An Old Tale Lives Again

Passport to Life City: A Modern Pilgrim’s Progress, by Sherwood Eliot Wirt (Harper & Row, 1969, 207 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Calvin D. Linton, professor of English and dean of the college, The George Washington University, Washington, D. C.

Mr. Wirt, author of five books and editor of two others, fortunately possesses considerable writing ability. He needs it. Anyone who undertakes to write a novel paralleling Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress begins a journey only a little less hazardous than that of the original pilgrim. Bestriding the way are those who have been raised on Bunyan, and for whom even a hint of “improving” the Bedford tinker is of a piece with the work of the eighteenth-century “improvers” of Shakespeare. Looming on the sidelines are those who do not really know Bunyan except as a famous name—as they know Milton and Shakespeare—and who will be misled into thinking that they have now read him in the easy, modern version.

Neither attitude is entirely fair, and Mr. Wirt tries to anticipate both. “The Preacher of Bedford has never needed people like me to explain or interpret him. His genius speaks for itself,” he says in the preface. Rather, he says, “I have written a modern parable to show, if possible, what it means to search for the living God in our generation.… Yet it will be more than obvious that without Bunyan’s masterpiece the present work could not have taken shape. A list of characters and places at the end of the book serves to relate the nomenclature of the two tales.”

So Christian Anders, suffering from a mysterious pain and tightness in his upper spine and shoulders, fearing that the ...

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