Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress: Part 2- The Other Part

Did you remember what happens in the second part of The Pilgrim's Progress?  I sure didn't!  I have been trying to analyze why none of Part 2 stuck in my mind from previous readings as it is certainly as good as Part 1.  I would speculate that more happens in Part 2.  But it is sort of "But what would the Pilgrim's Progress look like if you weren't a man?"  I assume this is because it was imagined that men would read the book to their families huddled around a bubbling cauldron of gruel in the bleak midwinter, affording devotional material for all present: the father toiling and laboring for their happiness, the devoted wife who tries to knit with hands acutely calloused from chopping wood, the children nervously scratching their erysipelas.

In this section, two women and some children set out on the same journey that Christian took in Part 1, being the road to the Celestial City and/or the allegory of the Christian's spiritual walk.  Along the way they pick up many other pilgrims in their entourage and meet with a hefty portion of peril.  Part 2 reminded me of C.S. Lewis.  It seemed like the sort of thing that had an influence on his writing.  I am fairly certain that it did as he wrote a modern version early in his career, but I was specifically referring to the successful journey of vulnerables through great danger.  There is a sweetness to this that appeals to my sensibilities greatly. 

I think my favorite passage in Part 2 was Great-Heart's relating of the story of the pilgrimage of Mr. Fearing.  I told Laurie, "I think I've just reached the allegory most like me.  And it is a cautionary tale."  To my great relief, Mr. Fearing makes it!  He makes it just as much as Christian does at the end of Part 1 and, in fact, his journey is quantitatively easier than Christian's.  However, at the end of his journey we are struck by the fact that he spent his entire journey in abject fear. 

One of the honest absences I found in this book (likely not one that Bunyan would have appreciated if pointed out) is God's silence.  God does not appear in the book.  Christ sort of appears as the guy who opens the gate, but that is the extent of divine appearances in the book.  I found this a realistic consideration that I truly wonder if Bunyan intended.  In the achingly archaic linear understanding of time presented in this road metaphor, pilgrims meet with distractions, demons, problematic ideas, temptations, but nowhere do they meet God within the narrative.  Such is life.  Such is faith.  Bunyan is never so crass as to attempt to explain what the man behind the curtain is doing, a useless appendage of theology that gets the bulk of the air time and sullies our understanding of our lives.  Rather, we are held responsible for what we do, how we react, the fruit that we produce.

Bunyan also manages to produce some of the most beautiful and least discouraging death scenes in all of literature.  The end of Mr. Stand-Fast I found, fittingly, transcendent.  The book ends with pages upon pages of rhymed couplets in which Bunyan makes exceedingly Puritan apologies for the book we've just read. 

This is a book that will stick with me for the rest of my life. As well it should.  There is great wisdom and truth in this book but, a increasing rarity in instances of truth, it is also one of the most encouraging books I've ever read.

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