D.M. Dutcher 's Reviews > The Pilgrim's Progress

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
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's review
Apr 16, 12

bookshelves: christian, classic
Read in April, 2012

Reading this is like climbing a mountain: you always know you want to do it someday, but it's a lot of work to do so. The view from the summit is worth it, however.

Okay, one book, two parts. The first is the most well known: Christian's journey from the city of Destruction to the Heavenly City, and the second less so. Christiania's journey following him, gathering lost pilgrims along the way. I can't really call it a story, because while the story is there, it's relatively basic: the meat of the book is in the spiritual allegories and preaching. Every single event that happens has a second meaning in terms of the Christian life, and if you miss a point, he will recap it for you.

Even for someone who appreciates the language of the King James Version of the Bible, it's going to get old. Not so much the language itself, which is beautiful in that specifically austere Protestant way, but the long didactic dialogues and retellings of what the main characters did on their journey to new people they meet. When he shows things, like in the house of the Interpreter, or when he is involved in battles, it works well. But it's going to be a hard, alien read to most modern readers, especially if they don't have a good memory of the Bible and a decent understanding of the Christian faith to begin with.

And by Christian I mean Protestant. Catholics wont really appreciate the shot at the Pope in it, and its theology is definitely Protestant in tone, soaked in the Bible. He footnotes and explains a lot, but the amount of Biblical quotation and allusion is staggering.

Despite this though there's a sort of mythic beauty that shines through. A rightness. It catches something deep about what the walk of faith is really about. I'm not sure I can explain it entirely. But the allegory fits. Maybe it's the combination of Puritan faith and a novelist's eye. But for me, especially the ending of the second part struck me. It's not much of a spoiler, but Christiana finally is within reach of the Heavenly City, in the land of Beulah:

After this, I beheld until they were come into the land of Beulah, where the sun shineth night and day. Here, because they were weary, they betook themselves a while to rest. And because this country was common for pilgrims, and because the orchards and vineyards that were here belonged to the King of the Celestial country, therefore they were licensed to make bold with any of his things. But a little while soon refreshed them here; for the bells did so ring, and the trumpets continually sound so melodiously, that they could not sleep, and yet they received as much refreshing as if they had slept their sleep ever so soundly. Here also all the noise of them that walked the streets was, More pilgrims are come to town! And another would answer, saying, And so many went over the water, and were let in at the golden gates to-day! They would cry again, There is now a legion of shining ones just come to town, by which we know that there are more pilgrims upon the road; for here they come to wait for them, and to comfort them after all their sorrow. Then the pilgrims got up, and walked to and fro. But how were their ears now filled with heavenly noises, and their eyes delighted with celestial visions! In this land they heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing, smelt nothing, tasted nothing that was offensive to their stomach or mind; only when they tasted of the water of the river over which they were to go, they thought that it tasted a little bitterish to the palate; but it proved sweeter when it was down.

In context, this becomes sublime. Or a simple passage like this:

The last words of Mr. Despondency were, Farewell, night; welcome, day! His daughter went through the river singing, but none could understand what she said.

Definitley a deep book, not for everyone though.

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