I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such a profound sense of holding a classic, hot-of-the-press, as I did when I first opened this edition of Little Pilgrim’s Progress. True, the text of this book is already a classic—based upon that granddaddy of classics, Pilgrim’s Progress—but this new edition illustrated by Joe Sutphin is one I can already imagine my grandchildren reading to their children. It is richly illustrated—delightfully so.
Where Helen Taylor adapted Bunyan’s work so that the main characters were all children, making their way to the King’s Celestial City through perils and danger, Joe Sutphin depicts the characters as woodland animals. This is a brilliant move, as it adds warmth to the story without being cute, and it makes the characters accessible. He adds, too, some wordless illustrations at the beginning, middle, and end of the book that round the story out and give it more weight. (The opening illustrations affected me the way that montage at the beginning of Up does—I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry a little as we turned the pages.)
We are big fans of Sutphin’s art here at our house—from The Wingfeather Saga to Tumbleweed Thompson to A Year in the Big Old Garden, the books bearing his illustrations are a) some of our favorites, and b) richer because of his involvement. His characters are expressive, and his illustrations don’t do our imaginative work for us but they add to the text in ways that help us imagine the stories’ worlds better.
When many new adaptations of older works are often colored, to their detriment, by our modern sensibilities, this edition of Little Pilgrim’s Progress retains the spirit of Taylor’s original work (which in turn retains the spirit of Bunyan’s original work). Through Joe Sutphin’s illustrations it also invites readers—especially younger readers—into the story in a new way.
Little Pilgrim’s Progress
Helen L. Taylor; Joe Sutphin (2021)