1. Lauren says:

    Interesting! I’d never thought of John Bunyan in those terms before!
    Now you’ve got me thinking about how far the tradition of Christian speculative fiction goes back . . . Bunyan probably lays claim to the first novel. But Edmund Spenser’s epic-length poem Fairy Queene would be Christian spec-fic as well, and it was published in 1590! And you could even consider the morality play Everyman (1510) to fall in the same category.  Beowulf is spec-fic with some Christian elements.Hmm . . . even Caedmon’s Hymn (c. 658-680), the oldest work written in English, mentions “middle-earth”! 🙂
    I’m thinking you could have a whole series on the history of Christian speculative fiction!
    Guess we’re not the weird ones after all . . .

    • bad_cook says:

      Sorry, nope. The distinction of first novel goes to Murasaki Shikibu’s “Tale of Genji,” which is at least 500 years older than “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Even in western Europe, “Don Quixote” by Cervantes beats “Pilgrim’s” out by at least fifty years.
      Go ahead and be enthusiastic, but I can’t sit by and let fact errors propagate.

      • Bainespal says:

        When I was in school, I was taught that the first fully-formed novel was Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, published in 1740.  I’m not going to argue that Richardson’s book deserves the distinction.  The point is that no one author suddenly produced a book that had all the features of a novel.  What is a novel?  The definition of the novel even changed as recently as the 20th century; C.S. Lewis didn’t use the word the same way we do in his criticism.
        Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and Cervantes’ Don Quixote are both important proto-novels.  Were they novels?  I don’t know about Don Quixote, but The Pilgrim’s Progress is not quite written in prose, as far as I know.  It looks kind of like a stage script, except, as far as I know, it was never intended to be performed.  The text of The Summoning of Everyman looks pretty much the same, I think.
        Anyways, the title of “World’s First Novelist” is clearly relative.  Bunyan could be said to deserve it, as could Cervantes, or Richardson, or probably many other early writers.

        • bad_cook says:

          I’ll agree with you that the definition of a novel is fuzzy, but Bunyan doesn’t have strong claims on any firsts. It doesn’t really matter in the end, but comments like the first in this thread annoy me for admittedly pedantic reasons.

          • Lauren says:

            Sorry about that — it would indeed be terribly hard to pin down the first novel! And I did say Bunyan might claim the first novel.
            Personally, I just thought it was exciting to think about the history of our favorite genre as going back further than Lewis and Tolkien.

            • I never intended the emphasize to be concerning who was first; Kipling’s “father of the novel” moniker was a starting place for the discussion (and I can see it worked!). The point is that Christian speculative fiction, rather than being an upstart, has a long and respected tradition.

  2. Bethany J. says:

    An interesting account of Bunyan’s life!  Thanks, Yvonne!
    When I was growing up my parents started a homeschool group which they named “John Bunyan Academy” in honor of him.  The official mascot was the pilgrim (although, the unofficial and more memorable mascot was a rubber chicken…heehee).  I never much liked “Pilgrim’s Progress” – but thinking of it as the first Christian spec-fic puts it in a new light!  🙂

  3. Timothy Stone says:

    I have enjoyed and benefitted from reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, and can see why it would be called speculative fiction. That said, if it were written today, we would be calling it bad speculative fiction. Not only was it heavy-handed, but it was an out and out polemic that makes Tom Clancy look subtle by comparison. Any issue, spiritual, economic, political, what have you, Bunyan spoke on. And he spoke in a way that made it clear that if you didn’t agree with him on just about every issue, including those not clearly stated in the Bible, you were going to burn in hell. So, since he was a mercantilist type of fellow, these new economics of Adam Smith were clearly the devil’s brew, and you would burn forever if you supported it.

    I’m not going against his influence or the quality of his work as a spiritual document, but he was a polemicist, and what’s more, he seemed to relish the idea of those he disagreed with having the characters who represented them truly suffering. A tad too violent for me.

  4. Interesting comments, all! It was Kipling who called Bunyan the father of the novel, not me; and how accurate his perspective was is up for grabs. 
    As others have said, if Pilgrim’s Progress is a novel, it’s not a very good one by modern standards. But then, he wrote it in different times, when people were thrown in jail or executed because they used the wrong liturgy in their church services, and nations went to war for the sake of their version of Christianity.
    Though I don’t believe it’s fair to judge a 300-year-old work by the standards of our modern culture, I will say when I tried to read Pilgrim’s Progress 25 years ago or more,I thought it would be a dynamite cure for insomnia. Bunyan’s personal story interests me far more.

  5. Kessie says:

    We had an audio drama version, complete with voice acting, that us kids listened to over and over. But we’d have to stop now and then and put on an Odyssey or something, to listen to something where people talked normal.
    I still ponder the Giant Despair part. It’s a fantastic metaphor for depression.

What do you think?