Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press/Life Sentence Publishing in exchange for an honest review.]
This book was a little longer than I remember reading before, but part of that is due to two elements. For one, this book includes both parts of the book, both the original volume about Christian and a follow-up about his wife Christiana and their children. For another, this book is slightly edited, taking out some of the references to scriptures but including the text of many of the scriptures that Bunyan refers to, because our contemporary age is not quite as biblically literate as previous generations who would have gotten the references easier. The book itself proceeds clearly from a dissenting Protestant viewpoint, and contains some rhyming poetry, some sermonizing on the Trinity, and a lot of allegory, which leads to some flat characters but revealing commentary about the author’s biblical and political worldview.
There are some major differences in the path of Christian and his wife, who is portrayed as a nag to start out with but repentant afterwards. It is tempting to criticize Bunyan (a bit anachronistically) for his belief that the women of his story needed protection, but frequently the men of his story needed help too. Furthermore, it was women, especially his wife, who taught the author how to write in the first place. This book serves to remind us of our need for an infrastructure of faith including other believers, sound doctrine, family and community, as well as different roles and strengths, so that we are encouraged. The book is full of interesting scriptures, some of which I am very fond of and some of which are quite obscure, and there are many characters, not all of them flattering, that it is easy for readers to identify with. There is no doubt that for all the book’s flaws, and the fact that it has a biased perspective that is especially anti-Catholic and surprisingly relevant in its criticism of tolerance, it is a book that merits reading by contemporary audiences.
One of the most compelling aspects of the story is its plot. Even if the pacing can be a bit slow sometimes, skipping over time, being told in a dream format that makes it obviously fictional and metaphorical, the plot of both adventures is dramatic and full of incident. We see the difficulties that Christians face from internal fears, from the scars of the mistreatment of family members, from persecution, bad advice, inattentiveness, and many other issues. The book also shows the ways that Christians are encouraged to settle down in blessed areas and have godly families, raise up children well, and look forward to resurrection into the Kingdom of God. For all of its awkwardness due to its allegorical design, and for all of the archaic nature of some of its names, this is a book that merits careful reading, for even those areas that are not sound in biblical doctrine are immensely important in terms of their cultural influence on Western Christendom in the British and American worlds.