Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Bunyan, John

(1628-1688) A tinker of Bedfordshire, England, who served under Cromwell in the Civil War. After years of spiritual anguish he experienced a religious conversion and became a Calvinist preacher. He was arrested for preaching without a licence and spent 12 years in jail. Here he wrote Grace Abounding (1666), his spiritual autobiography; it teems with imagery of fiends and dangerous journeying. He transformed this personal experience into an Allegory others could recognize with the first part of The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come (1678-1679; Part II 1684). (see also Pilgrim's Progress.)

Christian, with a burden on his back, sets out from the City of Destruction. His wife and children refuse to accompany him. He has to cross the Slough of Despond and pass through the Wicket-Gate. He reaches the House of the Interpreter, full of emblematic scenes, comes to the Cross, where his burden rolls away into an open sepulchre, fights the fiend Apollyon, and passes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. At Vanity Fair, he and his Companion Faithful refuse to buy and are arrested. Faithful is condemned to death; Christian escapes. With Hopeful he goes astray and they almost die in Doubting Castle, prisoners of Giant Despair. From the Delectable Mountains they see the Celestial City. To reach it, they must cross a deep river. Shining Ones welcome them on the other side. Many of these images have become common currency even among those who have never read the book.

The characters Christian meets are virtues and vices personified. Yet Bunyan brings them alive in recognizably 17th-century landscape and society. His is a pilgrimage, rather then a Quest with a task to be accomplished no matter where it leads: the destination and the journey are what matter. Other writers had used the spiritual-pilgrimage form before, but Bunyan's sources are likely to have been Folklore and medieval pulpit illustrations.

In Mr Badman (1680), the story of a dissolute businessman, he foreshadowed the biographical novel. JB returned to allegory in The Holy War (1682), using his military experience. The city of Mansoul is captured by Diabolus and has to be rescued for the king by his son. In 1684 came the second part of The Pilgrim's Progress. Christian's wife and children, with Mercy, decide to follow him. After being attacked, they are provided with a champion, Mr Great-heart. Their journey is thereafter easier than Christian's. Bunyan was reflecting his own experience as pastor of a congregation. [FS]

John Bunyan


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.