I am excited to be back with a review. Today I am sharing some of my thoughts on The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I added it to my Classics Club list after rereading Little Women in which the March sisters read the story and Jo seeks to follow the example of its protagonist.
This is one of those books that is very well known. And I was surprised to read just how old it is (first published in the 1600’s by Puritan John Bunyan). But perhaps it is not as widely read as I thought. At least, I thought I had read this before but I think this is a first for me. Nothing in the story felt familiar. Regardless, I was really intrigued by this book and got a lot out of reading it.
- This book is referenced by many well known authors including Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, William Makepeace Thackeray, E. E. Cummings, Nathaniel Hawthorne, C. S. Lewis, Charlotte Bronte and John Steinbeck. That’s quite an influence!
- I listened to an audio book that was really good, just on YouTube. It was really helpful to get the story and connect the dialogue. My copy of the book has a lot of scripture references in the text which are definitely relevant and interesting. But it made reading the first part of the book a bit slow for me. It just felt like I couldn’t quite get into the story because there was a lot of other info in the text. I definitely recommend the audio book!
According to Goodreads, “This famous story of man’s progress through life in search of salvation remains one of the most entertaining allegories of faith ever written. Set against realistic backdrops of town and country, the powerful drama of the pilgrim’s trials and temptations follows him in his harrowing journey to the Celestial City.
Along a road filled with monsters and spiritual terrors, Christian confronts such emblematic characters as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative, Ignorance, and the demons of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. But he is also joined by Hopeful and Faithful.
An enormously influential 17th-century classic, universally known for its simplicity, vigor, and beauty of language, The Pilgrim’s Progress remains one of the most widely read books in the English language.”
My first reaction to this story is that it reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ writing, especially The Great Divorce. While this is certainly a more obvious or up front allegory (Christian is journeying to the eternal city), both stories explore the afterlife or the potential for an afterlife/salvation in intriguing ways. Both authors view the events of the story from a third person narration and both say it was all a dream in the end. Not something they actually experienced. I found it fascinating that these similarities existed with these authors writing nearly 400 years apart. Clearly these ideas of Christianity, faith, repentance, and discipleship can relate to Christians in all times and in all places on their individual religious journey.
The most intriguing element in this story is the way Bunyan uses names to teach his audience. Names are so important in this story. The protagonist is Christian. His two main companions on his journey are Hopeful and Faithful. He also meets such people as Evangelist, Atheist, Ignorance, and Little-faith. Each has a clear meaning and that person personifies the idea that is his name. It was very interesting to think of people who embody these ideas interacting. And I also appreciated the simplicity of these interactions. Each character embodies only the characteristics of his name rather than a collection of these ideas. While certainly people are not as one dimensional in real life, I think it’s intriguing to see how different personality traits can inform and even dominate an individual’s personality. We all have some hope in us but also ignorance. How do these traits define us? How do we find balance between them? Interesting ideas to explore.
The central journey of this story is intense and deeply rooted in Christian ideology. From the straight gate to the narrow way, seeing the cross, the descriptions of the king (Christ), the eternal city, the necessary items needed for entry, and the many pitfalls that come along the way, this is a truly Christian journey. It makes Christian’s name even more adept for teaching us how to move along the path to Christ. As a Christian myself, I found the ways Christian must interact with others, overcome demons and devils, repent from his mistakes, listen to the guidance of others, and overcome both external and internal vices really interesting. Christianity is a lifelong journey. Sometimes we make mistakes and get sidetracked from our goals. We must repent. We must press forward through difficult circumstances. We must overcome surprising obstacles. But the rewards are worth the sacrifices. I appreciated those reminders.
I am glad to have read this book. It was a quick read for me especially listening to the audio book. The story is simple and straightforward while also allowing for a multitude of interpretations and real life applications. It has widened the scope of my Classics Club list with it’s older publication and allegorical, religious focus. Definitely a text I want to return to in future.
What are some iconic classics that you enjoyed?
What classics have you read because they were referenced in other texts?