Pilgrim’s Progress Revisited: Two Versions and a Giveaway!


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,pp1 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.

pp2Gary 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!


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40 Responses to Pilgrim’s Progress Revisited: Two Versions and a Giveaway!

  1. Suzanne December 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Michael Horton

  2. Alane December 12, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    To Kill A Mockingbird is the first book I can say got down into my bones. I was a young girl when I read it and it opened up for me a world where there can be real heroes, genuine convictions, and earthly justice. I think it was the first book I’d ever read where I walked away with resurrection hope, where I understood that life comes out of death (although I wouldn’t have been able to name it such at the time).

    The other is C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. I recently gave it to a friend to read as a means of helping her interpret difficult circumstances she’s entangled in — inside is a philosophical beam of light that is truly illuminating for our day.

    Our family loves Pilgrim’s Progress and we’re so pleased to have a chance to win a new copy! Thank you!

  3. Jessica B. December 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Feminine Appeal was extremely influential in my life. I’d also put Shepherding a Child’s Heart up high. Anything Francine Rivers really affected me as well.
    jesslburke@ hotmail. com

  4. Kimberly Locke December 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
    and The Big Picture Storybook Bible by David Helm
    How many times have I read it aloud? Also, Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware
    How could I decide? :)

  5. diego December 10, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

    Justification & Regeneration by Charles Leiter… I picked this book up and could not put it down until I finish it.

  6. Kara December 10, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    I grew up loving Pilgrim’s Progress, partly from my dad reading us Dangerous Journey many times, and partly because of the dramatized audio tapes we listened to frequently. Besides that, one of the most influential books I constantly think back to is the Screwtape Letters.

    I’d love to read this new retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress – my oldest daughter is almost old enough, and already enjoys Dangerous Journey just as I did!

  7. Jen December 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Knowing God by Packer and The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Burrows.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  8. Jeffrey C December 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    The Soul of Life: The Piety of John Calvin, edited by Joel Beeke. My heart is moved not in adoration of Calvin, but in desiring that his unflinching aim of God’s glory may be mine more regularly and more earnestly.

  9. Anthony W December 10, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    I am reading Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray. It was written a 100 years ago. It is a classic. Powerful, concise and amazing devotional about becoming closer to The Lord.

  10. Shawn Anderson December 10, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    Isaac Ambrose – Looking Unto Jesus. This book was around way before the phrase “Christ-centered” was popular. This book is theologically deep, covering who Jesus is and what He has/is/will accomplish. This book, along with others of Ambrose are available for FREE at http://www.digitalpuritan.net/isaacambrose.html

  11. Brent December 10, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Knowing God by Packer and The Holiness of God by Sproul. Also The Enemy Within, but I can’t think of the author’s name.

  12. Melissa Deming December 10, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    I loved The Screwtape Letters growing up. I think I read it too young, as some of the content was a little scary for me, but it was influential in shaping my perception of the spiritual reality in which we live. I’m thankful for a mother who spurred me on to read big and great works instead of settling for books based on TV characters. Thanks for the chance!!!!

  13. Vic December 10, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    I read Kevin Deyoung’s little book Just Do Something when I was finishing college, and it was extremely helpful as I decided which job to take and whether to marry my girlfriend.

  14. Peter December 10, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    R.C. Sproul “Chosen by God” has been very influential in my journey…

  15. Megan December 9, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    There are so many!! The Gospel Primer has been awesome to read a short passage everyday and align my heart with the gospel. It’s been heart changing

  16. Emily December 9, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    The Papa Prayer & 66 Love Letters by Larry Crabb have been a huge help to me. I have also loved reading several books by Phillip Yancey. Fiction by Francine Rivers has given me great examples of what relationships with God might look like.

  17. Ellen S December 9, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    When I was a young teenager, my grandmother have me Hinds Feet on High Places. Later I was given Piper’s Desiring God, which gave much to think about.

  18. Jennifer Mosel December 9, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    Chronicles of Narnia

  19. Jennifer Mosel December 9, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    Definitely the Chronicles of Narnia!

  20. Joey E December 9, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    Mere Christianity.

  21. Leah Rollins December 9, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    The Chronicles of Narnia influenced me during my teenage years. Now, as a wife and mom, I don’t get a lot of time to read, so I have a lot of books around the house that have been started, but not completed. But I have read Pilgrim’s Progress twice and gained a lot from both readings. I will read the children’s version with my kids – thank you for the recommendations and the giveaway!

  22. Kristin R December 9, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    Definitely anything by CS Lewis.

  23. Sarah R. December 9, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel” – I constantly need to be reminded of God great love! Especially recently this book has comforted and encouraged me and changed much of how I view my relationship with God.

  24. Hannah Zekveld December 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Notes from the Titlt-a-whirl by Nathan D Wilson. It’s an eye opening poetic book about the awesome detail and beauty on our Lord’s earth. It will make you cry and laugh and excited to teach your little ones who God is and why we love His creation and why we live in thankfulness for His salvation.

  25. Sarah December 9, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    I was saved after the movie of Pilgrim’s progress! I read the book when I was older. A book that was influential was Know what you believe By Paul Little.

  26. Nate December 9, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    One nonfiction book that I really appreciate is God Is More Than Enough by Jim Berg. Two of the most spiritually moving novels I’ve read are CS Lewis’s Till We Have Faces and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

  27. Tiffany Hansen December 9, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Most recently, one of the more influential books in my Christian walk has been Ann Voskamps, One Thousand Gifts. This book reoriented a lot of how I perceive day to day life in view of being a daughter of a good and generous God. I see it’s truths jump out at me now in Scripture and I go back to it often. Thanks for the giveaway!

  28. Kit Dulin December 9, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    One of my favorites is Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life by John Calvin. It is a small little book but packed with great stuff. I also enjoyed Jeremiah Burroughs’s Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment – great insight from the Puritans. And I would be remiss if I did not mention that most anything by Joel Beeke is wonderful and instructive. Thanks so much! Merry Christmas!

  29. Kelli December 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    Screwtape Letters

  30. Tim Sheppard December 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    One that was pretty influential for me was, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, by J. Budiziszewski. My Dad recommended it to me and it jolted my worldview as a young college student.

  31. Kristen @ Celebrate Every Day With Me December 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Knowing God, The Jesus I Never Knew . . . to name a few. Great giveaway! I was just trying to buy the Pilgrim’s Progress version for kids the other day and Amazon was sold out. Excited for the opportunity!!

  32. Bridgette December 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    “What’s So Amazing About Grace” helped me get rid of some serious baggage. This book helped me realize you forgive not for others, but for yourself. Forgiveness has everything to do with what Christ has done for me and nothing to do with what others have done to me.

  33. Gina S. December 9, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    I didn’t read Pilgrim’s Progress or many other books when I was young that were specifically about the journey of faith, other than the Bible and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. However, I can remember my mother drawing connections between stories we read and the ultimate Story. One story that always stuck with me was The Secret Garden, for its portrayal of the transforming power of undeserved kindness, and the importance of loving the unlovely (which, by the way, my mother demonstrates beautifully in her life).

  34. Whittney December 9, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    Through Gate of Splendor was inspiring to me! Would love to add these books to our collection.

  35. Sylvia December 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    I think #1 would be The Sovereignty of God, by Pink. Also Packer’s, Knowing God and A Quest for Godliness, and Piper’s, The Pleasures of God.

  36. Charles December 9, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Michael Horton’s Putting the Amazing Back Into Grace had a big impact on me as a teenager. It provoked serious thought about grace and sin that had theretofore not taken place.

    I tried reading Pilgrim’s Progress when I was younger, but it didn’t really do anything for me. I was so distracted by the in-your-face, hamhanded allegory that I couldn’t really get much from it. I should revisit it as an adult. The Lord of the Rings, however, has stuck with me as an example of a Christian writer using the power of stories to communicate big truths. There’s a reason pastors constantly use analogies or illustrations from LOTR. Stories are powerful and they stay with us a long time. For me, Samwise Gamgee and Aragorn will always vividly display facets of Christ’s character.

  37. Don G December 9, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    I read Desiring God early in my walk and have continued to go back to it for years.

  38. Cathy December 9, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    As a young Christian at 15 years old, J.I. Packer’s Knowing God was the first real theology book I ever read. I’ve re-read it again and again throught the years, gorwoing in my understanding and in my love for God each time. I’d commend it to anyone!

    As a child, I read the Chronicles of Narnia over and over again and I have no doubt that God used those stories to prepare my heart to hear the gospel, re-affirm Biblical ethics and values and encourage me along right paths generally.

  39. Ticia December 9, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Hmmm….. I’d say either Screwtape Letters or Desiring God. I’m of course assuming we are eliminating the Bible as an answer.


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