Growing up in a Christian faith-community, I had heard off and on of “Pilgrim’s Progress”. No one I knew had actually read it, but the gist of the story was passed around. I’ve been trying to revamp my British literature course and my Enlightenment/Interregnum period needs some work. This book happens to fall into that period and since I teach at a Christian private school I figured it might be a good fit. Not so much.
Paul Bunyan allegorizes his understanding of the Christian journey where Christian the character leaves his hometown of City of Destruction and journeys to the Celestial City. The allegory isn’t hard to grasp, especially if you’re grew up in the church. There’s a lot of Puritan/Calvinist theology and the language is tough. Particularly in the last third of the book instead of a travel narrative it suddenly becomes very preachy.
I decided that this isn’t a good fit for my class, not only because of the language but there’s too much theology to unpack and challenge and that’s not the purpose of the course. While we touch on the Calvinist/Puritan idea of fire-and-brimstone theology, I don’t want that to consume the literary elements of the novel. My faith community is not fire-and-brimstone, so it would take some time to compare and contrast our beliefs with Bunyan’s. Instead, I’d rather focus on the allegory and characterization, with the students comparing their spiritual journey with the journey that Christian takes.
I would really enjoy an updated version or a modern response to it. The concept is interesting but for modern high schoolers (and their teacher) it’s a tough sell.