Pilgrim’s Progress

The Pilgrim’s Progress: An Animated, Allegorical Masterpiece

John FarrellBy John FarrellSeptember 6, 20228 Minutes

Years ago, when I was in graduate school, I read John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). I was intrigued by it, but I remember sitting in my apartment trying to comprehend its meaning. I’m not sure, however, if I fully understood it at the time.

As I’ve grown in my faith over the years, I know that if I were to reread the book today, the words would speak to me differently. It would be a new experience reminding me to stay focused and not stray from the path leading to God and His Holy Kingdom.

Although I have not read The Pilgrim’s Progress in almost 20 years, I recently had the opportunity to watch an animated adaptation of the book on Inspiration TV on Demand and which will also premier on Inspiration TV on Saturday, November 21 at 9 p.m. ET and Sunday, November 22 at 5:30 p.m. ET.

Of all the movies, documentaries, and shows I’ve watched on Inspiration TV and Inspiration TV on Demand, there is not one I looked forward to watching more than The Pilgrim’s Progress (2019).

Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed.

Perhaps it was because I was already familiar with the story. Or it could have been that I wanted to watch a film version after reading the book so many years ago to see what understanding and wisdom I would glean from it now. Or maybe it was because I loved the story and simply wanted to revisit it.

Regardless of the reason, I was immediately struck by the creativity, imagination, and attention to detail that worked simultaneously to breathe life into a masterpiece that blends storytelling and allegory together so effortlessly.

The Background

John Bunyan was an English pastor and writer with almost sixty published titles to his credit. He wrote his most famous work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, while imprisoned for twelve years for his faith, most notably refusing to stop preaching and holding religious meetings.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is considered by many to be the second most influential book in the world after the Bible. It has been translated into more than 200 language and has never been out of print.

Many of the places the story’s main protagonist, Christian Pilgrim, visits along his journey to the Celestial City are taken from his own life. For example, according to Wikipedia, the Swamp of Despondency is based on Squitch Fen and the Delightful Mountains resemble the Chiltern Hills near Bedfordshire, where he was born.

Setting the Table

Christian Pilgrim lives in an industrial city cursed with perpetual labor. Unfortunately, it has been that way for centuries. In the beginning, the city was called, “Noit Curtsed,” in the ancient tongue, but it was eventually changed to “Not Cursed” – an ironic name in that it did not fit at all. By all accounts, the City of Destruction, as it was also known, was a dark and miserable place to live.

Supervisors, evil fallen angels who were descendants of Lux, ruled the old city located in the realm of Apollyon in the region of Abaddan. The supervisors’ main goal was to keep the residents of Not Cursed hard at work … perpetually. In addition, they kept tabs on the whereabouts of all the residents and were responsible for bringing wayward citizens back to the city when they tried to flee.

The story begins with news that one of the city’s residents, Faithful Pathfinder, didn’t report for work and had instead left town to travel beyond the borders to the Celestial City (Heaven). Pilgrim, along with a group of other citizens, are tasked with cleaning out Pathfinder’s house. When they arrive at his house, they find hundreds of drawings of both majestic and disturbing images.

Among the drawings, Pilgrim finds an ancient book – the Bible – that he takes with him against the Supervisor’s orders. Over the next couple of days, Pilgrim pours himself into the book, reading it nonstop. Upon finishing, he realizes there is only one thing he can do … leave the City of Destruction and travel to the Celestial City himself. After failing to convince his wife and two sons to go with him, he sets off.

On his back, he carries all of his burdens – his awareness of sin of judgment – weighing and slowing him down. Regardless of what may impede him, he’s determined to reach the Celestial City and meet the King (Jesus), who promises His subjects fullness of joy in His presence, no more sorrow, life unending, peace of heart, shining garments, and streets paved of gold.

What’s in a Name

Along his journey, Pilgrim meets a variety of colorful and interesting characters, some who want to help him and many others who only wish to hinder and harm him.

Each character’s name is an aptronym (i.e., a name suited to its owner based on his or her personality), immediately identifying for the viewers whether the character should be trusted or not.

Two examples of these fitting names are two of Pilgrim’s neighbors from the City of Destruction, Obstinate and Pliable. Shortly after leaving the city, Obstinate and Pliable run after him to convince him to return. Pilgrim, determined to make it to the Celestial City, continues on his journey, on which Obstinate refuses to join him. Pliable, on the other hand, initially decides to join Pilgrim but quickly changes his mind after falling into the Swamp of Despondency.

Other characters he meets along his journey include Evangelist, Help, Worldly Wiseman, Hopeful, Discretion, Piety, Prudence, Charity, Legality, Cruelty, Envy, and Gain Glory, among others. In each case, the character’s name is apropos and telling of his or her true personality.

The lesson viewers can glean from Pilgrim’s “pilgrimage” to the Celestial City and his place in the presence of the King is that a life of faith is worth the difficulties along the way.