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On the banks of the Nile again

08 November 2013

Bruce Duncan reads a story with a meaning

Pippa's Progress: A pilgrim's journey to heaven
Simon Parke
DLT £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT611 )

PIPPA'S PROGRESS is a one-off book. It is quirky. It is funny, and sometimes sad. It is thought-provoking. Not surprisingly from the pen of one who was a scriptwriter for Spitting Image, it has a good sprinkling of satire.

The author tells us that it is an adventure story in which everything has a meaning. In other words, it is an allegory, like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Bunyan's story, however, was clearly devotional and Christian; the heroine of Pippa's Progress is on the same journey, but in a changed world. Her pilgrimage is one of self-discovery and leads her through trials and temptations of our post-modern culture.

Simon Parke is a former Anglican incumbent, a retreat-giver, and a blogger, and writes a weekly column in the Church Times. He is also a therapist, whose stated core values reveal much for me about the context of Pippa's Progress: "integrity, awareness, loyalty to an individual's personal story, and a belief that the answers lie in each one of us and in our experience". He abhors "self-deception, self-alienation and any external prescriptive codes of attitude or behaviour".

C. S. Lewis, who, with Pilgrim's Regress, also followed Bunyan, claimed that allegorical stories of this kind could "steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood". They do this by helping readers grapple with abstract ideas and concepts, and discover their own allegory. "You'll relate and react variously along the way," Parke assures us. "Pippa's story may not be yours but her search is. Journey on with her through the light and the dark and you'll make your own progress."

C. S. Lewis's fellow Inkling J. R. R. Tolkien famously said that he cordially disliked allegory in all its manifestations. He nevertheless suggested that each one of us is an allegory of Christ; that we have eternal life; and that in this world we are given the gift of pilgrimage. We do our part, and God will do the rest. That, for me, is the kernel of Pippa's Progress.

Canon Duncan was the founding Principal of Sarum College.

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