Tim Casteel's Reviews > The Pilgrim's Progress

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
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Mixed feelings on this book. I set out on my pilgrimage to read the book because many great Christian thinkers list it as the book that has most influenced them (apart from the Bible).

As the (very secular) The Guardian comments as it names Pilgrim's Progress its #1 Novel of All Time: "There's no book in English, apart from the Bible, to equal Bunyan's masterpiece for the range of its readership, or its influence on writers as diverse as William Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain, CS Lewis, John Steinbeck and even Enid Blyton."

I found it very challenging to read at first - I listened to the audiobook version in old English. It's a bit of a slog - "To this they made him but little answer; only they bid him look to himself...they doubted not but they should as conscientiously do them as he; therefore, said they, we see not wherein thou differest from us, but by the coat that is on thy back, which was, as we trow given thee by some of thy neighbours"

I did NOT think I would be recommending this book. But as it gets going, you get used to the Old English (if you can't get over that, there ARE modern English versions).

As Leland Ryken has said: "The Pilgrim’s Progress is initially a difficult book for modern readers. The first obstacle is the archaic language of the book. The solution to the problem is to accept the archaic language as a feature of the book and enjoy it as part of its arresting strangeness."

I really profited from some of the metaphors Bunyan uses. In particular- Vanity Fair, the pilgrim's interactions with Profitable Religion, and the conversations between Ignorance and Christian on Good Thoughts.

After you read it, you begin to see references everywhere, in every book you read.

It's worth the effort - simply because of its incredible influence on the Western world, Pilgrim's Progress is a must read.

I found Leland Ryken's brief book "Christian Guide to the Classics - Pilgrims Progress" to be helpful in helping me digest the book.

Strangely, there are two potentially racist episodes - the first milder than the second.
The first: Then they meet a negative character named Flatterer, "dark-skinned but clad in a white robe."
The second: "[Fool and Want-Wit are] washing of an Ethiopian with intention to make him white, but the more they washed him the blacker he was. They then asked the Shepherds what that should mean. So they told them, saying, Thus shall it be with the vile person. All means used to get such an one a good name shall in conclusion tend but to make him more abominable.”

I don't think Bunyan is being outright racist, equating blackness with vileness (the characters that are washing are fools). But still very uncomfortable. He could just be referring to the verse in Jeremiah- "Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" (which does have a negative connotation similar to Bunyan's "vile" statement. In Jeremiah: "Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.")

Apparently the "washing of the Ethiopian" story originally comes from Aesop's Fables (6th century B.C.). And according to Wikipedia: "In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fable was used to underline the perception of the black man's 'natural' inferiority, both moral and social."

Makes the washing of the Ethiopian in the Bible more profound (knowing that Aesop's "washing of the Ethiopian" was a well known fable already). In the Bible, the Ethiopian's skin is not changed (in Christ there is neither Jew or Gentile) but his heart is transformed.
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Reading Progress

May 24, 2017 – Started Reading
May 24, 2017 – Shelved
May 29, 2017 – Finished Reading

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