Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pilgrim's Progress

Few books have been so widely read, only to plunge later into (relative) obscurity, as has Pilgrim's Progress. On many lists, it's among the ten best-selling books of all time, and has been translated into more than 200 languages -- and yet, today the most popular edition ranks only as twentieth in the amazon-narrowed category "Christian Classics and Allegory." But despite its fading from familiarity, signs of its influence are not hard to find in literature and pop culture; in the broadest sense, much of vast realm of "fantasy" literature -- one in which the narrator enters a "dream" or alternative world, especially one supplied with maps, owe their genesis to Bunyan's book.

The book, despite its relatively scarce passages of detailed description, has from the very beginning attracted illustrators, painters, and (later) filmmakers. The great English poet and artist William Blake is prominent among these, as are Byam Shaw, the Rheads, and Barry Moser. In 1850, a moving panorama of Pigrim's Progress, known as the Bunyan Tableuax or the "Grand Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress" was painted by Joseph Kyle and Edward Harrison May and displayed in New York; an early copy of this panorama survives and is at the Saco Museum in Maine. Many prominent American artists contributed designs for this panorama, among them Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey, Henry Courtnay Selous, and Daniel Huntington. You can see scenes from this surviving copy here, or watch a video of the entire panorama here. Like films, panoramas were displayed using two reels -- though since the painting is more than eight feet tall, "changing the reel" is quite an undertaking!

Early film producers also seized upon the subject, beginning with a silent version in 1912; an animated version was produced in 1950, and the year after that it was the subject of an opera by the composer Ralph Vaughn-Williams. A 1978 live action version even featured a very young Liam Neeson in the role of "Evangelist" (he appears at 4:28 -- it's his very first film role)! And now, although the story has fallen from fashion. it's safe to say that there will be more versions to come -- CGI anyone?

JUST ADDED: Here's a photo of the board game version in use, and a video of the Moving Panorama.

14 comments:

  1. It's fitting Bunyun chose the man of the house to leave on this journey. He's a grown man, and was likely perceived as more intelligent than women and children at the time. In most books and films today, the child or the man of the house goes on a journey--rarely the mom. Although, I wonder why abandonment of one's family is somehow forgivable and encouraged. Well, his name was Christian, so I'm guessing he's the epitome of what Christians should be. I assume all the names in the story have the same meaning as they do now, and are all examples of people embodying those attributes.

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  2. I think Bunyun choosing to travel and leave his family behind was fitting for those times. Many men went on pilgrimages. Woman and children were left behind for safety measures, I would imagine. It would be too dangerous to take them. I don't necessarily think it was a matter of intellegence, it was a matter of strength. Strength for Bunyun and his family and many families of that time frame.

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  3. For a piece of literature Pilgrim’s Progress has enjoyed many different lives throughout the years. When I was looking at the panorama, I got the idea that maybe this is where Disney got their idea for their Carousel of Progress in Disneyworld - you would sit in a seat, but instead of the painting moving, your seats moved, and you would progress through history and see all that has happened. As a kid, it was boring, it as an adult, it as fascinating to take this journey. I wonder of the people of the time when the panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress made its rounds through the country that people felt the same way. that they were able to experience the journey without actually going anywhere.

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  4. Reading this, it is easy to understand how influential this text has been. Not only is it an engaging story, it is engaging while keeping institutionalized Christianity as the overarching theme. In these two ways, this text has been influential. I feel that without an emphasis on Christianity, this novel would be an incredible story that lasted throughout the ages, regardless of its missing Christianity. However, with the emphasis on Christianity, it reaches a wider audience as many people are bound to Christianity.

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  5. It is interesting to see the rise and fall of popularity of the Pilgrim's Progress. In past society's dominated by Christian culture it is easy to see how a story like this was so popular. But I feel like story is a bit too on the nose for it to enjoy the same popularity nowadays. Pilgrim's Progress is a bit too blunt (especially with the character names) when it comes to its message and I feel like that is something that would hurt its chances of popularity today. If it had been able to hit the brakes just a bit with its message then the epic story might have kept the popularity it once had.

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  6. I can see why so many artists are drawn to this text; with such few details explicitly stated, it's somewhat of a blank canvas (pun intended) with a challenge of interpretation. I would love to see the panorama in person. Considering these medias also made me think that if I was ever teaching this text in a classroom, it would be valuable to bring in visual aids such as these to give students a stronger grasp on the story, its context, and meaning. Giving a text real world context and utilizing supplementary materials expands the material that much further.

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  7. R 2:
    Bunyun really went to the trouble to point out Ignorance was not allowed in heaven for using vain hope--I guess meaning if you believe, you have to REALLY believe. The scene is still ridiculous though, to have the certificate to get into Heaven? It doesn't sound very kind to go as far as to throw someone in hell for trying to get into heaven without a certificate. They could have made him repeat the trail to prove himself, but no, he's committed a sin somehow. Then again, these are the Christians that prefer the hard way or no way.

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  8. I got hooked while reading this book surprisingly, and now I strongly think that every christian should read it. Mainly due to the theme of how our choices have an affect on not only us but also others close to us. An example of this is how Bunyan often uses literal excerpts from scripture when Christian has a big choice to make; this is an attempt to show that the Bible can help one make the right decisions in life. However, when we go against it we are dealt with the results.

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  9. I think that this is a great story by Bunyun. It really is a good read for someone that is into Christianity. He references a lot of stuff from the Bible. This is a text that I found myself someone drawn to because reading about different religions is something that intrigues me sometimes and I can see why others are also drawn to it as well.

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  10. Having the man of the house leave on a journey is a very common event for the pieces from this time. Men are seen as the "providers" and are to go out and search for various items in order to provide for their families and women are seen as the "caretakers" and are to stay home and take care of the children while the man is on his journey. What really stuck out in my mind was as Zara had mentioned as well, the idea of abandoning one's family. I feel as though today if one leaves the house they are seen as abandoning the family and it's not okay, even if it's a business trip. Yet in this case it's okay for them to leave.

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  11. The Pilgram's Progress really was the first tale to start off the idea and tradition of one travelling to find themselves. The themes of knowledge gained through travel, Christianity and the Bible, and community are focused on throughout part I and I'm sure the rest of the story. I know themes used in this story have inspired many writers and artists in their work to this day. I think an updated movie with better graphics and acting and an older Liam Neeson would be fun to see.

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  12. Brandon BinegarMay 2, 2017 at 1:17 PM

    I was blown away by how cool Apollyon is as an antagonist, despite his supposedly evil context within the story. I'm not really a fan of allegory but this has had a simpler understanding compared to some of the other works we've gone over.

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  13. In regards to Pilgrims Progress I have difficulty forming a strong opinion because while I do enjoy the allegory itself, as well as how its almost simple in reference to the names of the characters literally describing them, there are also things I don't really like about it. For starters, Christian leaves his family behind because he essentially just wants to go on this journey. I find that to be a slightly selfish move, and while its not really touched upon too heavily, he basically abandoned his wife and kids because religion. If someone tried to renovate this story today, it would most likely get a lot of hate because it it could be seen as defending all the fathers who abandoned their families. When you have kids and get married, you're making a commitment. You can't just decide that your needs and desires come before everyone else, don't be a parent or a husband if you're not willing to compromise or you value religion more than your family.

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