Pilgrim's Progress

Prior to homeschooling my progenies, my only experience with John Bunyan's classic, Pilgrim's Progress, was a tedious youth group experience in which we were to read the story and fill out workbook pages.  We endured this because, well, we wanted to get to the broomball game.  Sad, isn't it?  It certainly didn't bring the following objective about -
 Any child brought up on, say, the Bible, Robinson Crusoe or Pilgrim's Progress has an education which must form his mind in such a way that when the time comes for the exercise of independent choice in the matter of study, he will naturally be ready to see and love what is good and noble in this world. -G.L.F., Parents' Review, "Children's Books"
Then again, neither would a tiresome academic analysis on the use of allegory and metaphor in the story.  Which, by the way, could take a few years.  Pilgrim's Progress should be read and enjoyed.  It should stir the imagination of the reader now and in the future, providing such rich pictures and ideas that one may play out in the backyard or find comfort during a personal struggle.

In our Family Sunday School, we are reading through this classic for a second time, the first time being about 8 years ago.  When LizzieBee heard what we were going to be reading, she said, "Oh, good.  Mei Fuh loved Pilgrim's Progress when she was a little girl, too!"  Mei Fuh:  Memories from China is Edith Schaeffer's memoir of the first five years of her life which were spent in China. It has a chapter on how Mei Fuh adored Pilgrim's Progress  and how she and her sister would fill up a pillowcase with things and drag it to the top of the stairs and then deliciously let the "burden" tumble down.

At our last class, Karla shared with us this fitting passage from Little Women.

      Mrs. March broke the silence that followed Jo's words, by saying in her cheery voice, "Do you remember how you used to play Pilgrims Progress when you were little things? Nothing delighted you more than to have me tie my piece bags on your backs for burdens, give you hats and sticks and rolls of paper, and let you travel through the house from the cellar, which was the City of Destruction, up, up, to the housetop, where you had all the lovely things you could collect to make a Celestial City."
      "What fun it was, especially going by the lions, fighting Apollyon, and passing through the valley where the hob-goblins were," said Jo.
      "I liked the place where the bundles fell off and tumbled downstairs," said Meg.
      "I don't remember much about it, except that I was afraid of the cellar and the dark entry, and always liked the cake and milk we had up at the top. If I wasn't too old for such things, I'd rather like to play it over again," said Amy, who began to talk of renouncing childish things at the mature age of twelve.
      "We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City. Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before Father comes home."

Have you noticed all the Pilgrim's Progress products that are out there now?  Videos, games, maps, workbooks, dolls, et al.  The wonderful thing about a living book is that all you need is the words and a mind that those words can work in.  In our case, this time we are all listening to an audio (not dramatized) and narrating as we go.  Simple.   The reader has a lovely British accent.  And yes, she pronounces the Slough of Despond as "slou" -  rhymes with "plow".
And along the "keeping it simple" vein, I found this lesson plan for Pilgrim's Progress  in an old Parents' Review .

Introduction. Recapitulation of last lesson.
Step I.
Read from The Pilgrim's Progress paragraph relating what happens in the morning following Christiana's dream.
Step II.
Step III.
Continue reading paragraphs relating that Secret tells Christiana that Christian and his companions will be glad when she and her children enter into their Father's threshold. Also of Christiana's sadness, and of the letter Secret has brought for her.
Step IV.
Step V.
Read about Secret's reply to Christiana and the instructions he gives her as regards reading the letter.
Step VI.

Notice the lack of embellishments, the simplicity of the lesson and where the effort lies.   Mason said that "Life is sustained on that which is taken in...not by that which is applied from without." (Vol. 6 p. 24)

Now didn't that post just end up in a different place than where it started?


  1. It might be time for us to read the un-abridged version with our older girls. I would love to find a copy of Mei Fu, too!

  2. We are spreading this book out into the 2 year rotation and I think I am getting more out of it than my boys are. I am not sure I ever completed my own personal reading of this book as a young adolescent. The sample lesson plan just affirmed the nature of how our own personal lesson plans are going with this!

  3. We are quite big fans of Pilgrims Progress in our house. We've recently finished a second version for the year. I can't wait to get Miss 6 to the full version.

  4. @Rachael - I think your girls would love it and zip through it with ease!

    @ Michele - yes, reading the sample lesson plans is a very helpful check on your methods. It's usually just read and narrate!

    @Mrs. Adept - there certainly is something for everyone in it!

  5. I haven't read this with my children yet, but I'm very inclined to include it soon. I think I keep waiting for my younger ones to get just a bit older so we could do this together. : )

  6. Once during a family reading of A Pilgrims Progress, my then 5 year old sighed when Pilgrim layed down his burden. When we all looked at him inquiringly he said, "It would have been very hard walking all that way with that bird on."
    I've enjooyed looking around here. Thanks for having me.

  7. @ Ruby - Now THAT is precious!

  8. Oh Nancy, kindred of heart... So good of you to post! ;) Ah... as I read I remember. I do so treasure the time we spent together this summer, my friend :)

    I LOVE Pilgrim's Progress. All of us around here do.

    Hilarious. For a time, our kids would ask everyone they'd meet if they'd read it. "What?! Never heard of it?" they'd scoff, "It is the single most important book for a Christian to read after the Bible!"

    Apart from occasionally bordering on disrespecting guests :/ (which we desperately don't want to do), I completely agree with them! It is a believer's treasure trove of spiritual illustration. We've read a wonderfully rich version with the boys when they were very small, again not so very long ago and then we started once again last year. It is amazing how much they retain and understand even in the younger years.

    I think I need to read it again... if only there weren't so many great books with so many great ideas waiting to be discovered.

    amy in peru

  9. The Pilgrim's Progress is on our list of all-time favourite books, and I'm grateful to Charlotte Mason for encouraging me to read it with my children. Simply reading and narrating is indeed sufficient for us! I'm looking forward to beginning it again with our younger set.

    "Slough" rhymes with plow - how interesting. In Canada, it usually rhymes with "through," but my Oxford Canadian Dictionary does give the alternate pronunciation.

  10. @Jenny (Grace & Chaos) - you will make memories with this one! I am amazed at the overwhelming fond memories that people have mentioned and sent to me regarding this book!

    @Amy - it is indeed a treasure trove! (And did Bria get her necklace from LizzieBee?)

    @Natasha - I, too, am glad that I'm going through it again with my youngers. I learn more each time. Charlotte was right again!

  11. Great tie in with Edith Schaeffer's book! Are you teaching many levels or just one?

    “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” Italo Calvino
    Have you read his Postscript to the Name of the Rose ( talks alot about the writing process) and ON Literature?

  12. Bonnie - do you mean in FSS? Or at home? FSS is all ages, home is just me and the 14,12,10 & 8 year old.

  13. I see ~~ you are reading it in your Family Sunday School, so you are not doing it as you would with your homeschool or coop? It needs to be read every couple of years like many other books: True Spirituality as another!

  14. @ Bonnie - sort of...we are doing it in Family Sunday School which means the reading is all done at home in our homeschool, then we come together to narrate and discuss in FSS. Ah yes, True Spirituality...I need to revisit that one!

  15. I knew it was connected to homeschooling ~~ great read to reread throughout your life. It was Jim ?? ( I heard him in Kentucky) who was head of Swiss L'Abri,spoke on living out True Spirituality . He was moved to tears in his story. I'll never forget his words. He said he read the book every couple of years.

  16. So glad to hear this wonderful-is-not-good-enough-to-describe book. It speaks to me like the Bible does, maybe because Mr. Bunyan quoted the Bible so extensively. Faith Cook has a thorough and interesting biography on Mr. Bunyan that I really enjoyed recently.

    Joy in Nepal

  17. As a young mother in 1982, I asked the nursery worker at church what her favorite book was. She told me it was Pilgrim's Progress. I had never heard of it (having had a government education - and being a relatively new believer.) The pages of Pilgrims Progress were a bit of a puzzle to me, reading it for the first time. Years later when finding it to be a recommendation of Miss Mason I wished to try it in our home school. Whenever I return to it I learn something new. Audio is such a luxurious way to read a book. I'm glad to read your recommendation for this one.

    1. Dear Karen,
      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your little story with us! And I learn something new each time, too!