Five Fascinating Facts about The Pilgrim’s Progress

Fun facts about John Bunyan’s classic book

1. John Bunyan’s 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).

2. 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.

3. The Pilgrim’s Progress has provided a number of later writers with handy titles for their novels. From William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (named for the place of pleasures in Bunyan’s book) to John Buchan’s Mr Standfast, numerous authors have taken the titles of their works from The Pilgrim’s Progress. The book has also given us the phrase ‘the slough of despond’ (Bunyan himself was prone to bouts of ‘despond’, or depression).

4. Ralph Vaughan Williams turned The Pilgrim’s Progress into an opera. Williams’ opera premiered in 1951 in Covent Garden, though it only ran for a short period. A 1954 revival at Cambridge fared better, however, and it has been revived several times since.

5. A number of the places that appear in Bunyan’s allegory may have been inspired by real places in Bunyan’s home county of Bedfordshire. The Slough of Despond, for instance – which has since become shorthand for a state of depression – may well have been inspired by the large deposits of grey clay in the area, which provided the London Brick company with the clay for the brickworks at nearby Stewartby.

If you enjoyed these interesting facts about Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.


  1. Reblogged this on kalimat2016.

  2. Lovely post about this great book. I have read it and Enid Blyton’s children’s version which I read to both my boys.

  3. Oh my God I have been studying this book for school for so long. I’ve read it, even the kids edition and I’ve also watched the movie. It’s a good book, filled with mistery that only the Bible can solve. Nice post! Maybe you’d check out mine too. I’ve write one on the works of C.S.Lewis and Tolkien, if you are interested. Scroll down on my page a bit if you’d like ;) Keep on the good work!

  4. I read this when I was a teenager and devoured books. It isn’t so easy to read now. It did give me a joke. When people asked where i was born I used to say ” The Slough of Despond.” Poor old Slough!

  5. Been on my radar for so long, have yet to read – Now? Well, it just got bumped up on the ‘to read before I cash it in’ list :)

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  7. Thanks for this post. I always associated “Pilgrims Progress” with “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott but it is interesting to learn more about the book itself.