Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Pilgrim's Progress

Go To
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:

  • 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.
  • Allegory: One of the most famous examples in all of literature. Any other allegorical works will be compared to this one.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Call to Adventure: Evangelist was the one who sets Christian on his pilgrimage to Celestial City, though he all but disappears afterwards.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Pilgrims Progress


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: