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The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
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The Pilgrim's Progress (original 1678; edition 1964)

by John Bunyan, F.R. Leavis (Afterword)

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10,18490282 (3.72)165
Member:StephenBarkley
Title:The Pilgrim's Progress
Authors:John Bunyan
Other authors:F.R. Leavis (Afterword)
Info:Signet Classics (1964), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library, @Church
Rating:
Tags:Non-Fiction, Spiritual Formation, Religion

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The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (Author) (1678)

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For those too lazy to read the Bible or too dumb to form even a surface level interpretation of Christianity, there’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The journey of the Christian spirit cloaked in the thinnest of allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress is a book in two parts, the first part dealing with a man named Christian making his way to the celestial city (heaven, obviously). Part two follows his wife Christiana making a very, very similar journey. The names are indicative of the level of both subtlety and creativity that Bunyan put into this book.

The lack of subtlety is perhaps an unfair criticism, as Bunyan was clearly writing this book for the absolute lowest common denominator, but that proves to be a problem in its own right. For instance, Bunyan writes about brothers Passion and Patience to illustrate that patience is a virtue and that rash passion is bad: this is the 1678 precursor to the kid shows that nowadays run on the Christian TV channels to teach young children how to behave. Though Bunyan litters the book with Bible quotes, this book doesn’t contain any hint of the moral complexity that the Bible often explores: these lessons are black-and-white, the completely one-dimensional characters identified as on the side of good or evil immediately once their names are revealed (Goodwill, Faithful, and Old Honest are all good, surprise surprise). Not only does Bunyan make everything as simple as possible to promote mass consumption, but he also tries to gussy up the lessons by adding action scenes throughout the journey. In part 1 Christian fights a demon, and then in part 2 no less than four giants are slain, and the beast from the Book of Revelation is driven off as well (suggesting that Bunyan never grasped any of the symbolic meaning of the Book of Revelation at all). This is the Hollywood blockbuster of its time, designed to entertain and make the ideas within palatable to as broad an audience as possible, not to challenge the reader in any way. Unfortunately, the Bible isn't something that can be reduced to this type of bland and bite-sized entertainment without losing much of what makes it great.

What makes this book so painful to read is that Bunyan’s purpose in writing it, to set out the path a person needs to follow to get into heaven, has been done so much better elsewhere. Specifically Dante’s Divine Comedy puts Pilgrim’s Progress to shame in every way that I can think of, not to mention the Bible of course. Dante’s Divine Comedy is the closer parallel, as Dante is also using the journey of a man to illustrate the necessary traits and steps for getting into heaven and what steps to avoid. Dante not only wrote of the circles of Hell, levels of purgatory, and spheres of heaven to illustrate how a person should act, he was also doing a myriad of other things as well: writing about Italian politics at the time, merging the classical myths and teachings with the Christian system of morality, writing a moving letter to his deceased first love Beatrice, redefining the Italian language, and mapping the heavenly cosmos in detail. Not only did Dante do all of this, but he also did it all exceptionally well. For instance, each of the three stairs at the entrance to the mountain of Purgatory has a specific meaning- nothing is added at random, everything is in its place. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, in comparison, seems slapdash and lazy. Bunyan isn’t trying to do very much, just sketch some moral lessons that lead a soul to heaven in the least nuanced manner possible. Why is the Slough of Despond located where it is? Or the arbor called Slothful’s Friend? And why does Christian run into Atheist when he does? And why doesn’t Christiana run into Atheist at all? The answer seems to be that Bunyan decided to put those challenges where they are because that's when he thought up the lesson while writing the story, not because he had a clear concept of a soul’s journey, or that the placement was particularly symbolic, or any other good reason. He could have switched around the challenges the pilgrims faced in their journeys and nothing would have been lost. Thus, you finish Pilgrim’s Progress and feel nothing comparable to the unified vision of the universe that you get with Dante, just a bunch of disjointed lessons that are mostly mind-numbingly simplistic. It doesn’t help that Bunyan decides to go over the same journey twice, with only slightly different challenges the second time around.

Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is a story of the soul’s journey to heaven that delivers only the simplest lessons, told in an uncreative way, and which seems thrown together instead of set in a specific order for a specific purpose. Despite the action added by Bunyan the journey isn’t a particularly interesting one- it's lacking all subtlety and moral complexity- and it’s rendered even more boring by the journey happening twice. There is no reason to read this book while there are still copies of The Divine Comedy and the Bible left in the world. Your time is much better spent reading one of those- a few pages of either have more worth than the entirety of The Pilgrim's Progress.
( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
My first time through (dont judge me...I have been hard enough on myself!!)

Possibly my favorite book ever. It was amazing. I cannot fathom why I waited so long but I wont wait near as long to read it again. What a blessing! ( )
  joshrskinner | Jul 30, 2014 |
Great. Wonderful. Terrific! I cannot express how wonderful this book was. I loved it. My kids loved it. And now they want to read the "grown-up" version of Pilgrim's Progress.

Also, the curriculum to go with it is AMAZING! Looking forward to going through the book again! ( )
  joshrskinner | Jul 30, 2014 |
This book is ancient! As an allegory of the Christian life, it still makes (almost?) perfect sense today. The second part with Christian's wife and children was kind of boring, probably because it's the retelling of the same story. ( )
  krista.rutherford | Jul 27, 2014 |
This is a Christian book. But its principles of not getting tricked or waylaid off your chosen path as a baseball player or President. We get off our goals just as easily as a Christian apparently gets away from his or her goals in life. ( )
  Benedict8 | Jul 16, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (202 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bunyan, JohnAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chesterton, G. K.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Froude, James Anthonysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harrison, G.B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hazelbaker, L. Edwardsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maguire, RobertNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robertson, PatForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sharrock, RogerEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Southey, Robertsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Witherspoon, Alexander M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wumkes, G. A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I have used similitudes. Hosea xii.10
Dedication
First words
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream.
(Introduction to the Penguin edition by Roger Sharrock) -- The Pilgrim's Progress is a book which in the three hundred years of its existence has crossed most of the barriers of race and culture that usually serve to limit the communicative power of a classic.
Quotations
And all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486426750, Paperback)

One of the most powerful dramas of Christian faith ever written, this captivating allegory of man's religious journey in search of salvation follows the pilgrim as he travels an obstacle-filled road to the Celestial City. An enormously influential 17th-century classic, universally known for its simplicity, vigor, and beauty of language.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:14 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

A religious allegory which follows the trials and tribulations of Christian as he journeys to the Celestial City.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 27 descriptions

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