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The Pilgrim's Progress

In writing 'The Pilgrim's Progress' Bunyan did not know that he was creating a masterpiece of literature, for he knew almost nothing about literature other than the Bible. He merely had a message that he wished to give the people. In his writing, as in his preaching, he spoke to them simply and directly in language that they could understand.

'The Pilgrim's Progress' is an exciting adventure story and at the same time an allegory of the human soul--its struggles, temptations, sufferings, and final salvation. The story tells how Christian, the hero, bowed down with a burden of sin upon his back, flees from the City of Destruction and starts on a pilgrimage beset with many perils. After being almost sunk in the mire of the Slough of Despond, he laboriously follows the straight and narrow path up the Hill of Difficulty. He goes down into the Valley of Humiliation, where he battles with the foul fiend Apollyon, and into the terrifying Valley of the Shadow of Death. He passes through Vanity Fair with all its worldly allurements, is held captive by Giant Despair in Doubting Castle, and at last, after crossing the bridgeless River of Death, is received in the Celestial City. The characters that Christian meets along the way represent abstract qualities and defects, virtues and vices, as indicated by their names--Obstinate, Pliable, Hopeful, Faithful, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Talkative, and all the rest--yet most of them are also real human beings who act and talk like the men and women Bunyan knew. They speak in the simple, lively, humorous language of common folk.

It was a happy accident for the world that Bunyan had little education and knew thoroughly only one book--the English Bible. The King James Version of the Bible, published 17 years before he was born, is a fine work of English prose. Bunyan "lived in the Bible until its words became his own." The spiritual struggles and visions pictured in its pages were real to him. He had experienced similar struggles. He too had seen visions. He made people see the things of which he wrote because he himself had seen them. Because he could present vivid pictures in a few simple words, because he understood people and could create characters that have the illusion of reality, and because he could tell a story with dramatic and moving vigour, Bunyan paved the way for a new kind of literature--the novel. Some critics, indeed, consider him the father of the English novel.

Of Bunyan's more than 60 published works, the best known are: 'Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners' (1666); 'The Pilgrim's Progress' (Part I, 1678; Part II, 1684); 'The Life and Death of Mr. Badman' (1680); and 'The Holy War for Mansoul' (1682). A biography of Bunyan written by Robert H. Coats was published in 1977.


Excerpted from The Complete Reference Collection

Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Pilgrim's Progress, Second Part (1684), tells the story of the pilgrimage of Christian's wife, Christiana, and her children to the Celestial City. This book gives a more social and humorous picture of the Christian life than the First Part and shows Bunyan lapsing from high drama into comedy, but the great concluding passage on the summoning of the pilgrims to cross the River of Death is perhaps the finest single thing Bunyan ever wrote. - Extract from