Many families seek to deepen their devotional lives during Lent (and always) by reading spiritually formative literature — literature that often includes John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress. Younger and more inexperienced readers, however, may find themselves stymied by Bunyan’s seventeenth-century prose.
For these, we recommend a splendid retelling of the story by acclaimed author Gary D. Schmidt (a two-time Newbery honoree and 2011 National Book Award finalist in the Young People’s Literature category). Schmidt deftly matches Bunyan’s flair for storytelling and vivid imagery as he renders Bunyan’s timeless allegory into contemporary English. Schmidt’s Pilgrim’s Progress is illustrated by Barry Moser and available in both large-format and small-format hardcover editions.
We hope you enjoy the opportunity to sample the excerpt below, which recounts Christian’s epic encounter with the monster Apollyon.
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“Godspeed, Christian,” returned Watchful. . . . “You have overcome the mountain called Difficulty, but now you descend to the low places, the deep Valley of Humiliation. Go with Emmanuel.” Watchful handed Christian a sack with a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a cluster of raisins, and waved him down the trail.
Christian went carefully down the hill and then into a dark valley. He was eager to find his way to the mountains he had seen, but the words of Watchful had made him uneasy.
By the middle of the morning, Christian was well into the valley. The high hills above him hid the sun, yet though there was little light, the ground beneath him was quite warm, and often he would pass rocks that glowed dully. Nothing living grew there. There was no breeze. There was no sound but the grinding of chipped pebbles under Christian’s feet. Everything else seemed perfectly still.
Christian’s hand went down to his sword. He had not heard anything, but he felt . . . And then he did hear something. It was the sound of something huge, monstrously huge, and its paces trembled the earth.
Christian stood firm. He had no armor for his back.
The thing came on, and then it was before him. The rocks it touched on its way glowed, and by their light Christian saw the creature. The scales on its chest shone redly, and its great wings seemed to fan the scales into greater heat. Its hands and feet were clawed like a bear’s, its mouth fitted with teeth like a lion’s. Its belly was opened by a second, hideous mouth, spewing fire and smoke. It breathed its name: Apollyon.
“Where are you from?” slowly groaned the monster, and Christian could not tell which mouth spoke the words.
He stood transfixed, his hand gripping the sword. He could not answer.
“Where are you from?” repeated the monster, advancing one step closer.
Then Christian remembered the Palace Beautiful, and he felt the Roll pressed against his chest. He drew his sword and held it out in front of him.
“Monster,” he called. “I come from the City of Destruction. I am on my way to the Celestial City. Come no further near me.”
“Come no further?” questioned Apollyon. “Come no further? One of my own subjects commands me?”
“I am no subject of yours.”
“I own the City of Destruction. All its citizens are my subjects. How is it that you have run from my domain?” Fire breathed out of its belly. “If I did not expect more service from you soon, I would blast you to a cinder now.”
“I was born into your country and into your hard service. But I am become a pilgrim now. I have met Evangelist, who has shown me . . .”
“Enough!” Apollyon’s eyes glowed terribly at the name of Evangelist. Fire belched again from its lower mouth, but it paused to control itself. “Well,” it said, in a sweetened voice, “I do not wish to lose my subjects so lightly. Return to Destruction, and I promise to make your service easy. You will receive whatever my country can give you.”
“I am pledged to another, and I cannot go back now.”
“Many have pledged to Emmanuel and then returned to my service. You found it easy to leave one lord; you will find it easy to leave another.”
“No,” said Christian, still holding his sword before him. “I like His service better, and His government, and His servants, and His country. You can offer me nothing. I am no longer your servant. Come no further!”
“His servants often do not come to a good end,” gloated Apollyon. He fingered the fiery spears that he held in his left hand. “Many have never left this valley.” Christian made no answer but to hold his shield before him.
“And after all, how do you know He will have you as His servant? You have proved traitor to your first lord, and already you have been disloyal to your second.”
“When, Apollyon, have I been unfaithful to Him?”
Apollyon leered and came another step closer. “When you almost failed in the Slough of Despond. When you tried disloyal ways of removing your burden. When you almost turned back at the sight of the lions. When you took pride in telling all of your so-called victories at the Palace Beautiful.”
“All this is true,” admitted Christian, “and much more that you have left out. But the prince that I serve is merciful and ready to forgive.”
Apollyon beat its wings and rose up into the air, screeching so loudly that the valley shook. “I am the enemy of Emmanuel,” it bellowed. “I hate Him and His laws and His country.” It landed directly in front of Christian, crashing down so hard that it split the ground. “But most of all,” the monster hissed, “I hate His pilgrims. Beware! Go back now and serve me.”
Christian stood firm. “I am on the King’s Way of Holiness. To serve you would be death.”
“Then, said Apollyon, holding a flaming spear over its shoulder, “I swear by my infernal den that I will spill your soul.” It had hardly finished speaking before it threw the spear directly at Christian’s heart. Christian parried with his shield, but the heat and force of the monster’s throw drove him back.
Straddling the path, Apollyon threw spear after spear at Christian. They came so fast that Christian could not close with the monster, and soon he was wounded across his forehead and in his left hand and foot. The wounds burned, and Christian found himself growing weaker. Apollyon, sensing victory, moved closer, throwing more and more spears, so that soon Christian could barely hold his shield up, so weakened was his arm.
For half a day they fought, Christian little by little giving ground, the monster moving closer and closer, the spears coming harder and harder. Christian was almost overcome by the stench that blew from Apollyon’s wings, and as the blood from his forehead ran into his eyes, he could barely see well enough to parry the spears. And still he had not even come close to wounding his foe.
As Christian took yet another step backward, Apollyon flew into the air and landed hard on the ground in front of him, throwing him off balance. Apollyon moved even closer and with a great sweep of its wings buffeted Christian to the ground, skittering away his sword.
Apollyon screeched with triumph, and fire scorched out of its belly. “Now, traitorous pilgrim, you receive the wages of your disloyalty!” The monster flew up again and this time landed atop the fallen Christian. It screeched once, raised its clawed hand, and hurtled it toward Christian’s face.
But at that moment, as Emmanuel would have it, Christian reached out and caught his sword. With its arm raised up, Apollyon had exposed its side, and Christian thrust his sword deep, deep into the monster. “We are more than conquerors,” Christian yelled, “through Him who loves us!” With a hideous yell of horror and pain, the monster jolted back, leaving the sword in Christian’s hand covered with black blood. Clutching its right side, it screeched twice. And then, one wing hanging limply, it lunged away into the darkness, hissing and screeching to the black sky.
It was the most dreadful battle Christian had ever seen. He stood up, shaky and staggering. He was covered with his own blood as well as Apollyon’s. But as he watched the creature scuttle away, he smiled. Another song came to his mind, and in the midst of all the darkness of the valley, he sang it:
To Him let me give lasting praise,
And thank and bless His name always.
Want to read more? Click to order the large format or small format edition of Gary D. Schmidt’s retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress (illustrated by Barry Moser), or check out Oliver Hunkin’s illustrated adaptation of John Bunyan’s original text (illustrated by Alan Parry): Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress.