People of the Books: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

On this book have I based my name and that of friends around me, so that is an indication that I didn’t hate the volume.  In fact, I’m quite impressed by Bunyan’s adroitness in creating a world filled with people who are very real, despite their caricature nature.I like Bunyan’s writing, having read his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners in college, so I wasn’t surprised by the ease of reading through this. It takes some getting used to format-wise, because there are strange SparkNotes-type summations in the margins (that are occasionally really funny, actually) and it’s laid out sort of like a play, what with character names in italics at the start of their speaking part–though not always. Also, as with reading books from this era, the lack of chapters is seriously disconcerting–there’re no breaks, which is really weird to get used to–for me, at least.

The Progress is two stories–the first part is the progress of Christian, the second that of his wife Christiana and four sons. This pairing is a bit weird, because the first part is like the action film and the second is sort of the museum homage to the action film; it felt like every “scene” in Christiana’s part was, “Oh hey! Here’s where your husband did something cool! How about that?” And she didn’t really do much because everything was following in her husband’s footsteps, though her protector/bodyguard Mr. Great-Heart had some kind of kick-ass moments.

One of the things I appreciate so much is that, for all its dated language and strange ideas of what is proper, a lot of the issues both Pilgrims face are timeless and their reactions very interesting things to study.  After an encounter with a man named Talkative (whom Faithful sends packing), Christian says, “You did well to talk so plainly to him as you did.  There is but little of this faithful dealing with men now a days, and that makes Religion to stick so in the nostrils of many, as it doth; for they are these Talkative Fools whose Religion is only in word, and are debauched and vain in their Conversation, that…do puzzle the World, blemish Christianity, and grieve the sincere.”  (p. 90)  In the gathering storm of both the presidential debates and the upcoming remembrance of the sorrows of September 11, how apt a rebuttal against those who would use faith as a soapbox, religion as a step-stool.

Or this incisive conviction by Hope:  “The shame that attends Religion lies also as a block in [those who turn back’s] way; they are proud and haughty, and Religion in their eye is low and contemptible”.  (p. 157)

And this rebuttal to the idea that both older writings and Christianity itself are inherently misogynistic:  “I will say again, that when the Saviour was come, Women rejoiced in him before either Man or Angel.  I read not, that ever any Man did give unto Christ so much as one Groat, but the Women followed him and ministered to him of their Substance.  ‘Twas a Woman that washed his Feet with Tears, and a Woman that anointed his Body to the Burial.  They were Women that wept when he was going to the Cross, and Women that followed him from the Cross, and that sat by his Sepulchre when he was buried.  They were Women that was first with him at his Resurrection-morn, and Women that brought tiding first to his Disciples that he was risen from the Dead.  Women therefore are highly favoured, and shew by these things that they are sharers with us in the Grace of Life.” (p. 269)

Bunyan’s prose is just spot on in so many places.  When Prudence asks Christian why he wants to go to Mount Zion in the first place, why he left hearth and home and family to wander toward this unknown, Christian responds, “[T]here, they say, there is no death; and there I shall dwell with such Company as I like best.  For to tell you the truth, I love [God], because I was by him eased of my Burden, and I am weary of my inward sickness”.  (p. 55)

Indeed.  May my own progress be always aware of such ends.

 

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