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review 2015-04-22 13:23
7 things you probably knew about Pilgrim's Progress
The Pilgrim's Progress (Dover Thrift Editions) - John Bunyan

Well, I will have to thank the Classics of the Western Canon discussion group for selecting Pilgrim's Progess for this month's read because otherwise it would have continued to sit on my shelf until such a time as I got around to reading it. Okay, I probably don't follow the readings of many of these groups as closely as some do, but they can be good to spur me on to reading a book that I probably wasn't thinking of reading at the time. The discussions on this book have also been interesting to follow as well, though I do note the comments do tend to come quite thick and fast and I end up getting left behind.

It is also been interesting that my evening church has been studying the Book of Hebrews (or at least the last part of the book) because there are connections, and references, in that part of the Bible to Bunyan's work. Mind you, Bunyan draws heavily on the Bible in this book, but the exploration of the struggles of the Christian life is a central theme to this work.

Anyway, instead of simply dumping my thoughts onto the page as I normally do, I thought that I might discuss a number of ideas that came to me as I was reading it. Also, since this is probably one of the most well known books in the English Language, I probably don't need to give a synopsis, or a background, and if you want one there is always Wikipedia. Oh, and I should also mention that Pilgrim's Progress is listed as number two on The Guardian's list of 100 best novels of all time.

 

1) Allegory is dead

Okay, there might be some debate about this, but after a couple of comments on the lack of allegory in use today I realised that people simply do not write like this anymore. In a way the last great allegorical novels were Animal Farm by George Orwell and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (as well as the subsequent books in the Chronicles of Narnia) by :C.S. Lewis. Mind you, I'm not really sure if allegory was actually all that big simply because there are very few allegorical novels that come to mind – Piers Plowman and Gilliver's Travels are two more, but other than that I really can't think of any others.

The main reason that I suspect that people don't write allegory is simply because it is really hard to read. However there are a couple of reasons why authors occasionally do so:

 

a) The literature is subversive: One of the reasons is because if they were to say what they were saying directly, and the literature fell into the wrong hands, then the author would land up in an awful lot of trouble. This was the case with some of the more difficult books of the Bible, such as the book of Revelation (as well as Gulliver's Travels and Animal Farm). By writing the way that they did the authors were able to challenge the system, or criticise the ruling authorities, without fear of retribution. As with the case of Revelation, John the Baptist was able to continue to promote his religion in an environment that had effectively banned it.

 

b) The concepts are difficult: This is probably the main reason why Bunyan wrote using allegory (and in a way borrows the style from Jesus who used parables for a similar purpose). What Bunyan was trying to do was to paint a picture of the Christian walk, and to simply write like your standard, everyday theologian would have probably put quite a lot of people off and the book would never have become as well known, and as popular, as it did. Thus through the use of allegory Bunyan is able to turn a dry, and somewhat very heavy topic, into a form that is not only accessible, but also quite enjoyable.

 

2) The text is very theological

Sure, Pilgrim's Progress is a story about a man, in fact a person whom is referred to as an 'everyman' (namely a type of character that anybody and everybody can relate to), who leaves his family and goes on a journey to the Celestial City, but that does not mean that there is no actual discussion of Christian theology. In fact there is quite a lot of discussion about the nature of faith and spirituality. As Christian travels on his journey, not only must he overcome obstacles, but he also meets various people, some good, some bad, and enters into conversation with them. Through these conversations we learn about quite a few aspects of the Christian faith and concepts such as grace, the nature of God, and salvation, are all explored. While the book does paint a number of pictures, Bunyan to does resort to simply explaining a number of concepts through the mouths of his characters.

 

3) You have a lot of time in prison

Okay, according to Wikipedia there is a debate as to whether this book was written during his twelve year stint in goal, or the much shorter stint a little later, however it is generally agreed that it was written while he was in prison. Okay, while prison is probably not a place that any of us should ever aspire to spend the rest of our lives, at least what it does give us is a lot of time, which means we can sit down and write stuff without having to be interrupted with work. It is also a place of solitude meaning that you are less likely to be disturbed.

Okay, it probably wasn't a prison like this one:

 

Leavenworth

 

 

or this one:

 

San Quentin

 

 

but that does not necessarily mean that it was any better, or any worse. I'm not sure whether he had to wander around wearing orange overalls, or even if he was given three meals a day (if you were in prison back then you were not guaranteed any of the things that prisoners these days are guaranteed – well, yes, a roof over your head, but that didn't necessarily mean that the place was dry), however he did have time to write, which meant that he must have had access to writing materials.

One person even suggested that quite a lot of books were written in prison, but once again that is not surprising because, as I mentioned, you do have a lot of time on your hands in there. Mind you, not all of them were good, or even popular, though I must admit that [author:Mark Chopper Read] did generate a decent income from his writings (and even boasted about how he, an uneducated illiterate became a best selling author while all of these university types, such as me, can't get a single book published – but then people like books about crime).

Which brings me to:

 

4) Bunyan didn't go to school

Well, maybe he did, but apparently he didn't stay there long enough to be considered educated, and he certainly wouldn't have had the education that many of the other great writers of the time would have had, yet much like Chopper Reed, while many of them were writing rubbish, he not only wrote a best seller, he wrote a classic (which sort of outclasses Chopper's efforts in my books).

Another reason I mention this is because there has been some suggestions that he was inspired by [author:Dante] (hey, another allegory, I forgot that one) but there is one big problem with that – he couldn't read Italian, and it wasn't translated into English until the 19th Century. Sure, Dante goes to sleep and has a dream, as does Bunyan, but that does not necessarily mean that he copied Dante, or was even influenced by him (how could he have been). Rather, what I suspect both authors are doing is bringing the reader on a journey with them, and by placing themselves into the text and then turning it entirely into a dream sequence I suspect gives more credence to what they are trying to say.

Anyway, here is a picture from Wikipedia:

 

Dante's Poem

 

 

The other thing that I want to mention are references to classical literature – there aren't any. A lot of writers at the time where returning to many of the texts of the Greek and Roman world and were drawing inspiration from them. However Bunyan wasn't one of them, which is not surprising since he didn't have a classical education. Rather, the only book that he draws upon is the Bible. In fact there are quite a lot of Biblical allusions in the text, many of them being quite obscure. What I suspect Bunyan is doing is drawing upon the parables of Jesus, as well as other Biblical allusions, to paint his picture.

For instance there is a section where Pilgrim passes Mount Sinai, which is on fire, while travelling towards Mount Zion. This is taken straight out of Hebrews 12, where Mount Sinai represents the law, and Mount Zion represents grace. What Bunyan is doing here is showing how Christians can be tempted to earn their salvation by being good, however that is not actually how salvation comes about. One cannot be so good as to earn their salvation, and even if they are, there are still deeds that have been done that cannot be wiped out by a few good deeds. It is sort of like me going and robbing a bank and then giving all of the money to a charity. Sure, I did a noble thing by giving it to charity, and sure, the bank may (and probably did) deserve to be robbed due to the fact that the money that it has was no doubt earned through nefarious means – but that does not exonerate me from my act of violence. Even if one could say that the bank itself was bad, there are still innocent people working in the bank (such as the teller in whose face I stuck the shotgun, or the old granny who was cashing in her pension cheque). In the end, the law does not care whether I robbed the bank to give the money to the Salvos (who wouldn't accept it anyway), or that they bank had committed fraud and were laundering money, I still committed a crime, and no act on my behalf will be able to exonerate me from that crime. I have to be punished, and the only way that I can escape that punishment is for somebody else to takes that punishment on my behalf.

 

5) Bunyan did not live in the 20th Century

Yeah, I know, that's a no-brainer, but there is a reason why I have raised that point, namely because there are churches out there that like to try and claim Bunyan as one of their own. The problem is that the Christian sect that Bunyan was a practitioner of, and was eventually gaoled for, no longer exists. The thing is that Bunyan was what was termed as a 'non-conformist', and honestly, that classified an awful lot of people. Milton was a non-conformist as well (though I believe the word puritan is more appropriate to him – another sect that no longer exists). The thing about non-conformists is that they were not Anglicans (Epsicopalian or Church of England). In Bunyan's day the only place you could worship, and the only people that were allowed to preach, were Anglican churches. If you live in England and you were not an Anglican you could get yourself into a lot of trouble, especially if, as Bunyan did, you were holding regular church services. However, the thing about non-conformists is that they were not: a) Baptists; b) Methodists; c) Assemblies of God; or d) Pentacostal either. Okay, those denominations may have eventually emerged from the non-conformist movement, but that does not mean that a non-conformist subscribes to any of those particular denominations – they simply did not exist.

 

6) Not everybody in Bunyan's day were Christian

One of my pet peeves is when Christians talk about how we live in a post-Christian age, yet in many cases that is not really true. You see, if everybody in Bunyan's day were Christians then he wouldn't have needed to write this book, or his others (such as [book:A Journey to Hell]. Okay, while the multitude of faiths that we have today (think Hinduism, Buddhism, etc) didn't exist in Europe back then, and the only religion you would find was Christianity (though there were Jews), and everybody went to church, it did not mean that they actually believed it. In fact many of the people who went to church went there because it was expected of them, and even then it was mostly a middle and upper class phenomena.

If everybody was Christian then, as I have suggested, you would not have had Bunyan writing his book, or even characters such as the Wesleys going out and preaching to the people of England. Even then, the Anglican church was not necessarily a place that would teach evangelical Christianity, and there were quite a lot of people out there that simply did not like the way the church operated. What Bunyan is showing in his book suggests that even though people would go to church, they were not necessarily saved, and in many cases simply left standing in the City of Destruction.

Also, consider the fact that Christian leaves his wife and children suggests that even when one was living in an apparent Christian country, one would still be mocked and ridiculed for their faith. It is interesting that they don't follow him on his journey, in a sense rejecting what he believes. In the end though, what the book does in a way is to challenge an apathetic society into understanding more about the faith to which their nation allegedly adheres.

 

7) There is a sequel

You know how there will be this really good movie, and the movie is so good that they go out and make a sequel which ends up being rubbish. Well, that is the case with Pilgrim's Progress. Okay, I probably shouldn't be that harsh on the second part, but it is interesting that a lot of people and commentators seem to ignore this second part and only focus on the first. I never even realised that there was a second part until I picked the book up in university and read it then, because I have only ever thought that the story was about Christian's journey. However, I have never been able to get into the second part and have found it somewhat more difficult than the first. While I might suggest that it simply repeats everything in the first, it has been suggested that this part complements this first through its use of having Christian's wife take the journey, and that it also paints the picture of how the journey is open to all.

 

So, I think I will leave it at that, though I did want to mention a more disagreeable aspect that would probably make us in the modern world a little uncomfortable. There are sections where we have black people representing evil, and in one instance this black person is cleaned and becomes white. While this is allegorical, I did find it a little confronting, particularly since it could be read as suggesting that white people are holy and righteous, while coloured people – depending on their colour, are not. I also didn't get to mention that this is probably one of the books that spurred the creation of the modern fantasy genre, but it is late so I will simply mention it, and then go to bed.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1251867296
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review 2014-12-06 13:39
An allegory of the author's intellectual journey
The Pilgrim's Regress - C.S. Lewis

After I started reading this book for a second time I suddenly kicked myself for not reading [book: Pilgrim's Progress] beforehand because it is quite clear that the former book has heavily influenced this work. However, I have read it (a while ago) and are somewhat familiar with the story, so it wasn't that big of a mistake. Anyway, following the tradition of Pilgrim's Progress, Lewis sets out to write an allegorical spiritual journey which, while based on his life, is not necessarily strictly following it (and there are a number of instances where the allegory diverges from his own experience). Once again, like [book:Surprised by Joy] Lewis' journey is one through the intellectual sphere as the character John (no doubt taken from the writer of Pilgrim's Progress – [author: John Bunyon]) travels to seek the island that as a child gave him so much joy.

There has been some discussion as to why Lewis' chose the title 'Pilgrim's Regress' in that the Christian journey is not one of regressions. However I feel that that completely misses the purpose of the book. Pilgrim's Progress is an allegorical story of everyman's journey from becoming a Christian and the struggles that many face as they go on that journey. This is not the case with Lewis' story because it is not the Christian journey that Lewis is exploring, but the journey to becoming a Christian. It is the case that once John finally overcomes the final obstacle the road suddenly becomes clear, however the journey to that point is anything but smooth.

Another factor we need to consider is that this is not the journey of the everyman, but the journey of an intellectual as he navigates the various philosophies that are thrown up against him and the lies and deceits that he encounters. The allegories are presented in numerous ways, such as hedonism being painted as brown boys and girls (and these creatures come across as being little more than automatons who act like snares to entrap the unwary traveller), or Freudianism being painted as the land of the giants.

It is interesting to see how John navigates these obstacles, though to understand some of these obstacles, one must first know a few things about the world in which Lewis is writing. To explain this though I need to show you a map of the world:

 

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-TwTg6FPq0VY/T_7hiWlwq0I/AAAAAAAAAHg/VEagK6CTfMA/s1600/pilgrim%27s+regress+map.jpg

 

As you can see, there is a path that travels directly across the continent effectively dividing it in half. As Lewis explains in his introduction this divides the two spiritual points on his compass – to the south of the line you have emotion and feeling while to the north of the line you have the world of intellect and reason. You will notice that a lot of the time John spends to the north of the road, which suggests that he saw that emotion could not really provide anything of substance, so he crossed into the intellectual sphere (which is very much a trait of C.S. Lewis, who did marry, but not until quite late). As with all allegories though, they do have a tendency of falling apart because I know in my own life I have drifted through emotion and reason at the same time.

The other interesting thing that I noted is that as he travels across the country, the Christian truth doesn't necessarily become clearer to him, but rather is diluted with other ideas that serve to undermine the message. If the Christian message is salvation by faith, and God revealing himself to us in the form of Jesus Christ, then this message can easily be undermined, such as through the introduction of laws. This is something that comes out at the beginning where he is forced to go to church every Sunday wearing very uncomfortable clothes, and being told that one must obey the laws otherwise one will be thrown into the pit. No wonder he walked away from this because there was clearly no joy, just pain and fear.

However, as he travels, he comes to see some truth in his past, however it was a truth that was undermined by the need for power. The question arises where the rules initially came from – where they always there, or where they only created afterwards. If there is indeed a moral absolute, then that suggests that the laws have always been around, however the question is then raised as to which laws are a part of the absolute and which were created afterwards to essentially enslave humanity. While Paul the Apostle does speak about to need to live a moral life, he also cries out against the laws and the rituals that are created to effectively enslave us.

The final thing that I wish to note is the elements of Gnosticism that seem to exist in this book. For instance we hear a lot of the Monad, which is something that has come out of the ancient Gnostic literature that I have read. The Monad is effectively the supreme being, otherwise known in the common parlance as God. However, unlike the God of the Bible, who reveals himself, the Monad is trapped behind a cloud of unknowing: a mysterious figure the truth of which we can never learn.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1120213809
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-10-10 04:33
A retelling of the Odyssey and Pilgrim's Progress
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Read-Aloud Edition - C.S. Lewis,Pauline Baynes

I don't really want to compare this book with the movie too much namely because I am glad that they are turning these wonderful books into film and don't want to put anybody off seeing the movie. Personally I do hope that they do go on and make the rest of the books into movies, but with that said, the movie and the book do contrast with each other in that the movie is a lot more action orientated with a theme that holds it together, but while being different from the book, with new foes and a change in the order of the events, as well as a 'dumbing down' of the Christian allegories that exist throughout the book. Despite all of that I still found the film to be very enjoyable.

As for the story itself, it seems to be a cross between Homer's Odyssey and Pilgrim's Progress. Only two of the Pevenese children come on this adventure, but they bring along with them their annoying cousin Eustace Scrubbs, who is a scientifically minded boy that has no time for fantasy. This changes when he discovers the magic of Narnia, and this is what I believe Lewis is getting at with all of his Narnia books. By using the allegory of Narnia what he is doing is reintroducing the magic of Christianity into this world to help children, and by extension the adult readers, that there is still a lot of magic in this world that we tend to forget in our industrial age.

The other theme in this book is the voyage of discovery, which is why I would probably equate it more with Pilgrim's Progress rather than the Odyssey, whose theme is Odysseus' homecoming. However, there is a homecoming of sorts for Reepicheep, who has gone on the journey to find Aslan's country which is beyond the end of the world. As the journey continues, the characters grow, meet old friends, and come out of it understanding themselves better that before.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/187592400
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review 2014-07-02 19:41
The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov,Larissa Volokhonsky,Richard Pevear

I read a different translation the first time around and could barely follow the narrative; consequently, I hated it. This time around, I went with the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and it didn't let me down. The end notes helped tremendously. I was able to comprehend the allegory and enjoy this classic work of literature. I think Bulgakov, himself, would give this translation of his work a thumbs up.

 

Thanks to this Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, I finally understand why this novel is a classic of Russian literature and why a Russian friend of mine suggested that I give it another try. I'm glad I did.

 

A word of caution: find and print a list of characters from a website because it can be difficult to keep up with the patronymics.

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review 2014-01-06 00:00
Defense of Hill 781: An Allegory of Modern Mechanized Combat
Defense of Hill 781: An Allegory of Modern Mechanized Combat - James R. McDonough,John R. Galvin Putting this under non-fiction, despite the slightly fantastical premise to it.
Lt. Col. A Tack Always ends up in Purgatory, and must overcome his bias against other branches of the army as well as proving his leadership skills before he can finally find rest.

Purgatory in this case in the National Training Center, with a similar group of soldiers and officers also trying to prove themselves.

The enemy know the ground well, and get quicker replacements, and Always needs to fight them all of the way.

This is a cleverly written book, not just for military enthusiasts, explaining the situation, forces deployed and decisions taken, with a critique at the end of each chapter which become lessons for Always into the next situation.

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