The Postmodern Pilgrim’s Progress: An Allegorical Tale by Kyle Mann and Joel Berry. Salem Books. 224 pages. 2022
This book is inspired by the classic The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Written by two of the editors of the satire site The Babylon Bee, the book is filled with wit and humor, including many nods to current culture, including films and perhaps even a prosperity preacher that you might recognize.
Our guide is “The Narrator”, described as an “essentially immortal being”. The Narrator was created by the First Being, who tasked him with chronicling the dream of a thirty-three-year-old Earth-dwelling image-bearer agnostic named Ryan. Ryan’s younger brother Matthew had died of brain cancer two weeks earlier. On the day of Matthew’s death, he had asked Ryan to go to church again, at least once. Ryan promised that he would, so he soon finds himself at the Ignite Christian Collective megachurch. The only seat he can find is right in the front. After the preacher says, “God will NEVER give you more than you can handle!”, Ryan screams out “LIAR!” Not long after that, the projector on which the worship song lyrics were projected, fell and hit Ryan on the head.
Ryan felt himself falling, eventually waking up in a bed. Ryan, or perhaps his name is Christian, notices how calm and peaceful The City of Destruction within the Dying Lands is, with happy townspeople. He also notices a flaming meteorite hurtling toward the house he has providentially left moments before.
Throughout the book, Ryan is frustrated as the people he encounters do not know what some things he talks about (meteorite, for example), are, as he is now in a different universe. Soon, fire from the heavens is raining down on the whole town, and nobody seems to care.
Ryan is greeted by the Mayor who tells him to get some rest before the annual Festival of Destruction to be held the following day and gives him the keys to a house. In the house Ryan finds The Book which spoke of a place called the Golden City, which sat on the edge of the Dying Lands at the end of a long stretch of road built by the King.
Ryan meets Radical, and they watch in quiet horror as the asteroid hits and The City of Destruction is no more. Radical tells Ryan prophesies about a pilgrim who will make the journey, ring the bell and awaken the King who will save the land from destruction and cure the Hollow Ones (the “Victims of the Plague”), once and for all. Ryan hopes that completing this bizarre quest will end his nightmare and get him back home.
As Ryan begins his quest, he encounters the Dying Lands’ Blackmuck in the Depression Bog, where he encounters the Smiling Preacher (think Joel Osteen). He then meets Faith, who has always wanted to make the journey herself, but her calling is to help pilgrims make the journey, none of which have made it thus far. Faith decides to join Ryan on his quest to the Golden City. They don’t have much time – weeks or months at best.
Along the way on their journey, Ryan meets the Devil, who misquotes the Return Spell, which had thus far tricked 32,929 pilgrims into saying the spell; they meet Mr. Health-and-Wealth in the House of Prosperity; the City of Evangelion, where they meet Mr. Political Engagement, Mr. Legalist, and Mr. Theology who gives them each a sword; Pastor, who gives them a scroll, to be used when they have a great need and it’s their last possible choice; Blackmuck Woods, Mrs. Deconstruction and her partner Mr. System who welcomes them to the Ivory Tower; Redbeard; Good Times and Ackshully, who guide pilgrims across a great chasm, with slippery slopes on either side; Mr. Loved-by-the-World at Paradox Peak; Mr. Neckbeard in the Valley of Doubt; the city of Urbia where they meet the Humanist and are welcomed to the Tower of Urbia; Temptation Desert, where they again run into the Devil; the freezing cold River Infinite and finally the Golden City.
Throughout the book you will see reference to worship songs, bread and cheese, “name it and claim it” preachers, pro-fence activists, abortion and more. Don’t pass on reading the footnotes, which are funny and add to the enjoyment of the book.
Here’s are some additional comments from my wife who loves to read fiction and the satire of the Babylon Bee:
Yep, I had high hopes, and was disappointed. I enjoyed the humor and the American culture references that we expected from the authors of the Babylon Bee. But in their quest to be witty and have great characters they lost the BIG story of the original book. In Bunyan’s book the main character became a Christian early on in the story and was relieved of his load of sin. The rest of the book is about his life-long journey through sanctification and his welcome into the Celestial City.
In the end of this book, that is loosely inspired by the classic book, we never know about Ryan’s (the main character’s) salvation. To quote footnote 61, “Did Ryan “get saved” and become a Christian and live happily ever after?” The narrator says, “Once again, not part of this story and well above my pay grade.” Hmm…. after completing 70% of the book, they make a small reference to his burden of failure being lifted in front of the cross, even though he knew very little if anything about the gospel.
That’s a huge plot shift! Ryan’s goal is to “Wake the King” and be the Savior of the City of Destruction, The Dying Lands, etc. Are they trying to say that he was enough and wasn’t a failure? All he had to do was to walk forward and take the next step. That’s a great line if the story is about sanctification, but this one seemed more about self-sufficiency.
Also, they definitely needed to weave in more good guides along the way.
These two guys wrote a good book, but with a few tweaks it would be a great book. I would highly recommend that you read the original John Bunyan version alongside of the Ligonier Ministries teaching series The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Guided Tour by Derek Thomas.