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Literature / The Pilgrim's Progress

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One of the earliest editions.

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:

  • Allegory: One of the most famous examples in all of literature. Any other allegorical works will be compared to this one.
  • An Aesop: Many throughout the book, including:
    • The journey in general is as apt an allegory for life as Christianity, and vice-versa. Both have their ups and downs, their good times and their bad, but moving forward rather than trying to hold onto the good times forever or losing hope and wallowing in the bad times is the only healthy way to live. And making a mistake and straying from the straight-and-narrow is only the end if you give up and stop trying to get back onto the path and do better next time.
    • Pliable giving up at the first sign of trouble, and ending up a laughingstock in town.
    • The scene with Christian struggling to escape the Slough of Despond teaches need for Help (that is the name of the man who helps him out) when someone is going through a rough patch in life.
    • The scene with Talkative shows the difference between someone who has Faith, and one who simply talks a good game.
    • Christian falling asleep in the arbour and losing his scroll is a warning against sleeping during times of troubles.
    • Christiana runs into trouble from time to time for failing to ask for help.
  • Animated Adaptation:
    • In 1950 an hour-long animated version was made by Baptista Films. This version was edited down to 35 minutes and re-released with new music in 1978.
    • In 1985 Yorkshire Television produced a 129-minute nine-part serial presentation with animated stills by Alan Parry and narrated by Paul Copley entitled Dangerous Journey.
    • Five Nights at Freddy's developer Scott Cawthon directed and narrated a 2005 computer animation movie and also produced a video game adaptation.
    • In 2019 a computer animated film adaptation titled The Pilgrim's Progress was released and featured the voice of John Rhys-Davies.
  • Arcadia: The Delectable Mountains and Beulah Land are beautiful places tended to by servants of The King. They serve as places of respite.
  • Attempted Rape: Nearly happens to Christiana and Mercy in the second part by two vagabonds, but they're stopped by Greatheart.
  • 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.
  • Author Tract: A very deliberate allegory of a man's journey and the trials of faith with the intent of teaching readers about what they could expect in the Christian life.
  • Babies Ever After: Christian's children all get married and have babies by the end of the story's second part.
  • Beware of Vicious Dog: The second part has one dog which confronts Christina, her children and their companion Mercy at the Wicket Gate leading to the King's Highway. This dog is later stated to be owned by Satan, and is sometimes noted to represent opposition and adversity to prayer.
  • 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.
  • Break Them by Talking: Defied. The character Shame attempts this on Faithful to get him off the path, but Faithful refuses to be swayed by his vicious shaming language. Apollyon also tries this on Christian, but Christian stands fast. Meanwhile, Mr. Talkative tries to get the better of Christian and Faithful in a long-winded debate, but only succeeds in being an annoying pill who isn't interested in doing anything about his beliefs.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Some of the folks with Names to Run Away from Really Fast indicate this such as Worldly-Wiseman who gives worldly advice, Lord Hate-Good, an evil judge who tries Christian and Faithful for not conforming to Vanity Fair's ideologies and Apollyon, an image of Satan.
  • Call to Adventure: Evangelist was the one who sets Christian on his pilgrimage to Celestial City, though he all but disappears afterwards, showing up only to predict that one of Christian and Faithful would perish in Vanity.
  • 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 fulfils the role of inquiring about it.
    • In the 1979 Ken Anderson film Christiana, Christian and Christiana only have three children, two boys and a girl, instead of four sons.
  • Couple Theme Naming: Christian and his wife Christiana. They soon become pilgrims (Christians) on their way to the Celestial City.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The town where the Vanity Fair occurs, which the Vanity Fair itself plays a role in.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Giant Despair, and his wife Diffidence, 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.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Two of Faithful's momentary weaknesses are this; the first is when he encounters Wanton (he resists her offer, but is uncertain whether he fully escaped her charms), and the second is when Old Adam tries to bring Faithful into bondage by offering Faithful marriage to his three daughters, which tempts Faithful.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Faithful is tortured to death for refusing to renounce his faith and rejecting the consumerism of Vanity Fair, but as Evangelist predicted, this not only means he goes on to his reward before Christian, but the sight of his spirit being carried off to heaven inspires Hopeful and many others who had become disillusioned with the spiritual emptiness of Vanity to begin their own pilgrimages.
  • Dream Episode: We're told "This is a dream" from the very title and the first sentence of the book. Apparently, presenting the story as a dream was a common way of saying the book was fiction back in Bunyan's day.
  • Easy Road to Hell: Played With. Christian is nearly drawn out of the King's Highway either on advice from worldly folks such as Worldly Wiseman, or on other companions, such as Hopeful intending to get some rest on the byway to Doubting Castle. Still, as long as he and other pilgrims still keep their scroll to enter the Celestial City, they're all good. For others such as two men who tried to find alternate routes around Hill Difficulty, and Ignorance, who never possessed the scroll to enter the City, all end up being eternally condemned.
  • 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.
  • Famed In-Story: Christian is this in Part 2.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Unsurprisingly, the character of Atheist gets depicted this way, since in the story Heaven is a place that you can actually see and walk up to, yet he claims not to have found it after twenty years in searching. Hopeful says he is "blinded by the god of this World" (i.e. Satan).
  • Hypocrite: Obviously, Christian runs into a few. Remarkably, the one actually named 'Hypocrite' doesn't get much time to show off his hypocrisy. A better example is shown in Talkative, who talks good game but Christian knows him personally to be a terrible person.
  • Hanging Judge: Judge Hate-Good, who says Faithful doesn't deserve to live any longer even before the Joker Jury has passed its verdict. When Faithful is inevitably found guilty, Judge Hate-Good sentences him to the cruelest death that the court can devise, ending with being burned at the stake.
  • Hope Crusher: Giant Despair captures pilgrims who come too close to Doubting Castle, locks them in his dungeon, beats them, starves them, provides them implements for committing suicide, and shows them the bones of other pilgrims he's killed, all for no other reason than to make them lose hope. Fortunately, Christian remembers he had the key to escape from the dungeons with him all along, allowing him and Hopeful to hurry out of there.
  • 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/neighbor, 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.
  • Kangaroo Court: Christian and Faithful are put through one of these in Vanity Fair. This ends with them both being sentenced to death and the torture and execution of Faithful. After that Christian escapes.
  • 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 Faithful 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).
  • Long Bus Trip: After Christian skewers him, Apollyon flies off, swearing that he'll come back and have his vengeance. But aside from a couple of name-drops, Apollyon is never seen again in the story.
  • Made of Iron: Giant Despair is shown to be difficult to kill when Great Heart and Christian's sons fight him.
  • Make an Example of Them: Several people, such as Lot's wife in part one, and Simple, Sloth and Presumption in part 2.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Every demon in the story, a notable example is the ones in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The Flatterer also qualifies.
  • 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. Then you have places like The City of Destruction, Prating Row, Stupidity, Vanity Fair, the Slough of Despond, The Valley of Death...
  • Meaningful Rename: Christian's original name was Graceless. It's entirely likely that people like Old Honest had different names in the past, too (Honest comes from the town of Stupidity).
  • Merchant City: The Vanity Fair is a decadent town that sells all sorts of worldly pleasures, including husbands, wives, children, souls, etc.
  • Mordor: The Valley of the Shadow of Death is portrayed as this, fitting as it contains several entrances to hell. It also predates the Trope Namer by over three centuries.
  • 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.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: As this story is very heavy on the symbolism, many of the antagonists have such names. These include: Lord Hategood, Giant Despair, Mr. Malice, Mr. Enmity, and Mr. Cruelty.
  • Names to Trust Immediately: For every bad person there will always be at least one good person representing what good people Christians will encounter. For example, Help, who...well, helps Christian out of the Slough of Despond, Evangelist who motivates Christian to start his journey to the Celestial City and The Interpreter who teaches Christian and any future pilgrims about how to live their lives correctly. The Shining Ones also tend to the pilgrims, being representative of God's Angels. Finally, Goodwill, the keeper of the Wicket Gate willingly allows Christian and later his wife and children and their accompanying friend, "with all of [his] heart"; as such, he is identified as none other than Jesus Christ Himself.
  • Off with His Head!: Great-heart decapitates Giant Despair in the second part of the story.
  • Polyamory: Old Adam offers Faithful marriage to his three daughters — Lust of the Flesh, Lust of the Eyes, and Pride of Life. Faithful ends up turning the offer down.
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: Christina's party contains such figures as Honest, an old man, Feeble-Mind, who has a weak mind and body, Ready-to-Halt, who requires crutches to travel, and Despondancy and Much-Afraid, an old man and his daughter trapped in Giant Despair's castle.
  • 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 refuse 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.
  • Stay on the Path: You'd think the characters would figure this out after the first few horrible events directly resulted from wandering away, but they regularly wander from it...
    • This is allegorical for how one would think people would figure that out in Real Life but they do not.
  • Suicide Dare: Giant Despair encourages his prisoners to kill themselves, and even provides implements for the purpose.
  • Take That!: A couple at the Catholic Church, including the Giant Pope, who is shown as being extremely old and weak, but in the past lured Christians away from the faith. There's also some jabs at the notion of government-approved religion (i.e., the Church of England), but these are a bit more subtle.
  • 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 dauntless pilgrim that defeated a demon lord single-handedly.
  • World of Symbolism: Every single name in the story is straightforwardly allegorical. Justified by an All Just a Dream opening.
  • Writer on Board: John Bunyan takes some time in the book and temporarily stops the story to state his views on some allegorisations he made to Christianity, otherwise he notes of some important points when the pilgrims encounter a dire situation. He even has some conversation and discussion with one Mr. Sagacity in the beginning of the second part.
  • Yellow Brick Road: The plot of the allegory is that Christian has to follow the path to heaven, that is, stick to the straight and narrow. That easier thing is not easier.

Alternative Title(s): Pilgrims Progress