Introduction to Pilgrim's Progress

Next month's contributor, Jean Williams writes:
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, “What shall I do?”
Every time I read this opening paragraph, it sends shivers down my spine! And I'm not alone in loving Pilgrim's Progress: it has long been the world's best-selling book after the Bible, translated into over 200 languages. Missionaries carried it all over Africa and Asia, and it's especially popular in the third world.

Charles Spurgeon, who read Pilgrim's Progress more than 100 times, said, "Next to the Bible, the book that I value most is John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress ... it is ... the Bible in another shape." Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, "This wonderful work is one of the very few books which may be read over repeatedly at different times, and each time with a new and a different pleasure."

Pilgrim's Progress is the story of Christian's pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It's an allegory, where every person, place and object has a deeper meaning. It describes the Christian life as a pilgrimage, with battles, temptations, persecution, wrong turns, suffering, despair, joy, and companionship along the way. This book is a gold-mine of forgotten wisdom.

We're reading Pilgrim's Progress together in November. Some of the themes I want to share with you are journey, geography, battle, conversion, dealing with despair, caring for the weak, and facing the final hurdle, the River of Death. I'd also like to write about Puritanism, the life of John Bunyan, and children's versions of Pilgrim's Progress. We'll talk about how Pilgrim's Progress encourages us in our own journey to heaven.

You may already have a copy on your shelves, or you can buy one from a Christian bookshop. If you want to order a copy through EQUIP Books from The Reformer’s Bookshop, you may need to do it now, depending on how many copies they have of the edition you choose. You have 3 main choices: modern English, original English, and children's versions.

Modern English editions

The Pilgrim's Progress edited by Edward Hazelbaker is the most popular. It tends not to skip words and phrases, as some of the others do, so it’s quite faithful to the original text. But there are lots of excellent modernised versions, like The Pilgrim's Progress in Modern English. If you go to a bookshop, read the first few paragraphs of the ones on the shelf, to see which writing style you prefer, as some flow more smoothly than others.

Here's the opening paragraph from The Pilgrim's Progress edited by Edward Hazelbaker. If you compare it to the quote at the head of this post, you can decide which you'd prefer to read:
As I was walking through the wilderness of this world, I came to a place where there was a cave. I laid down in that place to sleep, and as I slept I had a dream in which I saw a man dressed in rags standing in a certain place and facing away from his own house. He had a Book in his hand and a great burden on his back. As I looked, I saw him open the Book and read out of it, and as he read he wept and trembled. Unable to contain himself any longer, he broke out with a sorrowful cry, saying, “What shall I do?”
Original English editions

I love reading Pilgrim’s Progress in the original English, because I find it more dynamic and readable, but I studied the Puritans for my PhD, so I'm not necessarily the best guide! You may prefer a modernised version: compare the two quotes above. I'll use the original English with modernised spelling in my posts.

If you want an original edition you can share with your children, Pilgrim's Progress: Part 1 and Christiana's Story: Part 2 are quite unique: they're beautifully produced and illustrated, so they're a pleasure to read, and perfect for reading with older children. They don't have Bunyan's helpful marginal notes, but they do have his Bible references, and there's some explanatory notes at the back.

The most scholarly edition is the Oxford World's Classics edition, with a fantastic introduction, and the original illustrations, marginal notes and Bible references. The old-fashioned spelling is retained: "As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a Dream."


Also very reliable is the Penguin Classics edition, which includes Bunyan's marginal notes, but not his Bible references. I've found the notes at the back very helpful for understanding the allegory. The spelling is modernised: "As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept I dreamed a dream."


The Reformer's Bookshop has some cheap copies of the Spire edition in stock, which is a good basic edition which includes Bunyans' marginal notes; or you can order the Ambassador edition, which has Bunyans' marginal notes and Bible references (allow 4 weeks).



Children's versions

If reading a long adult's version seems too hard, why not read a children's edition: this will at least give you the big picture, so you can follow along when we discuss the book together. My children and I love reading Pilgrim's Progress! I’ll review the various children’s editions some time, but for the record, our favourite picture book version is DangerousJourney.