To fuse the literature aspect of the blog with the makeup aspect, I have decided to start transforming myself into the characters from the books I blog about. That’s me as Christiana from Pilgrim’s Progress. I was going for bloodless and absent of all worldly desire. I think it worked out. Hold on for Robinson Crusoe, it’s gonna be weird. Does anyone have some spare goat skins?
So, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is one of the most popular books of all time. It was published in 1678 and has never been out of print. Impressive. I have always been interested in this book, because the sisters in Little Women read it. Remember? This first chapter of Little Women is titled “Playing Pilgrims,” because they decide to emulate the characters in Bunyan’s book in order to improve themselves and bear their burdens without complaint. Pilgrim’s Progress is all about self-improvement and living a godly life. I have a hard time imagining children enjoying this book. There are some exciting moments. The protagonist, Christian, fights a demon, for example. However, the language is dull and you have to plod through copious sanctimonious speech making between the exciting parts. I guess you’re not actually supposed to enjoy it. You’re probably supposed to reflect on God’s will and your own life or whatever.
The “delivered under the similitude of a dream” part of the title refers to Bunyan’s device of stating that he saw the events of the book in a dream he had. The book is divided into two parts. In part one Christian leaves his family to go on a pilgrimage to God’s kingdom. That’s right, his wife mocks his religious calling so he regretfully leaves his family to damnation. The book is meant to guide the reader along the path to a righteous life, but seriously any life that involves abandoning your family behind to ruin and damnation is not righteous in my opinion. Bunyan would probably say that God’s will is more important and blah blah blah, but no. Just no. I don’t care what God says, take care of your kids! In part two Christian’s wife, Christiana, has a change of heart and takes her children on the same pilgrimage that her husband completed. So, I guess it turns out ok in the end…sort of.
On their journey the pilgrims encounter many characters who are allegories for help or hurdles on the road to righteousness. These characters are named for the qualities they represent. Character names include: Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Faithful, Mercy, Superstition, Ignorance etc. The tone is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be: holier-than-thou, judgmental and preachy. Christian likes to stop and explain ad nauseam how much better he is than the other people he encounters. Christiana is more humble, as she is feeling very guilty for not going along with Christian in the first place. Overall, I found part two much more likeable than part one. The language is actually delightful in parts. The contrast between the often silly events of the novel and Bunyan’s unfailingly earnest tone creates a certain humor.
“Now I saw in my dream, that just as they had entered this talk they drew near to a very miry slough, that was in the midst of the plain; and they, being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was Despond. Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with dirt; and Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire.”
You might like this book if:
- you are interested in Christianity and influential Christian literature.
- you love heavy-handed allegory.
You might not like this book if:
- you don’t like heavy-handed metaphor.
- you are bored by preachiness in literature.
- you get offended when Christians go on about how righteous they are relative to other people.
Final thoughts: There are some lovely little phrases like “grievously bedaubed with dirt,” but they are buried in 17th century sermons. It is more an interesting work of Christian literature than an interesting work of literature. Not among my favorites. I should mention that the audio recording on one of my favorite sites, librivox.org, is done by my favorite librivox reader, Joy Chan. She has a wonderful accent and reads with perfect solemnity.