Pilgrimages, Quests & Other Long Journeys: Background information when reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A Novel

by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce X
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2012, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2013, 368 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book

Pilgrimages, Quests & Other Long Journeys

This article relates to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Print Review

In Rachel Joyce's debut novel, Harold Fry sets off on what the book title refers to as an "unlikely pilgrimage"; but can his journey correctly be called a pilgrimage if it doesn't have a religious destination?

Although most of us probably think of a pilgrimage as having religious connotations, the word has its roots in the Latin peregrinus, meaning coming from foreign parts. Thus, the lead definition in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) of a pilgrim is simply "one who travels from place to place: a wanderer, a sojourner".

MapMany reviewers refer to Harold's journey as a quest. Is that also an accurate description?

According to the OED, a quest is a search for something - such as the quest for the Holy Grail or for the cure for cancer. On the face of it, Harold is not on a quest because he knows the name and address of his objective, so there is no searching involved; but his journey has many more layers to it than the simple act of walking from one place to another, not least overcoming his own personal demons and his belief that, as long as he walks, his friend will live - both of which sound like worthy quests!

Although we've established that a pilgrimage doesn't have to have a religious element, most of us would agree that for a long journey to be defined as a pilgrimage there should be a certain spiritual quality to it. The OED's second definition of a pilgrim is "one who journeys to some sacred place, as an act of religious devotion." While this definition is a little too rigid to describe Harold's journey, the end goal of a journey to a sacred place is, surely, to achieve spiritual and/or moral clarity; in short, to be a journey of self-discovery.

When Harold steps out of his front door to post a letter, he's not aware that he's starting on a journey of any sort; but his mission* to reconnect with an old friend evolves into a journey of self-discovery - and thus Harold is indeed a pilgrim and also achieves his quest!


*As an aside, it's interesting to note how both the words "pilgrim" and "missionary" have come to carry religious connotations when they were originally secular in meaning. Indeed, right up to the late 18th century, a missionary was simply one who undertook a mission. Thus, when Mungo Park returned from his first and purely scientific exploration of Africa in 1797, funded by the Africa Association, the Association's head, Sir Joseph Banks, referred to Park as his "missionary from Africa".



The map shows Harold's starting point in Kingsbridge, Devon - not the most southernmost point of England, but close to it; and his destination, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 2.5 miles south of the English border with Scotland. The route marked is not the one taken by Harold, but the shortest distance by car - a drive of over 8 hours.

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It originally ran in August 2012 and has been updated for the March 2013 paperback edition.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: An American Summer
    An American Summer
    by Alex Kotlowitz
    As a Chicagoan, I've become used to the most common reactions when I'm traveling and tell someone ...
  • Book Jacket: The Sun Is a Compass
    The Sun Is a Compass
    by Caroline Van Hemert
    Caroline Van Hemert fell in love with her future husband, Pat, in 2001, discovering they shared a ...
  • Book Jacket: Women Talking
    Women Talking
    by Miriam Toews
    Miriam Toews' Women Talking is a circadian novel, unfolding over a span of just a few hours and ...
  • Book Jacket: Confessions of an Innocent Man
    Confessions of an Innocent Man
    by David R. Dow
    It is circumstance that carries the wave that sweeps trendy Houston restaurateur Rafael Zhettah to ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    D-Day Girls
    by Sarah Rose

    The dramatic story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain's elite spy agency to help pave the way for Allied victory.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    When We Left Cuba
    by Chanel Cleeton

    An exhilarating historical novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

A masterpiece of storytelling, and a 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win Women Rowing North

The instant New York Times bestseller

A guide to wisdom, authenticity, and bliss for women as they age.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A B Penny A T U

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.