Christian lived in the City of Destruction and one day chanced to be reading in a Book, whereby he learned that his city was destined for destruction. He had Burden on his back, and was at a loss how to flee to destruction until he met Evangelist, who told him to go to the gate that stands at the beginning of the Way. Unable to persuade his wife, children, and neighbors, he left the city to seek the gate. One neighbor, Pliable, comes with him on the promise of an eternal kingdom, golden crowns, and all sorts of wonders, but when they reached the Slough of Despond, which is before the gate, he returned home. Christian continued in the Slough, slowly because of his Burden, and after a lecture by Evangelist following his agreeing with Mr. Worldly-Wise, he reaches the gate and knocks.

The gate is opened and Christian enters the Way. Interpreter shows him a number of sights that illustrate lessons of the Way. At a castle he saw many well-armed men preventing entrance, but one man armed himself and cut through them with vigor and not a few wounds, whereupon he was let in and given the beautiful raiment of the other inhabitants. The lesson is, of course, to persevere in the hard task of reaching the Caelestial City. After being thus taught about Grace, Perseverance, the dangers of Sin, &c, Interpreter sent him on his way. When he reached the Cross, his Burden loosed itself and tumbled into the Sepulchre below. Three angels gave him clean Raiment in exchange for his rags, a Roll with a Seal on it to encourage him, and a Mark on his forehead. Christian rejoiced at the forgiveness of his Sin and the removal of his Burden, and sang a song.

As he continued, he met Formalist and Hypocrisy (who had not entered at the gate) and informed them that the only way to be saved and arrive at the Caelestial City is to start at the gate, but they that was too far away for them. He then arrived at the hill of Difficulty, made it halfway up and upon reaching the Arbor put there by the Lord of the Hill, he rested and fell asleep. When he woke up it was dark and he hurried on. Much later, he realized he forgot his Roll, and had to go back to look for it. He reached a house, and was given lodging and was questioned about his theology by the daughters of the owner. They showed him many wonders (Moses’ rod, Samson’s jawbone, &c), and the next day armed him with a sword and armor and he went on his way.

This took him to the Valley of Humiliation, where he was opposed by Apollyon. Apollyon was determined to restore Christian to the kingdom of Apollyon’s master, but Christian refused his arguments and they fought long and hard. Though Apollyon came close to killing Christian, Christian proved the victor. Christian then sang a song of thanks. After this, he had to go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He met some travelers returning from the Valley, telling stories of pits and dragons and misery. But the way to the Caelestial City was through the Valley, and Christian was eager to reach the City, so he continued. This was a dark valley and a narrow path, with a Quag on one side and a Ditch on the other, with Hell so close beside that often flame and smoke came near him, as well as fiends worse than Apollyon who had no fear of his sword. So he started using another weapon, All-Prayer. And in this valley of terror, Christian considered whether he should retrace his steps, but decided to continue in the strength of the Lord. A wicked one followed him quietly, speaking Blasphemies quietly in a voice like Christian’s. Christian mourned over these Blasphemies, though he did not realize that they were not his. He heard a voice saying that he would fear no evil, for You are with me, and he took comfort that God was with him and that there were others in the valley who also feared God.

After Christian left the Valley, he overtook Faith, and the two began travelling together and discussing the circumstances that led to each of them seeking the Caelestial City. They also met Talkative who said the things that Pilgrims in the Way say, but when it came to doing them, always found an excuse; despite attempts at persuading him to walk his talk, he remained convinced that he would enter the Caelestial City with them.

They came to the town of Vanity, where there was a year-long fair, Vanity Fair, where there were sold everything that one might desire in the world. Being a fair, there were also thieves, cut-throats, and all manner of men. The two pilgrims were a strange sight to the people of Vanity Fair and caused a general hubub by refusing the wares and answering calls of “What will you buy?” with “We buy the Truth.” The pilgrims were arrested for causing a general disturbance, and after a trial in which citizens of Vanity raised specious claims against them, Judge Hate-Good condemned Faith to death (as foretold in a meeting with Evangelist earlier). The chariots and horsemen took Faith to the Caelestial City, and Christian escaped by divine providence.

The testimony of Faith and Christian during the trial persuaded Hopeful to join Christian on pilgrimage to the Caelestial City after he escaped. The two of them met By-Ends, who was persuaded he was religious, but used whatever means were convenient when hard times came. After a lengthy discussion with Mr. Save-All and Mr. Money-Love, whom they also met, Christian and Hopeful silenced the arguments of the three. By-Ends found the other two more agreeable company and fell behind. Shortly after, they see Demas off to the side of the Way, inviting them to provide for themselves by digging in his silver mine. Christian, having heard about the painful consequences of turning aside here stops Hopeful from following him, but By-Ends and his group were likely to be less fortunate.

The Way became rough here, so the two of them followed a smooth green path running besides the Way. After a while it became night, and they heard the traveler before them fall into a pit, so they turned back to find the Way, but they could not. In the morning, the giant Despair found them, accused them of trespassing (for it was his lands they were in), and dragged them off to the dungeon of his castle, Doubting Castle. There they stayed, hungry and despairing, until Christian remembered his key, named Promise. This key opened all the locks in the castle and they escaped, but not without waking the giant, who was fortunatelyso weak from one of his fits that he could not pursue them. Christian and Hopeful sang a song to celebrate the escape, and put a warning on the road for future pilgrims.

They came to the Delectable Mountains, where there were shepherds who showed them several things as a warning, gave them directions on the way to go when the road parted, and also gave showed them the Caelestial City through their spyglass. After this they met Ignorance, who despite Christian and Hopeful’s persuasive words, was convinced that he would be given entrance to the Caelestial City because of his religiousness and his good deeds. They passed him by, and Christian told the story of Little-Faith, who was assaulted by three Rogues: Faint-heart, Mistrust, and Guilt, who robbed him. They would have beat him to death, too, had not Great-Grace, the King’s champion, ridden up and done them battle. They did not get his Jewels, which were his admission to the City, and he should have rejoiced because of it, but instead, all along the Way he bemoaned his fate, that he had to beg because he was robbed.

When the Way divided, they did not know which road to take, and followed the advice of a black man in a light robe to follow him, but that way led into a Net, and they were ensnared, at which point the robe fell off to reveal that man was Flatterer. A Shining One cut the Net, led them back to the Way, and because the shepherds had given them directions (which they did not read) and had warned them about Flatterer (which they did not heed), he chastened them with his whip, for “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent.” They thanked him and sang a song.

Hopeful then relates how God brought his soul to repentence, in the city of Vanity while he was enjoying the Fair. They discourse on Christian living for a while. They see Ignorance, and have a long talk to try to convince him to that his faith is False. Ignorance talks a good talk, but ultimately says “I believe that Christ died for sinners, and that I shall be justified before God from the Curse, through his gracious acceptance of my obedience to his law,” thus revealing his faith to be that of good works, instead of relying on Christ’s obedience and his punishment for our disobedience. In the Enchanted Lands, they heed the Shepherds’ warning not to sleep, for they would sleep forever.

Presently they came to a pleasant land, within sight of the Caelestial City (which was too bright to look at except through a special instrument), and filled with pleasant things and fruit trees for the refreshment of Pilgrims. Many Shining Ones walked there, as well. In answer to their inquiries about reaching the City, the Shining Ones told them that they must cross the river (which had no bridge, and which was deep, but with a depth that varied according to their belief in the King). They crossed the river, and Christian found that the waters were over his head, and despaired because of his sins, but Hopeful encouraged him to faith. They passed through the River, and were welcomed by a large host of Pilgrims who had come before, shouting and blowing trumpets, and were welcomed into the Caelestial City, given crowns of honor and harps to celebrate with, and with much joy and gladness entered their master’s rest.

Ignorance, too, came to the River, but he crossed it by boat: the ferryman Vain-Hope. He ascended to the top of the tall hill on which the City stood, but came alone to the city, and was denied entrance when he could not produce his Certificate (as he had not entered the Way through the Gate).

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a pleasant read, being a good story and a good description of the Christian life told in allegorical form. I am not much of a fan of allegory, but the allegory is faithful to the Christian life, and delivers some excellent wisdom and warnings. (For instance, believing in God’s promises will deliver you from doubts)  At times the discourse feels forced, since real people do not preach theology to each other in their conversation, at least, not nowadays. Other times the narrative is jarred abit as Bunyan works in a quote from the Bible that is out of context with either the story or the original context. However, overall the story and allegory are worked together in a way that flows well, is interesting, and is true to the Christian life.

The edition that I read also had a sequel, wherein Christian’s wife Christiana and his four children, along with a maiden who was friends with Christiana, Mercy, become persuaded that they will perish in the City of Destruction, and leave to find the Gate that Christian sought. They met with the very similar things along the road as he did, but all went very smoothly for them, because Great-Grace traveled with them most of the way to protect them. Along the way Great-Grace fought all the enemies that might waylay Pilgrims and defeated them, even destroying the giant Despair and his Doubting Castle. At the end they were summoned one by one to cross the River and entered the Caelestial City.

This sequel did not fare so well to my mind. First, pretty much everything happened they way it did before, except that the party never encountered any problems because Great-Grace was always there. So the story was bland because it lacked suspense and it lacked real conflict. Second, it did not resonate with my experience of the Christian life (or the experience of other people I know). I have spent much of my life in Doubting Castle, or being Little Faith, or wandering along a path that looked like the Way until I woke up and to being far from the way with no clue how to return there. I have not gone from one great victory to another, with the difficult parts compressed to a quick summary. So while the sequel may convey some additional theology that Bunyan did not have a chance to put in the first part, the story suffered. However, the end, where each of the Pilgrims are summoned to cross the river was well done, and I hope that when I am close to death, that I will receive a gentle summons to cross the River and be able to do so with the faith of those Pilgrims.

The book is an interesting sociological study. It suggests a culture where traveling was done on foot, was dangerous, and a journey where travelers could met fellow travelers, share the journey, and become friends. After every major event, the Pilgrims sing a short song, sometimes of thanks for deliverance, sometimes in warning to others. It is unclear from the book whether impromptu songs were common practice in Bunyan’s days, or whether this reflects the tradition of Christian hymns, but either way it conjures a Tolkien-esqe culture where the general populace is poetic and a culture where events are celebrated in song. The antique language, too, is interesting. Sometimes the words have changed meanings slightly (Despond is now despondency). The practice of capitalizing words that are Important (and used to humorous effect in the modern age by A.A. Milne in the Winnie the Pooh books) is something that I kind of like. And being a intellectual at heart, I wish conversations of my age were discourses on ideas, so I am in some ways drawn to the dialogues.

Although I was initially not excited about the allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress grows on me. It is conveys both the experience of the Christian life as well as wisdom and warnings in a story that is interesting and memorable. It passes my 100-year test handily (published in 1678), and I recommend it, particularly to Christians.
Review: 9
The Pilgrim’s Progress probably deserves a 10, since it has been a told seller for several hundred years. My only fault is that the allegory often gets in the way of the story. Sometimes not too much, but sometimes a Bible passage is used in what seems to be seriously irrelevant or out of context, and the results are jarring. A similar approach is taken by C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia, particularly The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but is less jarring there (but then, it was not intended as an allegory, either). Still, a recommended read for anyone, particularly Christians.