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

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A Novel

by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2012, 336 pages
    Mar 2013, 368 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Pilgrimages, Quests & Other Long Journeys

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 ...

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