Little Pilgrim’s Progress is an illustrated adaptation of the classic story by John Bunyan. The famous tale tells of the journey of Christian, a man carrying a great burden, living in the city of Destruction. After meeting Evangelist, Christian begins his journey as a pilgrim along the Way of the King to the Celestial City. The story is an allegory (and not a particularly subtle one) for the Christian walk of faith through life, with the ultimate goal of reaching Heaven. Along his pilgrimage, Christian meets others with names like Hopeful, Timorous, Prudence, and Worldly Wiseman. In this simplified version for children, the characters are all anthropomorphic animals. Christian is a rabbit and there is a wide variety of other animals such as cats, squirrels, otters, and even a giant toad. This edition is beautifully illustrated by Joe Sutphin and the pictures have a sweet, soft quality.
I wanted to read a version of Pilgrim’s Progress with my daughters (ages 4 and 6) after reading the first part of Little Women to them. Pilgrim’s Progress features throughout the story of the March sisters as a book that they read, admire, and learn from. I thought it would be fun to show my own girls that it was a real book and give them a sense of what Alcott was referencing. Obviously, the complete text of Bunyan’s original work is not for children so I searched out an appropriate adaptation. I grew up with an illustrated version called Dangerous Journey which I read over and over again as a kid. I can still picture the illustrations today. It was a meaningful book in my childhood but those illustrations also scared me and so I wanted something with gentler illustrations for my kids, at least at this age. Sutphin’s work and Taylor’s faithful but abridged adaptation was just what I wanted. Pearl and Rose were engaged and frequently asked to read the book together. The chapters are pretty short so it was easy to pick it up and read for a while or just a bit. We didn’t do it as a bedtime story but simply during the day whenever they wanted to read together.
I have read the complete text of Pilgrim’s Progress, several years ago for an English Lit class. My memory is a bit foggy now but I found Taylor’s version to be faithful to the story as I remembered it. It definitely has an old-fashioned flavour to it and the girls learned such words as prudence and vexed and timorous. I didn’t provide any background to Pearl and Rose before we started it and they had never heard of an allegory before. I was surprised by how much Pearl picked up as we read though. Before long, she was asking me if the Celestial City was the same as Heaven and about halfway through the book she told me, as if revealing a secret, that she thought the Good Prince was like Jesus and that travelling on the Way of the King was like living life with Jesus and going to Heaven. We had some good chats about it and what an allegory is and how we can learn from it. I really enjoyed seeing my girls make connections between Little Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible stories we read them every night and the lessons we try to impart as a family.
As I said, it’s been many years since I read either Dangerous Journey or the full Pilgrim’s Progress. Reading this version with my children, I was struck by the beauty of the story. It’s not subtle and at times it has quite a puritan flavour to it but the moments when the pilgrims enter into the Celestial City are absolutely beautiful. I don’t mind confessing that I teared up as I read those parts. It is such a beautiful depiction of what death can be when you believe that more lies ahead of you. The way the Shining Ones celebrate the pilgrims’ arrival, the way the King is waiting for them, the sadness of the pilgrims whose turn has not yet come to cross the Dark River even as they rejoice over the glory of their friends. In an age appropriate way, Taylor really depicts the mingling of joy and sorrow that accompanies death for Christians.
While reading Little Pilgrim’s Progress I decided to count this for my Virtuous Reading Challenge. Pilgrim’s Progress is the book that Karen Swallow Prior chooses to represent the virtue of Diligence in her book On Reading Well. I do feel that reading Pilgrim’s Progress in its totality is okay as a once-in-a-lifetime venture and since this is a challenge I made up for myself, I’m okay with allowing this. Prior writes,
“Bunyan’s Calvinist belief emphasized not the moment of salvation but the work of ongoing sanctification that is evidence of salvation. Anyone can raise a hand, repeat a prayer, and go forward to the altar, but only a truly regenerated heart will bear the fruit of sanctification and persevere until the end. This is the real progress that Pilgrim’s Progress is about.Karen Swallow Prior, “On Reading Well” (pg. 189)
Christian’s diligence isn’t in doing well – he makes frequent mistakes. He leaves the Way of the King at multiple points. He allows his fears and his exhaustion to overpower him more than once. But each time he remembers that the King is gracious and forgiving; Christian repents and returns to the right path. It isn’t his own works that will allow him to enter into the Celestial City but it his commitment and diligence that move him forward.