13 Mar 2009

Negotiating a trail through

Bunyan in Prison 1864 by George F Follingsby in the National Gallery of Victoria

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den , and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and, as he read, he wept, and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, "What shall I do?"
Thus begins the world's best selling book after the Bible, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. It is one of my favourite books - and it seems that I am not alone in this affection. Highly regarded as one of the most significant works of English literature, this book has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has not been out of print since it was first published in ...wait for it...1678.

Its inclusion in the Ambleside Online curriculum was one of the many things that attracted me to this wonderful curriculum, and yet as the time came for me to select a version to use with Jemimah, I found myself feeling almost as confused as Christian was when faced with many roads to take, all of which would lead him to the Celestial City. There are so many versions of this wonderful book that I 'knew not which road to take'.

First, a confession. Ahem...let me clear my throat...

Hello, My name is Jeanne and I am a Pilgrim's-Progress-aholic...
...or something like that...

When faced with the decision I describe above, I had seven, yes, seven versions of Pilgrim's Progress already on my bookshelf. Yes, you read correctly, seven! On top of that I owned an audiobook of it, and had several online versions available to me as well. Which one to chose? Now this is where the procrastinator in me came to the fore. I suppose it would be too extreme an exaggeration to say that I fell into the clutches of Giant Despair, but I did find this an extremely difficult decision to make.

It is in the interests of helping my fellow homeschooling mum should she ever fall discouraged or depressed at making this same decision that I offer this review of the various versions of Pilgrim's Progress that I have in my possession in an attempt to be an encouragement to others in the same way that Hopeful was an encouragement to Christian and prevented his giving up altogether.

Firstly, let's divide the versions into three main groups : original text; modern English; and children's versions:

Children's Retellings

I bought Pilgrim's Progress a modern retelling of the book for children by Tim Dowley when Jemimah was two or three years old and before I had ever learned of Charlotte Mason or her philosophies. Mine's a lovely hardback by Candle Books, but I've linked to an in-stock paperback.

Dowley's retelling is ideal for a kindergarten aged child. He uses modern language, and divided the story up into short sections for easy bedside readings. The cartoon style pictures depict Christian and his fellow travellers as modern men wearing jeans, tee shirts and hiking boots.

The book keeps closely to the story, and might be useful to use in the same was that AO uses Lamb's or Nesbit's children's versions before reading Shakespeare.

Dangerous Journey by Oliver Hunkin is highly regarded in CM Yahoo groups. It is out of print, but copies are still available at Koorong, so grab yours fast if this is the version you chose.

Hunkin abridges the story using John Bunyan's original words.The illustrations are gorgeous, but possibly a bit gruesome for a sensitive child. I can imagine the book providing fodder for some pretty good nightmares!!

This would be a good choice if you are concerned about your child's (or your!) ability to cope with the full length book - especially if this is the first exposure your child has had to rich living books.

Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen L. Taylor is the version I grew up with. I loved the fact that Christian and his friends were about the same age as me, and I remember being a little disappointed when I discovered that they were adults in the original story.

Written over fifty years ago, Little Pilgrim's Progress is a classic in its own right, and has sold over 600,000 copies! It is beautifully written in simple, albeit slightly old fashioned English, and is an excellent version for a younger child to read to him or herself.

Perhaps my only criticism of this book as a teen was that Taylor had changed the names of some of the characters from Bunyan's original. Apollyon was called 'Self', for example. (I didn't like the fact that people knew that I hadn't read the original!)
Modern English Editions

I bought The Pilgrim's Progress in Modern English edited by Edward Hazelbaker for my husband for Christmas a few years ago. He had never read it, and I hoped that the contemporary English might tempt him to attempt this must-read Christian classic.

Despite the modernisation of the text, this version is very close to the original version. If you prefer Leslie Laurio's modernisation of Charlotte Mason's original series, you'll probably enjoy reading this version to your kids as well. The modern words would, no doubt aid in their understanding of the text.

Here's the first paragraph as a comparison:

As I was walking through the wilderness of this world, I came to a place where there was a cave. I laid down in that place to sleep, and as I slept I had a dream in which I saw a man dressed in rags standing in a certain place and facing away from his own house. He had a Book in his hand and a great burden on his back. As I looked, I saw him open the Book and read out of it, and as he read he wept and trembled. Unable to contain himself any longer, he broke out with a sorrowful cry, saying, “What shall I do?”

Original Versions

The version of Pilgrim's Progress by Christian Focus Publications is the one we finally chose for Jemimah. We're loving it!! It is well set out on quality paper with good margins and a clear text. It has beautiful etching-style illustrations of many of the characters. I show these to Jemimah during our reading, but tend to keep the full page scenes until after she has narrated herself first, for fear that they might influence her drawings.

It's an original language version with the spelling and grammar modernised. Speech marks have been added, as has an occasional "said so-an-so" to keep the characters in order. This has not changed the original text 'one whit', but sure makes it easier for me to read aloud!

The book also contains a helpful dictionary of unusual words and phrases, a timeline of Bunyan's life, and a further study section.

The Pilgrim's Progress - Lutterworth Press Edition is the version that Jemimah's Daddy ended up reading. I think he got worried that Jemimah might complete it before him!! It is, alas, out of print, but available from my friend Abe. Take a look at the exquisite illustrations by Harold Copping.

This edition contains the text exactly as it was at Bunyan's death (there were eleven editions during his lifetime), and therefore contain his latest corrections. They compared it carefully with original copies in the British Museum, and we can, therefore presume that it is pretty accurate!!

The only reason that I chose not to use this version is that it is written in difficult to read aloud script-like version:
Christian. Yes, dear sir, I am the man.
Evangelist. Did not I direct thee the way to the little Wicket-gate?
Christian. Yes, dear sir, said Christian.
Evangelist. How is it then that thou art so quickly turned aside? For thou art now out of the way.

It is, on the other hand, wonderful version to read to yourself.

I got my wonderful original version audio version of The Pilgrim's Progress from Christianaudio as a free download. Nadia May, the narrator has a pleasant English accented voice - a pleasure to listen to. You can listen to the first paragraphs here.

You can also download Pilgrim's Progress for free from Verselink. The female narrator has a pleasant voice, but I think I would find the Scripture references within the text irritating and a little confusing. Free is good, though!

This final, seventh, print version of The Pilgrim's Progress isn't mine - it's my father's. Nevertheless, it is on my bookshelves, so for the sake of completion, here it is. This beautiful leather bound edition was published sometime before 1873, the date inscribed in a beautiful copperplate hand on the flysheet.

The scanned photo doesn't do it justice. The central section of the book is a gold leaf monogram: WL for Ward and Lock, the publishers. Lavishly illustrated throughout, this is a masterpiece. I love it!

So there you are. An adventure through my bookshelves and a short introduction into the myriad versions of this wonderful book for you to peruse. There are more; many more. There are free versions available online - at Lisa Ripperton's wonderful Baldwin Classics, for example, and many more recommended by the AO advisory on their website. I do hope, though, that by showing you many of the versions readily available (and a couple that are not quite to easy to come by), that I may have been able to make your search a little easier than ours was.

The most important thing is, of course, that we read this wonderful book to our children and that by so doing we might transform them into pilgrims themselves, casting their burdens of sin and guilt at the foot of the cross, and battling valiantly until they in turn , like Christian, reach their own Celestial City of heaven. That's the important bit, isn't it?


  1. Wow! That's quite a collection you've got. Thanks for this post. I am going to star it for my own reference later. I read Little Pilgrim's Progress to my kids during our devotion time last year, and they realy enjoyed it.

  2. i have to confess i haven't made it through a copy of pilgrim's progress yet ... but i haven't tried lately. i know it's supposed to be good, but somewhere along the way i got annoyed at analogies. maybe i'm not so much now!!!

    {and we would love to come visit you!!! when, when?}

  3. What a treasure to have your dad's copy of the wonderful Pilgrim's Progress.

  4. I am sooooo impressed, Jeanne, I need to take a minute.


    My daughter loved the Little Pilgrim's Progress, too, and was also disappointed when she read the original.

    Thanks for all the lovely research you do, which makes my life that much easier!! :D

  5. Hi Jeanne,

    If only I'd known about your PP addiction earlier - the 'equip' online christian women's bookclub I was telling you about recently was reading it last november... here is a link to their posts on pilgrim's progress. http://equipbooks.blogspot.com/search/label/Pilgrim%27s%20Progress

    If you scroll right down the bottom (second post) there is a review of versions similar to yours - I thought it might interest some of your readers too.

    Interesting that they chose the same artwork to kick off the last post (the one you see first).

    I can't wait to put all your thorough research into action (only four and a half years to go!)

  6. We are finishing "Little Pilgrim's Progress' begun in 2005, B perfectly retold it almost 4 years later when we started up again this year. She has always loved it, but P hates it. I want to buy the audio for next year.
    Can you email me? I have a few cute Burgess Animal-apprpriate pictures to share with you for your daughter.

  7. I'll have to re-visit this post when we're ready for another version, to see which one to choose. We're reading Little Pilgrim's Progress and really loving it. Kathryn is always excited when it's time to read our chapters for the week! I've never--gasp!--read the original, but I'm more motivated to do so after reading this version with her.

    Thanks for submitting this to the CM carnival. ♥

  8. We just read Pilgrim's Progress with our high school boys and it was a delight. They both said they had read versions of it in the past but I don't remember which ones they were. I guess that is what happens when you homeschool four kids over a span of over a decade...you forget but they don't and I guess that is what counts.

    I enjoyed reading through your post.
    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  9. Thank you for the insightful Pilgrim's Progress tour through your bookshelves.

    Your father's edition is just exquisite - what a treasure!

  10. This is great information to have. I have read about two different versions and have another here to read to my son. I love the story no matter how many times I read it!! Thank you

  11. We read Little Pilgrim's Progress every year as a family. It blesses us every time, young and old. Thank you for this recommendation about other versions. My oldest son has listened to an audio version purchased through Vision Forum, but the rest of us have never made it through anything but Little PP....you've inspired me to remedy that!

    We also love the old film Pilgrim's Progress, the one with Liam Neeson in the title role. Hard to find these days, but worth looking for, IMHO. We've also read and watched (on video) Dangerous Journey.

  12. Thank you for this very informative post. I am starting to plan our year 2 readings from Ambleside, I'll use this to help us with Pilgrim's Progress! Your enthusiasm is contagious.


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