If they were doing the Harvard Classics again, I bet they'd still keep the Koran, because it's got a newsworthy peg, first of all, but also because it tells us the Exotic Psychology of Ancient Peoples from Distant Lands. Sort of like a print version of those Putamayo CDs they sell at the Whole Foods (and at the place I get my car serviced, oddly).
But would they include Pilgrim's Progress? I think our thought-experiment trustees should, and for the same reason as the Koran -- in this country, at least, a bunch of super-secular kids are going to meet a bunch of super-religious kids, and Pilgrim's Progress is still a decent, certified-Literature way to understand how Christian seems himself.
I won't get too much into summarizing what happens in Pilgrim's Progress -- I can't even remember when I was taught it, and maybe I only was because I went to Catholic school -- but it's basically the journey of Christian, a Christian, through Capitalized Allegorical Landmarks on his way to Heaven (located, I believe, near Plano, Texas). Today's excerpt begins with his battle with Apollyon (played by Satan) in the Valley of Humiliation (and if I were elected mayor of that place the first thing I'd do is hire some naming consultants). But first they talk a little 17th-century smack at each other:
(Note to newbies: there's a weird formatting thing that happens when I cut-n-paste things with line breaks from Bartleby. Apologies. Consider it rustic charm.) I had forgotten that Bunyan puts the gloss in the margins, as if it weren't clear what he meant by calling something the Valley of Humiliation. Christian says something noteworthy in here:
...and besides, O thou destroying Apollyon, to speak truth, I like his Service, his Wages, his Servants, his Government, his Company and Country, better than thine; and therefore leave off to persuade me further; I am his Servant and I will follow him.He likes being a Christian, it's more enjoyable. This is a vibe I don't get from media Christians, they seem tremendously unhappy. On the other hand, I often do get that vibe from actual Christians, the people you see at, I don't know, church.
From here on in, though, it's all pain -- a long fight with Apollyon, and then the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It's just like an action movie! (And why haven't they made this book yet -- CGI + Christianity = B.O.!) This is where I realized something -- Christian is talking to some people who have fled the V. of the S. of D. :
Why, the Valley itself, which is as dark as pitch; we also saw there the Hobgoblins, Satyrs, and Dragons of the Pit; we heard also in that Valley a continual howling and yelling, as of a people under unutterable misery, who there sat bound in affliction and irons; and over that Valley hangs the discouraging clouds of Confusion; Death also doth always spread his wings over it. In a word, it is every whit dreadful, being utterly without Order.Note, if I am not mistaken, the Hobbesian note at the end. And then, later, in the Valley, this:
Just when he was come over against the mouth of the burning Pit, one of the wicked ones got behind him, and stept up softly to him, and whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. This put Christian more to it than anything that he met with before, even to think that he should now blaspheme him that he loved so much before; yet, if he could have helped it, he would not have done it; but he had not the discretion neither to stop his ears, nor to know from whence those blasphemies came.Just problems at every turn, this Christianity. And that's where I think a quick look at Pilgrim's Progress would help those baffled by Christians -- their life is
alwaysgoing to be beset.
Being a Pilgrim, like Pilgrim's Progress itself, is literally one damn thing after another.