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Pilgrim's Progress - The Ex-Communicator

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December 4th, 2010


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08:41 am - Pilgrim's Progress
Some people have been doing a meme where they write about fifteen books that influenced them greatly. I was thinking of this and I got bogged down in the first that came to mind: Pilgrim's Progress. It's a 17th century Protestant religious allegory, one of the first novels ever written in English. But what I think is so strange - I just realised how strange it is - my mum read it to me when I was four. We were living in quite straitened circumstances in a high rise block in central Birmingham. I think it's an unusual choice for a pre-school child, compared to Goodnight Moon and the like. This is the first paragraph. I still remember her reading this to me in our small kitchen:
As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a Man cloathed with Rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a Book in his hand, and a great Burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the Book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying What shall I do?

It's a dark and poetic book, and very demanding for a little child. I think my Mum recognised that I needed to experience demanding books, regardless of what most people would say is suitable for kids. What I am saying is that I don't think I like dark and poetic writing because my Mum read strange books to me, I think she was also responding to something in me, and trying to work with it, to push me towards her own religous convictions. Although obviously the religious aspect of the book did not stay with me; but rather being read books like this made me think hard about religious matters and to reject Christianity, but also to love poetic language, and ancestral English writing.

I also want to say that I think those of you who like Tolkein should glance at Pilgrim's Progress. Here is the pull-out map that was published with it in its 18th century edition. The Dark Mountains? The Great Wood?

I didn't read Pilgrim's Progress to my children, though I read them poetry by John Clare and William Blake for example.

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Comments:


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From:fjm
Date:December 4th, 2010 11:08 am (UTC)
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In Rhetorics of Fantasy I argue that Pilgrim's Progress may be the ur text for quest fantasies. It isn't just the journey, but the growing into grace in adversity that forms the trajectory of the quest, along withthe very specific rhetorical structures. I started to notice that Tolkien uses demotic and high speech as moral indicators in much the way Bunyan uses direct and indirect. I gave a paper on this at mythcon two hrs ago but never felt confident enough to write it up.
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From:communicator
Date:December 4th, 2010 11:26 am (UTC)
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I do completely agree with you about it being a formative quest story. I can't remember enough about the use of direct and indirect speech. (PS I see what you mean, comparing the speech of the Evangelist and Obstinate)

I think that there is an association between 'high' speech and 17th century sentence-structure and moral seriousness.

It would be interesting to compare the influence of The Faerie Queen and Pilgrim's Progress on fantasy. But I haven't read Spenser.

Edited at 2010-12-04 11:41 am (UTC)
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From:communicator
Date:December 4th, 2010 01:05 pm (UTC)
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Now I am trying to guess your brother's name. Sir Worldly Wiseman? :-)
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From:sallymn
Date:December 4th, 2010 09:53 pm (UTC)
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I do remember reading that (or more likely an abridged version) as a smallish child, and can still recall bits even though I haven't since...

May have to check out the library.
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From:communicator
Date:December 5th, 2010 07:31 am (UTC)
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So, I am not the only one. I was trying to put it as positively as I could, but I do think it was a bit strange of my mum to read me dour religious allegory at such an age. Did you have a fairly religious upbringing like me?
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From:sallymn
Date:December 5th, 2010 09:16 am (UTC)
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Err, no. Just a mum who bought an awful lot of secondhand books of a bewildering variety (I sometimes doubt she sometimes thought too hard about what they were) and for myself an urge to read pretty much all of 'em... which made for some weird influences on my growing mind, I'm sure :)

So I humble admit I chose to read it all by myself. And took more to the allegory side than the religious (it may have been a children's version, but it was still very religious, yes).




Edited at 2010-12-05 09:19 am (UTC)
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From:communicator
Date:December 5th, 2010 09:30 am (UTC)
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I think it's great for children to just pick up books and read them. I can remember reading parts of Plato's Republic when I was at junior school. I didn't know what it was. Huh, people in a cave.

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