John Bunyan's A Pilgrim's Progress is a quest story filled with drama, excitement, and adventure. On his journey of a lifetime to the City of Gold, a young man named Christian meets an extraordinary cast of characters, including the terrible giant, Despair, and the monster, Apollyon. Together with Hopeful, his steadfast companion, Christian survives snipers and mantraps, the Great Bog, Vanity Fair, Lucre Hill, and Castle Doubting. But will he find the courage to cross the final river to the City of Gold and his salvation?
This remarkable retelling of the classic novel, by the award-winning children's author Geraldine McCaughrean, brings Bunyan's story to life for a generation of young readers as McCaughrean neatly draws the drama out, gradually allowing the reader to conclude that Christian is not so different from latter day heroes after all. The engaging contemporary illustrations by Jason Cockcroft bring an added poignancy to the story of a youth with a mission in life. This volume is an ideal gift and a great introduction to the full work.
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John Bunyan was born in 1628. In 1644 he was caught up in the Civil War and drafted into the Parliamentary army. Four years later he entered a period of intense spiritual struggle (chronicled in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners), after which he emerged a new man. He joined a Nonconformist church and began to preach. Bunyan spent many years in prison because of his faith and during this time began writing The Pilgrim's Progress. The first part was published in 1678 and the second part, together with the whole work, was published in 1684. Bunyan died in 1688.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From David Hawkes’s Introduction to The Pilgrim’s Progress
To understand fully The Pilgrim’s Progress, we must remember that it was written in prison. Imprisonment is its major theme, and escape from prison is its primary purpose. Although Bunyan was without a doubt incarcerated in the literal, physical sense while he composed his work, he did not believe that he was truly in jail. He was convinced that, as Richard Lovelace had written in “To Althea, from Prison” (1642), “Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage,” and Bunyan echoed the sentiment in his own “Prison Meditations” (1665; quoted from The Works of John Bunyan, edited by George Offor, vol. 1, p. 64; see “For Further Reading”):
I am, indeed, in prison now
In body, but my mind
Is free to study Christ, and how
Unto me he is kind.
For though men keep my outward man
Within their locks and bars,
Yet by the faith of Christ I can
Mount higher than the stars.
As far as Bunyan was concerned, the real prisoners were outside the walls, in the world. The Pilgrim’s Progress aims to establish two deeply counterintuitive propositions: that its author is not in jail, and that its readers are. But while Bunyan argues that the world is the prison of the soul, he also offers us a way to escape from the world. The book’s subtitle, From This World to That Which Is to Come, indicates our ultimate destination, but the world “to come” is to be reached by a way not measurable in space or time. The pilgrim’s progress is not a literal journey along a physical road, but an exercise in semiotics: a reinterpretation of the world. As Stanley Fish puts it, Bunyan’s work teaches us that “the truth about the world is not to be found within its own confines or configurations, but from the vantage point of a perspective that transforms it” (Self-consuming Artifacts, p. 237).
In the course of his journey the hero, named Christian, learns to understand the world as an allegory. He comes to perceive his experience as a series of signs that point toward nonmaterial, spiritual referents, and this constitutes his liberation. But before he can escape from prison, he must become aware that he is in one. The progress toward an allegorical interpretation of reality is simultaneously a process of alienation from the mundane world of experience. The Pilgrim’s Progress shows us a man who becomes a stranger to the world, to the extent of rejecting empirical sense perception, as well as the laws, morality, and behavioral standards of society. The first lesson Christian learns after his conversion is that “Mr. Worldly Wiseman is an alien.”
Allegory has often been described as a suitable mode to represent the alienated, objectified character of worldly experience. This line of reasoning originates with Walter Benjamin’s seminal analysis of the genre in The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1928). Benjamin argues that allegory’s purpose is to teach us that the experiential world—the “carnal” or “fleshly” dimension, in Bunyan’s terms—is fallen into a disharmonious relation with its Creator: “Allegory itself was sown by Christianity. For it was absolutely decisive for this mode of thought that not only transitoriness, but also guilt should seem evidently to have its home in the province of idols and of the flesh” (p. 224). Plato had argued that, because the material world is transitory, it is also illusory, and to take empirical appearances for reality thus constitutes a philosophical error. But Christianity introduced an ethical dimension to this argument. From the Christian perspective, taking appearances for reality is not only erroneous, but also sinful, and in The Pilgrim’s Progress, understanding this fact is the first step on the way to redemption. This is a paradoxical operation, however, for the process of understanding that creation is alienated from the Creator simultaneously involves the recognition of another, spiritual, realm to which the carnal world points the way.
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