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'Little Pilgrim's Progress' - a timeless classic reimagined by author Helen L Taylor

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'Little Pilgrim's Progress' - a timeless classic reimagined by author Helen L Taylor
An interview with Joe Sutphin, illustrator of Little Pilgrim's Progress

The story of Pilgrim’s Progress has been done many times. How did you come up with something unique to make it stand out from previous versions?

Erik Peterson, my creative director at Moody, came to me with an idea to create a lavish, gift edition of the book. I wasn’t sure if I was a good fit for a heavily illustrated book about knights, peasants and giants, so I asked what work of mine led Erik to propose this project to me. He responded with a handful of images I’d drawn of rabbits and mice in the natural world! He went on to elaborate on how timeless tales can be told from many visual/thematic perspectives in order to bring a fresh angle, draw in new audiences and bring something exciting to existing fans. This was all I needed to hear. I was on board.

John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress nearly 350 years ago. Why do you think the story is still important and relevant today?

The world is presenting new forms of challenges to followers of Christ, but the roots of those challenges are the same as they were 350 years ago. Specifically, regarding children, who still face doubt and despair, accusers and deceivers, gossips and flatterers, and at a greater degree and pace than children did 350 years ago. Television, smart phones and social media bring these challenges into a child’s world at a rapid pace, and kids need as much encouragement as possible in navigating the challenges of holding onto their faith. The story of Christian and Christiana encompasses such a solid overview of the Christian walk.

Were there challenges in visually depicting characters and places that tend to have very literal, allegorical names?

That process was actually fun. We wanted the Good Prince to be a lion, so we swapped out the prowling lions for evil wolves, which worked well. With some of the allegorical names, we tried using interesting animals such as a chicken as Fearing, a crow as Talkative, a weasel as Unbelief, and a wise old owl as Evangelist.

Do you have a favourite character from the story?

One of my favourite characters is Ready-To-Halt, the little guy with crutches. There’s a point where he’s encouraging his companions and says, ‘I am sure we will be able to help each other and when you are tired I will lend you one of my crutches.’ That was such a beautiful moment, and made him stand out to me.

Were there any specific scenes in the story that encouraged you as you illustrated them?

As Christian is leaving Vanity Fair after his friend Faithful dies for his faith, we see the outside walls of the city. They’re decorated with images of the Wicked Prince, and just beyond the walls we see a vast open area covered with the discarded armour shields, gifts, talents and the King’s invitations that all once belonged to little Pilgrims, who ended their journey in Vanity Fair. It’s sobering, but in front of Christian we can see the shadow of the sparrow pointing him forward, showing that there is encouragement and hope to continue our faith journey, even through difficult times.

How is it different illustrating a faith-based story like this, as opposed to working on a general fiction story?

Working on a faith-based story with a Christian publisher like Moody was an incredible experience for me. I’ve made some wonderful books with secular publishers, but there was something special, while working with Moody, about the depth of our discussions regarding the story and its parallels with our own faith.

What is your hope for kids who will get to experience the story in this newly envisioned way?

My hope is that kids, no matter what they are going through in their own lives, can find a place of refuge and encouragement as they enter this new world of Little Pilgrim’s Progress, whether they are reading along with a parent or sibling, reading alone or even just looking through the pictures in the book.

Do you think adults will benefit from reading the story, and how do you see it making an impact in their life?

I do think that adults will enjoy the story and see parallels with their own lives. I also think that parents will enjoy spending time with their children as they read through the story, and find opportunities to discuss different life challenges with them in a fun and engaging way. 

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Products mentioned in or related to this blog post
The Illustrated Little Pilgrim's Progress (Hard Cover)
Helen L. Taylor, Helen L. Taylor
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