Fun facts about the Christian writer
1. He was nearly shot in the head while on guard duty one night – but fortunately, another soldier had taken his place. This narrow brush with death helped to convince John Bunyan (1628-88) that he was one of the ‘Elect’ – the chosen few – and to start spreading the word. He most famously did this in The Pilgrim’s Progress, which brings us on to our second John Bunyan fact…
2. His most famous book has a claim to being the first English novel. Others have argued that The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), Bunyan’s masterpiece, is less a ‘novel’ and more a religious allegory – which it certainly is. Bunyan the book while imprisoned in Bedford gaol (for preaching without a licence and refusing to attend the Anglican church service). The full title is The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream; the book tells of Christian’s journey from this world (the ‘City of Destruction’) to the next world, Heaven (the ‘Celestial City’). Christian, beset by his sense of sin, must find deliverance and redemption along the way, such as by eschewing the fleeting earthly pleasures found at Vanity Fair and finding his way out of the Slough of Despond.
3. The Pilgrim’s Progress is also one of the bestselling ‘novels’ of all time. Some estimates put it behind only the Bible in the number of copies it has shifted. It remains popular among Puritans (especially in America). And it was more or less an instant hit, reprinted within the first year of its publication with a third edition following the year after.
4. Bunyan also wrote a number of other curious works – including one about a ‘Mr Badman’. Bunyan’s The Life and Death of Mr. Badman; Presented to the World in a Familiar Dialogue Between Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive was published two years after The Pilgrim’s Progress, in 1680. It’s an early example of a novel (if it can be described as a ‘novel’: it’s more of a dialogue) whose ‘action’ takes place over a single day: Mr Wiseman and Mr Attentive discuss the nature of sin and redemption in a sort of cross between sermon and dialogue.
5. Bunyan died from a fever contracted while he was out doing what he liked doing best – preaching. Bunyan even refused to let bad weather put a stop to his preaching, and he caught a chill following a bout of sermonising in the rain. He died in 1688.
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Image: John Bunyan in prison (1881 illustration), via Wikimedia Commons.