***THIS GIVEAWAY IS OVER. WINNERS WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY.***
As our hearts turns toward the reason for the season, we moms and dads, grandpas and grandmas long to give our children something of lasting spiritual value amongst all the trinkets and gizmos.
It might be a good time to revisit John Bunyan’s classic, especially since a new version especially for young readers has appeared. If you’ve been with us on our RedeemedReader road, you’ll remember Janie and Emily’s read-along based on the original (for teens and adults) and Oliver Hunkin’s Dangerous Journey (for kids). Emily’s study guide is available in a handy download, and Janie’s as a series of posts beginning here. We’ve mentioned other versions, but now is a good time to take a closer look, especially at the new kid on the block:
Pilgrim’s Progress: John Bunyan’s Classic Story Adapted for Children, by Anna Trimiew, illustrated by Drew Rose. Great Commissions Press, 2013, 109 pages, including glossary and index. Age/interest level: 6-12.
“This version is designed to capture children’s imaginations and introduce them to Bunyan’s enduring masterpiece,” according to the preface. Great Commissions Press is the publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church in America, and there’s a decided educational feel to this version. It’s very straightforward and easy to understand; after a short introduction to John Bunyan, it follows the plot of his story to the letter, though condensing the detailed conversations and doctrinal discourses. A “glossary” is included—actually a guide for interpreting all the allegorical symbols, chapter by chapter. In the center of the book is a double-page spread illustrating Christian’s entire journey over a winding road, from Destruction to Celestial. I find this especially helpful because I like to keep the big picture in mind.
This adaptation is excellent for study and discussion, though I’m not sure how captivating it is to the imagination. The prose is close to the original in that it provides little in the way of description or sense of place or character. Drama and pathos probably wasn’t Bunyan’s purpose in writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, but rather to use story elements to illustrate the challenges of the Christian life. The doctrinal issues, so vital in his day that he served jail time for them, get plenty of exposure here, even to imitating the numerated points that Bunyan used so frequently in the last third of The Pilgrim’s Progress. This is no bad thing and of course, these doctrinal issues need to be talked about. Just be aware that, especially toward the end, this adaptation becomes more propositional and less dramatic. A stronger sense of story can be found in
Pilgrim’s Progress: a Retelling, by Gary Schmidt, illustrated by Barry Moser. Eerdmans, 1994, 96 pages. Age/interest level: 8-up.
Gary Schmidt, when not teaching English and literature at Calvin College, writes Newbery honor-winning novels for children and young adults. He brings to this retelling a novelist’s sense of plot and character development, ably abetted by Barry Moser’s watercolor illustrations. This involves taking some liberties, but not many—when I finally got around to reading it, I was impressed with how true to the spirit of the original it was. The theme of taking “the hard but right way” is repeated often enough that no reader should fail to get the point. The embellishments are mostly in the interests of better storytelling, with time and care taken to set the scene, build suspense, and add human touches. Notice for example the description of Pliable as “thin as the wheat stalks that waved around them, and he was always smiling, though never happy.” As in Bunyan’s original, the story is told as though it were a dream, with the dreamer occasionally stirring and reflecting on what he has seen. In the preface, the narrator wanders from his home and is lost in the woods, finally deciding to sleep it off until daylight comes:
Listen to the dream that I dreamed that night in the wilderness of the world . . . In the field just below a small house, a man walked slowly, bent over by the weight of the great pack heaped up over his back and shoulders . . . Behind him the sun was setting over the western mountains, gilding the sides of the peaks with a light so red that they seemed on fire. When the man saw this, he stepped back, startled. His hands flew to the burden on his shoulders and he cried, “What shall I do?” If he expected an answer, he received none. Nothing changed except the light, which faded to a pale violet. He shuddered and turned back to his house, staggering under the weight of his burden.
The GCP version dispenses with the dream concept and gets right to the action:
“Oh, what must I do?” cried a man dressed in rags as he walked in the fields outside is house. “What must I do?” he sadly cried again. The man was carrying a heavy burden on his back and reading a book. “This book says the city I live in, the City of Destruction, will be burned one day with fire from heaven. I must find a way to escape! Oh, what must I do? Where should I go?” The man anxiously looked this way and that, not knowing what to do.
Illustrator Barry Moser obviously used real models for his character depictions in the Eerdmans version, employing a variety of period costumes and ethnic groups to convey the universal application of the story. His pilgrim is a nondescript balding fellow, an everyman transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into a hero capable of standing up to Apollyon (who is appropriately scary in both versions), but still humanly vulnerable to temptation.
Both versions have their strengths: the GCP for teaching, the Eerdmans for devotional, and both can be read aloud with profit. And here’s even better news: we have three copies of the GCP Pilgrim’s Progress to give away! (It’s stocking stuffer time!) Read further for details. (And by the way: since Gary’s Schmidt’s Pilgrim’s Progress is almost 20 years old now, you can find used copies at a reasonable price online; try abebooks.com.)
A word about The Pilgrim’s Regress: this is C. S. Lewis’s earliest work of fiction after he became a Christian, and in years to come he claimed to be heartily ashamed of it. Granted, it’s not his best work and it bogs down unmercifully in the last third. But as a glimpse of his intellectual journey to Christ, especially when accompanied by Surprised by Joy, I find it fascinating. Also hilarious in parts and insightful in others; I’ve gone back to his depiction of the Giant Despair (represented here as the “Spirit of the Age”) several times when writing about scientific reductionism and the collapse of objective truth in the early twentieth century. It takes some historical and philosophical background to get what he’s talking about in the second half, but dedicated Lewisophiles and intellectual teens might enjoy having a go at it.
Now for the giveaway: In the comments below, tell us about a book that’s been especially influential in your pilgrim journey. Please let us know by this Saturday, December 13, so we’ll have a better chance of getting the books to you by Christmas. We’ll put all the names and titles in a figurative hat and draw out three, but we love hearing your recommendations!