Monday, May 10, 2010

Pilgrim's Progress

John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is possibly the greatest work of Christian fiction ever written. An allegory full of biblical truths to help guide us toward Heaven, Bunyan's tale, written in the 17th century, isn't exactly an easy read for children. That's where Tim Dowley's retelling steps in.

80 pages long and heavily illustrated, this modern version of Pilgrim's Progress follows the tale of Christian, who is leaving his hometown, the "City of Destruction," for the "Celestial City." His journey is fraught with difficulties. First, his wife, children, and friends refuse to go with him - and try to prevent Christian from going alone. Then Christian nearly gets stuck in the swampy Slough of Despond, gets sidetracked by Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and gets attacked by fierce lions. He battles with the Dark Fiend Apollyon, travels through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, sees his friend martyred, is deceived by a Flatterer masquerading as a Shining One, and is taunted by Atheist.

Good things happen, too, though. His heavy burden falls from his shoulders upon seeing the Cross and empty tomb, the Evangelist and Shining Ones help him repeatedly, and the sisters Love, Hope, Mercy, and Joy provide him with armor for his journey.

In the end, Christian is true to his King, and is warmly welcomed at the gates of the Celestial City.

What I Like: Bunyan's original is a fat book, but Dowley does an excellent job synthesizing it while still making the book flow nicely. Many of Bunyan's themes are still present in this children's volume. The illustrations by Steve Smallman are also engaging and rich with detail. The gray grimness of most scenes usually show some sort of light to guide Christian. For example, when he's stuck in the swamp, everything and everyone is gray - except Helper, who is in full color. And, naturally, the Celestial City is ablaze in golden hues. My 4 year old was captivated by this book.

What I Dislike: Although everyone in this story is shown dressed in modern clothing, the Evangelist is not. Instead, he's dressed like a 1960s hippie guru. Also, the second to the last sentence in the book says of Heaven: "Good men made perfect walked there." However, the Bible teaches us that true goodness isn't humanly possible, and is certainly not what gets us to Heaven.

In addition, parents will want to use some caution introducing this book to their children. Apollyon (Satan) is graphically illustrated as a big, red, creepy dragon who spews fire. In addition, a number of illustrations include piles of human bones. If your child is prone to nightmares, this book may not be for him or her.

The book also depicts a scene where Christian and his friend are given the opportunity to kill themselves rather than be continually beaten by a giant. Christian wonders if they'd be better off killing themselves, but his friend quickly talks him out of it. While suicide is an important subject to discuss with your kids - and perhaps at a younger age than we might like - if you're not ready to bring up this topic yet, this may not be the book for you. I also strongly dislike the fact that no reason for not committing suicide is given in the book.

My only other wish - although I wouldn't call it a "dislike" - is for a section in the back of the book with suggested discussion questions. I'd also appreciate biblical references or a study guide to support this important story of the sort of hardships and temptations modern Christians must face.

Overall Rating: Very Good.

Age Appeal: 9 - 12, according to the publisher, but as long as you don't mind the somewhat mature themes, some kids as young as 4 will enjoy this book.

Publishing Info: Candle Books, 2008; ISBN: 978-0825473647; paperback, $9.99

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Special Info: There is also a board game to go along with this book. carries it for $24.99, while sells it for $17.99. Also, check out our other reviews of children's versions of Pilgrim's Progress.

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