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Pilgrim’s Progress–John Bunyan

I re-read Pilgrim’s Progress recently, resisting the temptation to stop when Christian and Hopeful make it to the gates of the Celestial City but instead following the journey of Christiana and Mercy along the path. As literature goes, sequels rarely add very much to the original. When Larry McMurtry knocked the ball out the park with Lonesome Dove, the follow-up, the title of which I cannot recall and which is not worth researching, had virtually no merit. Cervantes followed up his brilliant Don Quixote with an intriguing part II. Part II was intriguing, but it really didn’t add anything of consequence to the original. (Okay, Streets of Laredo was that miserable sequel to Lonesome Dove.)

In the eyes of many people, Bunyan followed that same pattern. He wrote brilliantly in part I, published in 1678, and then less brilliantly in part II, which appeared in 1684. The dramatic appeal all lies in part I. Part II represents hundreds of pages of falling action. Does anyone have any doubt that Christiana and company would make it to the Celestial City once they pass the Wicket Gate? I don’t think so. Had John Bunyan been attempting to write a brilliant work of art, we could complain about his rather flat narrative in part II. But art for art’s sake was not Bunyan’s object. Having made the scene long before James Joyce burst linguistic blood vessels in the incomprehensible pages of Finnegan’s Wake, Bunyan did not style part II with the Pulitzer selection committee in mind. Instead, he wrote with Christian instruction in mind. As such, Christiana’s trek over her husband’s course adds a great deal to the theology of the original.

If we find Bunyan’s second half to be less than entertaining, the author would probably make no apology. Edification and not entertainment was his object. When we, as modern Christian readers, find part II (and large swaths of part I) to be didactic bores, we probably learn more about ourselves than about Bunyan the artist.

Posted in English Literature, Neo-Classicism.

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