Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

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Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan was one of the first modern novels when it was published in 1679 and 1685 because it uses dialogue as a main tool to drive the story. As an allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress plainly tells the story of each Christian’s lifelong quest from a sinful life to eternal life using the example of a physical quest of a pilgrim named, appropriately, Christian.

I certainly appreciate the impact of Pilgrim’s Progress on the history of literature and I am very glad I read it. It is a pillar in Christian history and a milestone in western literature. Yet, reading Pilgrim’s Progress was challenging. Since it was written in the 1600s, it was a difficult writing style that didn’t “flow” as modern writing does. I would not have been so frustrated with this unfamiliar writing style had not the allegory been so poorly “veiled.” Pilgrim’s Progress was painfully didactic and instructional. In the end, it may have met the needs for the times in which it was written but it doesn’t touch me today.

In the first part of the book, Christian leaves his wife and children in the City of Destruction because they would not join him on his journey toward eternal life. He entered the path to eternal life at the “Wicket Gate” (which represents Christ). Throughout his long and trying journey, he meets many people and guides, such as Faithful, Hopeful, and Patience and Worldly-Wiseman, Talkative, Obstinate, and Pliable. Each person he meets fits their name by their character and ways of dealing with trial. It was kind of funny to read of a new character because I already knew what they would choose to do in the upcoming trial. Of course Talkative was all talk and no action! Of course Pliable turned back when it got hard!

With each new encounter, Christian discusses the gospel, learning much as he struggles through the difficult journey. In the second half of the book, Christian’s wife and children are converted and leave the City of Destruction and likewise undertake a journey, hoping to join Christian, who has made it to eternal life. The children are questioned as Christian had been and all learn the gospel through their trials.

I appreciated the second half much more. Christian’s journey was full of discussion about the gospel, while Christiana’s journey seemed more applicable to my personal life. I could better relate to the discussions the women had and the “catechizing” of the children. Further, during Christian’s journey, I was sad most of the time at the thought of his family left in the City of Destruction: the joy of eternal life would seem diminished without your family with you, I thought. And this also is Bunyan’s point: how much more joy they would have had making the journey together. On the other hand, Christiana’s journey reminded me that the family would be together in the end. I liked that concept.

Seth Lerer, in Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History, discussed the influence of Pilgrim’s Progress on children’s literature and literature in general. He explains that Pilgrim’s Progress is a reflection of the day in which it was written and the purpose for which it was written.

Often, too, [the Puritans] dubbed their children with the English translations of biblical monikers: Hopeful, Silence, Learn-Wisdom, Hate-Evil, Do-Well, Increase, Thankful, Accepted. Such names created a community of the truly goodly and virtuous — a community that from our modern perspective seems more allegorical than alive. It is as if they lived, in real life, in the world of Pilgrim’s Progress — and this may be precisely the point. (page 82)

Understanding the era and the people in which and for which Pilgrim’s Progress was written helps me to appreciate Pilgrim’s Progress more. While Pilgrim’s Progress wasn’t a “delightful” read, it was an eye-opening, interesting one.

If I were to appear in the pages of a book like this, I think I’d be called “Read-A-Book.” Christian would come ask me a question and I’d answer, “Good question! Let me find a book about that.” I think my son would be “Giggle-Giggle” because he thinks he can talk and most of what he says sounds like “giggle” or “gaggle.” What would your name be if it matched your character?

If you reviewed Pilgrim’s Progress on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on January 7, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I LOVE Pilgrim’s Progress.  Growing up we had an illustrated version of it and I really loved having a visual for extra impact. 

    Unrelated note:  I’m sure you track these kinds of things, but I should be linking to you in my next post…

  • I had very similar feelings as you about this one.  I like trying to imagine myself back in the time that a book like this was written.  If the girls of Little Women read it, so should I.
    I think I might be called Quirky or Cranky.

  • I also read the illustrated version in high school, enjoyed it, and thought I was quite the scholar for having read it. It is one of the books thsat I think I should re-read as an adult, but I worry that I would find it incredibly boring. For all that it is important, etc., etc.

  • ak, was your illustrated version more “modern” English. I have a hard time with the 1600s English with this — and I can’t imagine reading it as a child! I do follow your blog, so I’d notice any linking, but I’ll be watching very carefully 🙂

    Eva, I guess it was adorable. I didn’t hate reading it. It was just harder than I expected…

    Chain Reader, That’s what I kept thinking! Children read it, why was I having a hard time!

    Rose City Reader, that’s what I thought. I felt pretty bored reading it and yet guilty for being bored! But having good memories of reading it may make a subsequent read more enjoyable!

  • When I hear about this book I always think about Little Women and the girls taking lessons from this one. I read parts of it years ago, but I’d like to revisit it some day. This is a REALLY old classic!!

  • Yes there is a very marked change of tone in the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress. For what it is worth it was one of Samuel Johnson’s three favorite books. The first half of the book was, in the old days, seen as masculine, the second half feminine.

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