Friday, 27 November 2009

The Pilgrim's Progress II

Most people, I think, have heard of John Bunyan's classic The Pilgrim's Progress. I don't think the sequel is as popular. In fact, I only discovered it when I got halfway through my new copy of the book and discovered that it was secretly a two-in-one edition.

Given all of this, I doubt that Pilgrim's Progress II will be particularly mindblowing. That seems rather similar to the complaints I sometimes hear about modern movies, and I began to think about the similarities and differences of the book to more modern writing.

The most obvious difference is that it's the only book I've read that uses words like 'snibbeth'. The second most obvious is the way that dialogue is attributed twice - there'll be a play-like reference at the beginning of the line as well as a 'said Christian'. That, I think, might point to the fact that the work was 'self-published'. Bunyan asked his friends what they thought, and decided to get it printed. Perhaps self-publishing is not so bad as people often say, then.

On the other hand, if Bunyan had had an editor to take out the double references, it might have reduced the length of the book considerably. So I guess you can go either way (which is what I would have said at first.)

The thing that bugs me most about it is the devices Bunyan comes up with - particularly towards the end - to present his ideas. If I were his editor, I would tell him to go revise the second half of his book to make it more interesting. (That might mean I would make a terrible editor, of course!)

At the beginning of the book, we visit Mount Sinai (the law), the Slough of Despond, the wicker gate that is opened to those who knock and the house of the Interpreter. Those are all good an fascinating. We meet all sorts of curious people too: people who actually do things.

Later on, we encounter a most marvellous idea. Christian and Hopeful come to an Enchanted Land. To keep themselves from falling asleep, they fall into a great theological discussion. They speak in bullet points. If I'm honest, I skimmed over some of that.

I don't know if Bunyan lost inspiration as he went on, intended the book to be that way, or had some other issue. I'm pretty sure that the book could be made more exciting farther in. The interesting bits go on for long enough - and mostly, are frequent enough - that I was largely caught up in the story, though.

Bunyan has some interesting insights and some ideas that I disagree. He's worth reading, because on the whole he makes me think.

Also, he introduced me to the word 'snibbeth' and who can argue with that?


  1. So what does snibbeth mean?
    How much do you know about Bunyan when he wrote? I visualise him sitting in a jail cell and can almost feel the stretch of his mind as he thinks these thoughts that haven't been written before. But I must admit I don't know too much about his context.

  2. Snibbeth is old-fashioned for snubs. It just sounds cool!

    I think the 'romance' - if I can call it that - of the jail cell was rather spoilt for me when I learned that he'd been there several times before. I've only read the biography in my book, but he doesn't seem to have been a very pious man, even after his conversion.

    Something must have come right at some point, though, since he wrote the book - he says as something to pass the time, but I'm not sure how much of that is just fashionable self-deprecation. He says

    "When at the first I took my pen in hand / Thus for to write, I did not understand / That I at all should make a little book / In such a mode; nay, I had undertook / To make another;"

    It's all rather interesting.

  3. Sequels seem to be tough for a lot of writers. I know that most readers find Dante's "Inferno" far more interesting than "Purgatorio" or "Paradiso" (which seems weird because it's Heaven!).

  4. Kate: I think there is a human idea that 'if one is good, two must be better', even though it's not always true.

    I'm not entirely surprised about Inferno, though. We humans can be a sadistic bunch. =/