Saturday, 30 January 2010
The Lesser Loved Lewis
CS Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress
If it doesn’t sound that familiar – fret not – I hadn’t heard of it before last week.
The book had been the sole copy in the second hand book shop on Bell Street. There was no Narnia to be had, but this copy of Pilgrim’s Regress had been on the shelf for quite some time.
‘This book’s been around for a while’ my friendly book seller remarked.
‘To be blunt, why didn’t ya give it away when it didn’t sell? You give so many other books that don’t sell to charities...’
‘But it’s CS Lewis, always good to have as many of his titles in stock. Better him on the shelves than Dan Browne eh?.’
I love my copy of The Pilgrim’s Regress and have inscribed my looped, curly signature on the title page. It’s never to be sold or put in the charity shop bag. And if I’m unable to pay my rent in SW7 then it’ll be a handy pillow for the bench-bed in Hyde Park!
The Pilgrim’s Regress is Lewis’ first novel as a Christian, and thereby as a Christian writer. It’s written as an allegorical apology for Christianity. To a degree it’s a theological book, but it’s also a political satire/ critique of anti-Christian political movements. The Pilgrim's Regress concerns the arduous discovery of Christianity, by John, the central character who dabbles with religion sporadically, until finally he relinquishes his false ideals, allows Christianity to guide his life and becomes a Christian. However, the book is firmly set in the fantasy genre.
You guessed it – it’s Narnia for adults
The geographical context is conveniently treacherous, and mountains and rivers revolt (spontaneously of course) in response to human activity.
The book is populated by some very colourful characters, including painted girls, brown girls, a statuesque virginal beauty called ‘Reason’, giants, dragons and trolls. Interestingly, I did read (but hope to verify soon) that the trolls represent the Nazis. Damian Thompson describes as 'trolls' the individuals that log onto his blog, and write obscene anti-semitic comments. In The Pilgrim’s Regress, the leader of the trolls is a man called ‘Savage’.
The central difficulty (from the reader’s perspective) with Pilgrim’s Regress is that Lewis is very self-indulgent. One needs at least a cursory knowledge of major ideologies, political systems, and writers such as DH Lawrence and Freud, as well as a degree from Oxford in Classics to appreciate fully where Lewis is leading you.
I’m going to order Finding the Landlord: A Guidebook to C.S. Lewis's Pilgrims' Regress
It gives a page by page explanation of The Pilgrim’s Regress, and I figure that it will give me insights into the finer cultural and theological aspects of the book.