(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, John Bunyan strove to dramatize through allegory the pilgrimage that a Christian must undertake to get safely “from this world to that which is to come.” Bunyan’s protagonist, Christian—warned by the allegorical figure Evangelist to flee the “wrath to come”— forsakes a wife and four children (the same number Bunyan left behind when he went to prison in 1660) when they refuse to accompany him, despite the chidings and ridicule of neighbors. Although two neighbors, Obstinate and Pliable, try to drag him back by force, he manages to make it through the Slough of Despond and past Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, who counsels him against Evangelist’s preaching, to the Strait Gate through which one must pass to go to the Celestial City. Good Will opens the Gate for him when he discovers Christian’s brokenhearted repentance for sin.

Entering the Gate, Christian makes his way to Interpreter’s House (suggested perhaps by the church at Bedford), where Interpreter enlightens him from Scriptures about the difficulties of the journey and explains how he can overcome them. Rested and illumined, Christian heads directly to the cross, where the heavy burden of sin and guilt he has borne fall immediately from his back. He proceeds with greater confidence without this burden, but he faces difficulty all along the way, constantly tempted to leave the path by such figures as Simple, Sloth, Formalist, Hypocrisie, Timorous, and Mistrust. Resting after an arduous climb up the hill Difficulty, he reads from his Roll (the Scriptures) for encouragement, then places it under his head and goes to sleep. When he awakens, he leaves without the Roll and has to return “with sorrow” to find it, for he cannot reach the Celestial City without it.

At the Porter’s Lodge, Watchful, Piety, Prudence, and Charity supply much-needed encouragement and, still fearful for the rest of the journey, arm him with Sword, Shield, Helmet, Breastplate, All-Prayer, and Shoes that will not wear out. They also show him a vision of the Delectable Mountains of Immanuel’s Land within sight of the Celestial City. Thus outfitted, Christian overcomes Apollyon (the Destroyer) in hand-to-hand combat. All-Prayer enables him to pass unharmed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death that winds just above Hell itself. There Christian overtakes Faithful, who shares with...

(The entire section is 990 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan’s best-known work, narrates the protagonist Christian’s journey to salvation. Made aware of his own mortality, Christian abandons the City of Destruction and begins his journey to the Heavenly City. The narrative takes the form of an allegorical dream vision and develops the theme of individual salvation through a highly consistent allegorical framework.

Urged on by Evangelist, Christian abandons his wife and children, stopping his ears with his fingers to silence their pleas, an indication that the journey to salvation must be an individual experience. The two companions whom he encounters along the way, Faithful and Hopeful, are actually facets of his own character. Once he has begun the journey, he reflects the character of the wayfaring, warring Christian disciple, often tempted and often struggling but never abandoning the path.

Christian is not tempted by the worldly pleasures of Vanity Fair or by any pomp and ceremony associated with riches, nor is he swayed by the erroneous reasoning of Obstinate, Pliable, Sloth, or Mr. Worldly Wiseman or the shallow optimism apparent in characters such as Hypocrisy, Formality, and Ignorance. His serious temptations concern fear, doubt, and despair. At the journey’s beginning he is mired in the Slough of Despond, escaping only after difficult exertions. He meets frightening monsters such as Pope and Pagan and battles the demoniac warrior Apollyon. Cast...

(The entire section is 428 words.)