Shortly after his conversion to Christianity, C.S. Lewis sat down to write a Christian allegory in the style of John Bunyan’s famous work The Pilgrim’s Progress. In this seminal work, which has been hailed as one of the most influential texts of Christian writing in the English language, pilgrim Christian travels from the dark lands to “the Celestial City.” Lewis aimed to write a similar story, stating that his new prose piece The Pilgrim’s Regress: an allegorical apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism “is a kind of Bunyan up to date.” In fact, Lewis and his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien were influenced by Bunyan’s story.
Writer Erik Yeager also wished to update Bunyan’s tale in his work The Narrow Road. Brimming with spiritual insight and evocative prose, The Narrow Road echoes many great aspects of Bunyan’s tale. For example, protagonist Christian sets off on an assignment with his sidekick Faithful (just as Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings). Faithful is instructed by a holy “Book,” and Christian visits Apollyon’s city of “Vanity” (“Vanity Fair” in Bunyon’s version). Evil is represented by King Apollyon; those who seek out men to capture are called “Tracers.” Christian and Faithful, two new tracers, live on the outskirts of a town called Destruction (like Bunyan’s “City of Destruction”) and must travel through the malicious town of Mansoul, crouch in terror at Doubting Castle with the jailor Despair, and ultimately through a philosophic maze of questions about religion and faith. Christian and Faithful are faced time and again with new challenges and new perspectives about the King Yeshua (son of El Shaddai). Their faith, loyalty, and friendship are tested with each hardship, but they receive help along the way from folks such as the Evangelists and the Interpreter. Christian learns that his doubt, although explained through reason, still leaves him unsatisfied. He hears different viewpoints and struggles to find Truth in a fog of questions and controversy. Yeager writes with passion and purpose as he walks his characters through the darkest parts of their journey. In an excerpt below, we see how Christian and Faithful interpret the sayings of the Evangelicals against their own uncertainty and stubbornness.
Beyond the swamp, the Black Wood was a mix of archaic beauty and heavy atmosphere. Just enough of the sky could be seen through the canopy above to keep their nerves steady, but only just. It appeared that all the trees had spent their centuries twisting themselves into strange wooden sculptures. The light and shadow played tricks on Christian’s eyes, showing him ‘faces’ or movement just enough at the periphery of his vision to make him doubt he had actually seen anything—except that this certainty occurred too frequently to be mere ghosts of his imagining.
Behind him, Faithful had taken to using the final moment of daylight to read from the Book in search of anything that might help them in their travels, which was impressive as he still managed to navigate the forest without stumbling.
“So this is what the Evangelist meant…” he mumbled.
“Wha—?” said Christian.
“…’the wrath to come’ that he spoke of. He was referring to—“
“—the Day of Judgment: when Yeshua’s people believe that He will finally cast Apollyon, Apollyon’s Fallen brothers, and all His enemies into the fire for eternal destruction. Quite the bedtime story, eh?”
“You’ve heard of this before?” said Faithful, amazed.
Christian let out an incredulous sigh. “It’s nothing new. It’s all the Evangelists talk about.”
“Then you don’t believe it?”
“I believe in the wrath of the past; failures and wayward acts against our fellow man, nature, and the powers of this world that build one upon one another like black monuments. I believe that as long as we don’t appease the hunger of Apollyon and his demon hordes, they will make good on their promise to feed on everyone we love. I’ve seen it before and I would feed those monsters countless strangers before watching them devour everyone I love. But that is no longer an option for us now…” Christian trailed off, allowing a measure of the accusing guilt he felt toward Faithful come through his voice.
“So it doesn’t matter if we are no longer carrying out the duties of Apollyon? The King that this Book and the Evangelist speak about will not consider a pardon for us if we ask Him?”
“After the number of his followers we helped kill? What King would be so merciful? Would you be if you were in His place? Just remember that this King—Yeshua—is the Son of El Shaddai who is the One who sets us Laws that no one can follow and them condemns them for breaking even one—one time. This means that to Him, we are no better that the Fallen and all their servants. At least they empower us to provide for our families and fight back against El Shaddai and his tyrannical Law—a Law He chooses to impose on those who do not wish to subscribe to it!”
“Based on the words of the Evangelist, it would seem that He would have the right to apply His Law to us all. Remember that He called us the rebels, and Belial and the others the enemy?”
“Of course he did,” Christian spat back, hiding his inner doubts. “Doesn’t every side think they are the right side?” (43-44)
Perhaps one of the finest aspects of this story is that it is entertaining as well as instructional. Some legends of old laid heavy on the moral, leaving the story to suffer. Thus, it is rare to enjoy the story as much as the meaning intended. Yet, Yeager paints a vivid portrait of the people in Destruction, of the long and labyrinthine journey toward the Celestial City and El Shaddai. It can be read and enjoyed by anyone from age 5 to 95 and would make a great companion story to read alongside Bunyan’s text, Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress, or any great tale of travel and discovery. The film version will be sure to delight a wide audience, using the Christian framework to unravel a magical and transcendent story. Yeager’s adaptation of The Pilgrim’s Progress is just as poignant, substantial, and enjoyable as Bunyan’s work. Those who enjoy the work of great masters such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien will revel in this fine story which will feed your intellect and spirit as well as your imagination. The Narrow Road is an innovative spin on a classic tale, retold skillfully for a new generation.
C.S. Lewis. Letter to Guy Pocock dated 17 January 1933. The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2. Ed. Walter Hooper. HarperCollins. 2004
For more information on the book or upcoming film (teaser scene below), check out these links: