Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Pilgrim's Progress

The abbreviated title by which John Bunyan's 17th-century Allegory is generally known. By virtue of being one of the landmarks of Christian Fantasy – it was until a century ago among the most widely read texts in the English language – its imagery has exerted a considerable influence over the entire subgenre of Quest fantasy. Although never directly imitated – C S Lewis's disguised spiritual autobiography The Pilgrim's Regress (1933) is not the same thing at all – its existence as a key element of our cultural heritage both licenses and assists the decoding by which readers can (and are supposed to) discern the processes of intellectual maturation to which questing heroes are subject as they struggle against various perils and distractions. The lexicon of equivalencies by which it translates emotions into geography and architecture (the Slough of Despond, Doubting Castle, etc.) echoes throughout the subgenre, most resonantly in Rite-of-Passage parables. The state of grace symbolized by Bunyan's Celestial City is more often conceived nowadays in terms of secular moral enlightenment, attained by self-awareness and self-control, but this merely serves to remind us that allegory cuts both ways, and that signs and what they signify can sometimes change places. [BS]

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.