John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
as retold by Gary D. Schmidt
My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian allegory
I have long felt that I should read The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I even started to once, but only made it a page before putting it down. So when I found this retelling, putting the story into contemporary language, I knew it was my chance to at least see what the book was all about. So understand going into my review that this is in no way a comparison of this retelling to the original. And my comments are specific to this version, because I can’t say what might be different from the original. With that being said, I do think that some of what I didn’t like about this story would extend back to the original source.
After I finished reading this, as I tried to analyze what I’d read and did some research to understand others’ views on the allegory, I flashed right back to high school. After reading The Great Gatsby, I wrote that I didn’t understand why my teacher would have us read a book that so glorified the drinking and partying in the book. She wrote back about her disappointment that I thought she’d promote those things, and that perhaps I didn’t really understand the book. That it’s the type of book one might have to read multiple times to grasp. That’s kind of how I feel about this book.
My first apparent misunderstanding is that it seemed to me that Christian had to essentially earn his salvation. He struggled with his burden on the way to the cross, after coming to an understanding that he had this burden and needed external help to release it. Others say that he was actually saved when entering through the gate that started this journey, and releasing his burden at the cross was simply an illustration about how we don’t often let go of our guilt upon salvation and have to still come to that understanding that Jesus wants to relieve us of that guilt. However, it was at the cross, after losing his burden, that Christian was handed the Roll, which seemed to be needed in order to enter the Celestial City. I took this as a symbol of his salvation, but then, when he was audacious enough to rest a little too long, he lost the Roll and later had to go back and look for it.
I won’t go into any other details, but for whatever this book might mean to some people, at least the people who “get it,” to me it looks like a book that could send the wrong message to new Christians or curious unbelievers, especially those who, like me, aren’t so great at understanding allegory. From start to finish, it makes me feel like a Christian walk is nothing but trial and tribulation. Constant struggling to stay on the right path, to stay good. Yes, some of that is true to a degree, because it can feel like a constant struggle to avoid temptation to sin, but where’s the other side? Why do we not see much of the joy and peace that can come, in this life, from following Christ? For that matter, why is God so completely absent until Christian reaches the Celestial City? If I were to write an allegory about a Christian journey, it would include God interacting with the pilgrim in a much more tangible way (or at all…).
I seem to be pretty hit-or-miss in my enjoyment of much-loved older books and classics, and this is another for my pile of misses. I’m glad I read it, though. Originally I thought it might end up being a stepping stone to going on and reading the original. I’ve decided to leave it right here, at this simplified version, and just be one of the few who’ve never read the original.
If you’ve either of these books, or read either in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!