Book Review: “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan

Title: The Pilgrim’s Progress
Author: John Bunyan
Format: Novel; Christian allegory
Pages: 182
First Published: 1678, in London
Version Reviewed: THE annotated PILGRIM’S PROGRESS with notes by Warren W. Wiersbe, published in 1980
Spoiler-free Synopsis: Christian, a citizen of the City of Destruction, is desperate to get rid of the mysterious Burden which is on his back and which will not leave him no matter what he does. Following the advice of a man named Evangelist, he begins a journey to the Celestial City. On the way he meets many characters and monsters, some as foes, some as friends, and still more as fellow travelers on the Way. Everyone is seeking something different and deals with the obstacles in different ways.
Reason for Beginning: One of the most important books in the English language and in Christianity. Since I love English literature and am a Christian, I wanted to read this. Read more

John Bunyan on Christian Fantasy

In his introduction to The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan preemptively defends himself against those who might worry that the trappings of fantasy will diminish the power of biblical truths:

“I find that men (as high as trees) will write
Dialogue-wise; yet no man doth them slight
For writing so: indeed, if they abuse
Truth, cursed be they, and the craft they use
To that intent; but yet let truth be free
To make her sallies upon thee and me,
Which way it pleases God; for who knows how,
Better than he that taught us first to plough,
To guide our mind and pens for his design?
And he makes base things usher in divine.”

In a way that stanza is a defense of Christian fiction itself. He’s saying that the best writers throughout history have often written fiction, and that if someone writes a story that is morally bad, then God will hold them accountable for their intent, but that’s no reason to prevent the good stuff from being written. If a Christian writer writes for God’s glory, God will certainly guide his pen so that, even amidst revisions and diversions and mistakes and perhaps sheer lack of talent, His purpose will be met. Our works cannot be perfect, but by God’s grace they can be good. Isn’t it foolish, says Bunyan, to suggest that God is limited by the imaginations He gives us? He can “make base things usher in divine.”