When you are ready to introduce your family to a classic edition of Pilgrim’s Progress, two simplified versions complement each other beautifully, providing solid familiarity with this magnum opus, so that the original is more accessible when your children are ready.
*Little Pilgrim’s Progress: From John Bunyan’s Classic by Helen L. Taylor. Moody Publishers, 2013, 336 pages.
Recommended for: ages 4-8.
*Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress by Oliver Hunkin. Eerdmans, 1985, 126 pages.
Recommended for: ages 8-12
*Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Christian Focus, 2007, 191 pages.
Recommended for: all ages
Little Pilgrim’s Progress is ideal as a read-aloud ideal either for younger listeners, or for those who are more sensitive. Most of the characters are children, and while the text is modified, it is not puerile. There is a warm invitation for children to seek the King, subtle explanations of names such as Obstinate and Pliable, and an overall childlike, not childish perspective.
Around six years ago I read Dangerous Journey to my boys for the first time, and we did so every year after that during the month of October. Vivid, full-color artwork enhances the drama of the story, rather than merely breaking up the text. The story is taken directly from Bunyan’s original, but shortened, so while the rich vocabulary carries the reader, the long conversations are omitted. Did I mention the dramatic artwork? Good is beautiful and glorious, but evil may be ugly, adorned with belching flames and skull necklaces. Some of it may be too intense for sensitive audiences.
It was perfect scaffolding to prepare us for the original because my boys are so enthralled by the pictures, they expect the traditional reading, rather than merely tolerating hearing it once again.
When my eldest was twelve, I decided to read the original aloud. It took us about six months of short sessions, some narrations, re-readings, discussions, personal conviction, and assurance that we still have much to discover in future readings.
The Christian Focus edition is by far my favorite version of the original. It isn’t expensive, but the hardcover binding is solid, the paper feels good, and the font has an antiquated look without being hard to read, because there is plenty of white space on the page. The illustrations and decorations are reprinted from a variety of 19th century artists, and are a perfect complement to the text. This is a thorough resource that includes editor’s notes, copious scripture references between appropriate paragraphs, brief biography of John Bunyan, places of interest (field trip, anyone?), timeline, further study on key events in the story, quotes, dictionary, and explanation of unusual phrases.
Next October I plan to re-read Dangerous Journey again to keep reinforcing the framework for my younger boys. Or perhaps I will read Little Pilgrim’s Progress, and then Dangerous Journey.
These three resources will help you develop a solid relationship with an extraordinary story that grows more profound with every reading.
Here is another suggestion from Janie:
*The Pilgrim’s Progress, a graphic-novel retelling by Stephen T. Moore. CreateSpace, 2007, 150 pages.
Recommended for: ages 15-up
This is an intensely personal work: the artist uses himself as the model for Pilgrim/Christian, and various friends and relatives for other characters. Depicting actual people rather than generic types gives this retelling a sense of realism and urgency. The artist begins by stepping back in the narrative to show how the protagonist came by that hideous burden that eventually drives him to Christ. Rather than a guilt-ridden soul we see a complacent, normal guy going about his business: “I am a good person. I have not hurt anyone. I have no enemies.” A gospel message, which he at first rejects, plants “a seed that will grow in the night” and leave him writhing under a terrible burden of guilt. The story as it proceeds from that point follows John Bunyan’s original, with some contemporary touches. The battle with Apollyon is especially well done, as are Christian’s periods of doubt and discouragement. A skillful blend of media (pen and ink, oil and watercolor, collage, and gouache) sometimes feels overwhelming in the more crowded page spreads, but that makes the book good for several readings. The downside to all this is that Moore’s version is self-published and therefore expensive. It still may be worth considering as an investment for artistically-inclined readers.
Find all of our reviews of Pilgrim’s Progress versions and BOTH of our devotional guides (one for children, using Dangerous Journey, and one for teens and adults using the original version) in our new Pilgrim’s Progress Guide!