top of page

Spiral Map Major Mistake at the River of Death

You may be familiar with the nineteenth century spiral map of Christian's journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. In terms of populating the map, the human figure who is the focus is clearly Christian. However, narratively, this is actually a compound map, noting story events from Part II. For example : on one side of the path, at the top just past the cross we read about Simple, Sloth and Presumption being asleep (Part I) in chains (top of detail from map, below), and on the other side of the path a label tells us this is where they are also hanged (Part II).

This map appears on the covers of the Penguin Classics and the Dover Classics edition. Although the cover version is not the George Virtue edition version I have in a book copy from 1850ish, the map is the same. (See previous blog: "Promiscuous Engravers: When 'expressly' isn't so special..."). I've certainly seen this map over the years plenty of times, noting it but without really paying careful attention. So today, I was surprised to discover the major mistake in this schematic map of the narratives of The Pilgrim's Progress.

The Celestial City in golden yellow at the center of the map is given the interesting detail of angel figures in the surround, interrupted only by a horse and chariot at the top. Presumably this is the same heavenly vehicle that conveyed Faithful and before him Elijah, Moses, and Enoch up through the clouds. Everyone else must pass through the River of Death. This we see a struggling figure on the right, arms akimbo, Christian in doubt and despair, being helped by his companion. We know from the book that this is Hopeful. (In Part II a bunch of people cross over, but on their own.) And so the mistake of the map becomes obvious. Here the label reads, 'Evangelist saves Christian.' But Evangelist doesn't appear in an episode of the narrative in person after Christian and Faithful's approach to Vanity Fair.

And then I'm struck by what is, at least, a coincidence: the 2019 Robert Fernandez CGI movie has Hopeful dive into the wall of water (very Exodus-Red Sea like) ahead of Christian. Christian is in doubt as to whether he wants to go forward without first going back and fetching his wife and kids from city. But in the movie, Evangelist appears again to encourage Christian to go forward. He doesn't actually save Christian in the murky waters, that honor goes to Christ. Indeed Bunyan likely sees Hopeful not as saving Christian but rather as being adjunct to the saving power of the word of Christ in Scripture and the vision of the Lord:

To whom also Hopeful added these words: Be of good cheer. Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. And with that Christian broke out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again, and he tells me, When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the Rivers, they shall not overflow thee.

5 views0 comments


bottom of page