When people think of the works of C.S. Lewis, a few titles are sure to immediately come to mind, such as "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," "The Screwtape Letters," or "Mere Christianity."
But during a stop to the Sioux Center Public Library a while back, I came across a book of his I had never heard of before: "The Pilgrim's Regress." I checked it out, and have been enjoying this read about a young man's journey away from and back to Christianity.
"The Pilgrim’s Regress" is a strange tale, filled with allusions to the philosophies of his day. The tale is told of a young man named John who determinedly sets out from his small, comfortable village and life under the seemingly arbitrary rules of the land watched by Stewards on behalf of the seemingly absent Landlord. John abandons this to seek an image of paradise he’s seen in several visions.
His travels take him far across the land, and he meets a variety of men and women, some more amicable than others. His first encounter with Mr. Enlightenment goes well enough, but his run-ins with his offspring, later on, produce mixed results.
But one of the most striking characters found in the book is that of the Spirit of the Age, a massive giant whose throne is a mountain. John has wandered to the border of the Age’s domain, and the border guards detain John, not because he won’t depart, but to prevent him from departing. That’s the trick, you see; the Age is a greedy master, and he demands more servants.
Captive in the Age’s dungeon located in front of his throne, John is surrounded by other prisoners who are being driven mad by the giant and the effects of his powerful gaze. A guard periodically comes in and asks illogical questions, punishing those who resist, such as John.
Slowly, John starts to go mad, too, until he sees the logical flaw in the guard’s questioning. At this burst of logic, rescue comes from a knight, the armor-clad Reason, who then challenges the Spirit of the Age to answer a series of questions. When he loses, she slays him and comes to John’s aid.
Even with this powerful beast dead, John's fellow prisoners refuse to leave. They are too far gone, having lived for too long in without the benefit of Reason. Their master is dead, but they belong to the Spirit of the Age all the same.
Along the way, John and his companion, Virtue, come across a cabin near a canyon cliff inhabited by an old man by the name of Mr. Sensible.
He’s a dilettante, familiar with all sorts of philosophy and literature and sayings, but it’s all quite rudimentary and frequently misses the point of their source.
He knows much, but only for the purpose of holding a pleasant conversation with the occasional guest. He despises confrontation and debate of any sort, believing Virtue’s rebuttals and questions to be signs of dogmatism. How can you be polite company when you must insist on being right or consistent?
He claims to be a moderate through and through, holding to the middles of life, but even that’s not truly so. He just can’t bring himself to believe in anything with vigor; that is much more accurately his stance. He’s not moderate; he’s shallow.
As it turns out, he’s a parasite. The comfortable lifestyle he lives is the work of his manservant, named Drudge. Drudge, as he tells John and Virtue, has served many masters who all lived here. Over the years, he’s rebuilt the cabin many times; as the cliff erodes, it’s toppled the cabin and its owner over the edge time and again.
Mr. Sensible’s time will come, too, and when Drudge abandons his master, Mr. Sensible despairs because he’s being deprived of his comfortable lifestyle. All that he had was not wrought by his own endeavors, and he is left to reap what he has sown: nothing.
Where I am now, Virtue has returned from scouting the path ahead, warning of a group of ugly dwarves who serve a massive barbarian named Savage, who’s preparing to destroy all the land with his dwarf army.
There are two factions among his army, who constantly squabble but are much the same in all but clothing and color. They represent the Marxists and fascists of Lewis’ day. Different though they may seem, they both loyally follow the same cruel man and reside in the same mountainside.
As this book makes clear, the philosophies of the past never truly die and are well worth remembering for when they arise once again, and no master is better than the Landlord.