“Pilgrim’s Progress” – this book is widely hailed as one of the greatest pieces of classic English literature. This is not the only title it has to its name; it is one of the most translated texts in the world after the Bible at over 200 translations, (according to UNESCO Index Translatonium http://www.unesco.org/xtrans/), the world’s most famous allegory, has been claimed as the first novel written in the English language, and has never been out of print. Many famous authors were influenced by it, even some to the point of drawing the titles of their books from it, such as William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair), John Buchan (Mr Standfast), and C.S. Lewis (The Pilgrim’s Regress). Until recently, most households would have owned a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress.
Victorian parents especially encouraged their children to read to as a way of improving their moral character. But does it really deserve this unprecedented notoriety?Since I have been very small, Pilgrim’s Progress has been present in my life in one form or another. Before I could read myself, my parents used to read a children’s version to me before bed. I would pore over the bright illustrations in wonder. It was always such an exciting story, and every time I read it I wondered how I would act under the same circumstances. Would I be brave enough to face giants, dragons, and demons? As I grew older, I came to see that everyone faces monsters in their mind every day. This is the power of allegory; putting a name and a face to what is happening inside your head.
Florentine poet Dante Alighieri’s La Divina Commedia (one of the great allegorical masterpieces of the preceding century along with Edward Spenser’s The Faery Queen), can lay claim to many similar titles; greatest work of literature in the Italian language, and Dante himself as the most important poet in Western literature as a whole. In fact, due to the similarity shared by some parts of Pilgrim’s Progress, The Inferno, and The Faery Queen, Samuel Johnson suggested that Bunyan may have been influenced by Dante and Spenser’s work, but as La Divina Commedia had no English translation at that point and the connections with The Faery Queen are shaky at best, this is most likely coincidental. The 16th Century was the golden age of allegory, but it was far from the beginning. The most-cited text of the Middle Ages, Macrobius’ commentary on the Dream of Scipio, introduced the popular theme of the allegorical interpretation of dreams. Pilgrim’s Progress, although religious to the last letter, was unwittingly influenced by Macrobius in this respect. Like The Inferno, Pilgrim’s Progress opens with the author taking a rest-stop; “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.
“. In the terminology of the day, a den was a prison; Bunyan wrote this and other books while an inmate of Bedford County Gaol.