This will not surprise readers of the book. It is a helpful and trenchant allegory of the Christian spiritual walk. It illustrates the pitfalls and victories that await the persevering saint while it encourages and exhorts.
John Bunyan loved allegory and, I daresay, allegory loved John Bunyan. This is the key exemplification of allegory in Western culture. Bunyan's characters are named to reveal their character. Ignorance is ignorant, Talkative is... you get the picture. I wondered what I would be. "And the two pilgrims saw a man on a bicycle named Neurotic Overintellectualizer coming around the bend." I did keep thinking, and far be it from me to criticize Bunyan, that one of the scarier realizations in reading this book is recognizing how I, in my own walk, can shift from character to character. One likes to identify with the protagonist in this book, but one sees bits of themselves in Mr. Worldly Wiseman or Talkative or even Timorous. I would imagine that Bunyan would expect one to take this as a warning and a call to mend the ways in which one finds resonations with those damned characters.
It is difficult to imagine a work with this level of earnestness written in our time and I think we are the poorer for it. I kept thinking of what a glib, silly, and frivolous time in which we live, a time in which dialogue about matters of grave importance are never heard. It is difficult to imagine a contemporary equivalent of The Pilgrim's Progress in which the author did not feel the need to resort to humor. This reminds me of my own previous paragraph in which I employed a jokey version of my self in an imagined "lost chapter." Which, again, is another way in which this book fostered a fervent desire in me to turn my back on this world.
In case you've never read it (in which case your education is missing one of the cornerstones of Western Civilization), it is an account of a man named Christian who realizes that he needs to flee The City of Destruction for reasons that the name might suggest. His family refuses to go with him, but he must go nonetheless. He has a terrible burden on his back. He is shown the way to the Celestial City by Evangelist. On the way he encounters places like The Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair.
Part 1 concludes with Christian arriving at the Celestial City. It is a beautiful passage. We are happy for Christian and desire to do likewise. I imagine it's been nearly 15 years since I've read this book and I had no recollection of what happens in Part 2. I thought it was either an account of Celestial City or it is more people journeying on the same path. It is the latter, which illustrates the variety of experience on that same path.
As I've mentioned, the impact of this book has been immeasurable. People have used this as devotional reading for centuries. People huddled around reading by the light of the fire beneath the cauldron, people reading in salons and castles, people reading in smokey industrial cities, people reading it Starbucks on Kindles. In reading it, you are brushing material with Lincoln, Melville, Dickens, and a list that will include just about every Western name you can think of from the late 1600s through the dawn of the post-Christian age.
As a side note, Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote an opera from it. The Pilgrim's Progress starts with Bunyan in prison (which is the clip below), follows the narrative of the book, then returns to Bunyan at the end. I especially love the austere and British instrumentation. I would expect nothing less from Vaughan Williams who seems to me perfectly suited to adapt this work into music.
I declare war on that sort of thinking and intend to fight it wherever I see it. I think Bunyan would agree with this exhortation: if you know something is great, pick it up and own it. Live in it. Don't let it out of your grasp.