I recently read The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho and The Shack by Wm. Paul Young in quick succession. I was struck by the simplicity of both books, and I also recollected how others had both praised and critiqued both books. It is the simplicity that people both love and hate about them both.
While discussing Paulo Coelho with a friend, she remarked that she can not appreciate the simple-ness of his work. That there is no meat to his work, nothing deeper.
While talking about The Shack with a group of local ladies, they all praised this work for the simple way it delivered its message.
Now these remarks from others were comments I heard before reading either work, so I was hesitant to read The Pilgrimage and eager to read The Shack, as might have been expected.
So, since finishing both books, I have been contemplating both specifically in their simplicity. The definition of “simplicity” can be described as the quality of being easy to understand or the condition of being plain or natural. Simplicity can be a beautiful thing. Something simple can be very useful and relatable.
The Shack is a story that describes itself (on the back cover) as addressing the timeless question of “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” Whereas, The Pilgrimage describes itself as addressing the need to find one’s own path in life. Both in their way speak to faith and spirituality and the role we, ourselves, play in both.
Without dropping any spoilers for either work (beyond what the book covers tell you already) I want to share my opinion of this word ‘simple’ used in recommending (or not recommending) these works.
The Pilgrimage is simple in that the objective of the main character ‘seems’ simple. It is simple in that it moves the reader along the pilgrimage of Coelho himself in such a way that it almost becomes the reader’s own pilgrimage. It provides simple methods of self-reflection, self-discipline and self-actualization that the main character learns to use and the reader can’t help but learn with him.
The Shack is simple in that it provides pithy responses to age-old questions in ways that make you suddenly aware of the depth of life’s average experiences. The main character is lost in a world that has robbed him of youngest daughter and who has sunk into the depths of despair. His experience is so traumatizing that I held off for several years in reading the book because I have a daughter of my own and I was unsure if I was brave enough myself to tackle such a topic. As we move with the main character in The Shack, we ‘learn’ with him what seems to be simple answers to life’s tough questions about good vs. evil, faith vs. reason, etc.
The Shack is simple in its clarity and understandability of language and writing; The Pilgrimage is simple in its message. Yet, The Shack is anything but simple in its message, and I think those who read it with care and intention will feel cheated out of real reflection and comprehension of the way too many ‘meanings-of-life’ it tries to deliver. The Pilgrimage tries to bite off a much smaller ‘life-issue’ but by the end of the story, whether it is Coelho or the reader, we are better prepared for the hardships of life because we have experienced this story. The reader of The Shack will have some great ‘lines’ and ‘answers’ for some of life’s big questions, but the reader will be no better off in helping themselves or another struggle through the depths of despair, they will have no new ways or understandings to make it through the struggle.
If a reader is ready to delve deep in to spiritual questions, The Shack will almost provide a catalogue of questions or issues to research or contemplate more deeply, whereas The Pilgrimage will have taught the reader HOW TO delve deeper and contemplate whatever deep questions one might encounter in life.
I am not sure this review is helpful for anyone, but I wanted to share my thoughts considering I read these books almost back-to-back. The Shack is straightforward and simple to comprehend – simplistic. The Pilgrimage is clean and clear, effortlessly bringing the reader into a deeper relationship with self and faith.
In closing, I will be keeping my copy of The Pilgrimage, it is already dog-eared and I have sent segments of the exercises to friends and shared on social media the poignant elements. The Shack, however, will be given to our local library’s thrift book shop. And that, simply, provides ‘review’ enough.