trait of C.S. Lewis, who did marry, but not until quite late). As with all allegories though, they do have a tendency of falling apart because I know in my own life I have drifted through emotion and reason at the same time.

The other interesting thing that I noted is that as he travels across the country, the Christian truth doesn't necessarily become clearer to him, but rather is diluted with other ideas that serve to undermine the message. If the Christian message is salvation by faith, and God revealing himself to us in the form of Jesus Christ, then this message can easily be undermined, such as through the introduction of laws. This is something that comes out at the beginning where he is forced to go to church every Sunday wearing very uncomfortable clothes, and being told that one must obey the laws otherwise one will be thrown into the pit. No wonder he walked away from this because there was clearly no joy, just pain and fear.

However, as he travels, he comes to see some truth in his past, however it was a truth that was undermined by the need for power. The question arises where the rules initially came from – where they always there, or where they only created afterwards. If there is indeed a moral absolute, then that suggests that the laws have always been around, however the question is then raised as to which laws are a part of the absolute and which were created afterwards to essentially enslave humanity. While Paul the Apostle does speak about to need to live a moral life, he also cries out against the laws and the rituals that are created to effectively enslave us.

The final thing that I wish to note is the elements of Gnosticism that seem to exist in this book. For instance we hear a lot of the Monad, which is something that has come out of the ancient Gnostic literature that I have read. The Monad is effectively the supreme being, otherwise known in the common parlance as God. However, unlike the God of the Bible, who reveals himself, the Monad is trapped behind a cloud of unknowing: a mysterious figure the truth of which we can never learn.