Literature / The Pilgrim's Progress

The Pilgrim's Progress (full title: The Pilgrim's Progress From This World, To That Which Is to Come: Delivered under the Similtude of a Dream, Wherein is Discovered, the manner of his setting out, His Dangerous Journey, and safe arrival at the Desired Country) is an allegorical work by John Bunyan, first published in 1678. It was written during Bunyan's terms in prison for holding worship services outside the auspices of the official Church of England.

The story is in two parts (originally published separately) and concerns the journey of an everyman named Christian (and, later, his wife and family in the second part) from the City of Destruction (this world) to the Celestial City (the world which is to come, Heaven). The journey is fraught with dangers, and there are many temptations to leave the straight and narrow road. Christian meets good friends and deadly enemies on the path. Though he makes mistakes along the way that nearly result in his destruction, Christian is forgiven when he returns to the true road, and eventually is allowed to enter the Celestial City.

At one time, this book was nearly ubiquitous in the houses of British and American Protestants. Many nineteenth-century literary works refer to it, including Little Women and Villette. It provides the origin for the term "muckraker" for a certain type of journalism and supplied William Makepeace Thackeray with the title for his novel Vanity Fair. C. S. Lewis also put his own spin on it with his allegorical novel The Pilgrim's Regress.

The Pilgrim's Progress contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All Just a Dream: Subverted. For once, All Just a Dream doesn't need spoiler tags. We are told it's a dream in the very title, in the first sentence, and throughout the story; the last sentence is "And so I awoke, and behold, it was a dream." Apparently, presenting the story as a dream was a common way of saying the book was fiction back then.
  • Author Avatar: Pilgrim's Progress (especially the first part) is a partially autobiographical account of Bunyan's conversion, and Christian himself reflects (for the most part) Bunyan's own character and struggles in his life.
  • Babies Ever After: Christian's children all get married and have babies by the end of the story's second part.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Hopeful is the newcomer who tags along Christian's journey halfway through the pilgrimage after being impressed by the latter's faith, and learns about the way of salvation from him. Their roles were quickly reversed though, as Hopeful ends up having the stronger faith and is the one who encourages and supports Christian when he falls into doubt and depression.
  • Composite Character: In the original book, the only time John Bunyan actually interacts with the cast is when he asks about the Slough. In the Animated Adaptation from the 70s, Bunyan doesn't appear in the story at all and Christian fulfills the role of inquiring about it.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Giant Despair, and his wife Dividence, capture unsuspecting pilgrims and torture them to the point of suicide.
  • Defector from Decadence: Hopeful, once a citizen of the indulgent and corrupt city of Vanity Fair, was impressed by Faithful and Christian's refusal to partake in the Fair's sinful lifestyle, and becomes Christian's new companion after Faithful dies.
  • Deus ex Machina: When Christian and Hopeful were captured by the giant Despair and were close to crossing the Despair Event Horizon, Christian suddenly remembers that he has a key called Promise, that could open the doors of the castle, which allows them to escape.
  • The Everyman: Christiana, her four children and Mercy represent the lives of the average believers. Their comparatively more peaceful journey has a more apparent Slice of Life feel that the general audience are more likely to experience, rather than the epic struggles Christian faced in the first part.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: City of Destruction, Slough of Despond, River of Death... like with the characters, the place names aren't exactly subtle.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: In the second part, Christiana begins her own journey to Celestial City, bringing her four children and her friend/neighbour, Mercy. Mercy is described as a maiden much younger than Christiana, and would later marry Christiana's eldest son.
  • Joker Jury: When Christian and Faithful are put on trial in Vanity Fair.
    "Then went the jury out, whose names were Mr. Blindman, Mr. No-good, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. High-mind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, and Mr. Implacable..."
  • Jumped at the Call: Christian seems all too eager to get rid of his bags any way that he can. Subverted when Pliable tries to follow him, and gives up the second they begin to run into trouble.
  • Kill It with Fire: Faithful dies after being burnt on a stake.
  • Knight Templar: Moses is depicted as a harsh and violent judge who tries to kill Christian for his momentarily weakness. (Yes, that Moses. He's meant to represent the Law, i.e. it can only condemn people for disobedience, but can't actually bring salvation, since knowing the law doesn't give people the power to obey them)
  • Meaningful Name: Almost everyone is named after a virtue or vice, and the implications of their role in a Christian's day-to-day life. Even those bearing the name of Biblical characters represents something related to the Christian living.
  • Merchant City: The Vanity Fair is a decadent town that sells all sorts of worldly pleasures, including husbands, wives, children, souls, etc.
  • Motor Mouth: The aptly named Talkative, who would drone on and on with his words for up to several pages at once.
  • Lighter and Softer: The characters in second part of the book experiences significantly less drama and emotional turmoil, compared to the hardships that Christian, Faithful and Hopeful endured in the first part.
  • The Obi-Wan: Evangelist was the one who sets Christian on his pilgrimage to Celestial City, though he all but disappears afterwards.
  • Overly Long Title: While normally just referred to as "Pilgrim's Progress", its actual title is "The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream". Yeah, in the first edition, the title takes up the whole cover.
  • Rasputinian Death: Faithful must have been Made of Iron, considering his execution.
    ...first they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords; and last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end.
  • Refusal of the Call: Christian's wife and children refuses to accompany Christian to Celestial City, forcing him to go alone. Subverted in the Second part, where they finally decided to go on their own pilgrimage to reunite with him.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Mercy's sewing is very attractive, until the wooer realizes she's doing it for the poor.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Christian goes from a weary traveler that almost drowns in a shallow bog, to a Badass that defeated a demon lord single-handedly.

Alternative Title(s): Pilgrims Progress