A Great Old Story with an Intriguing New Look
By Charles Kelley
RIGA, Latvia – I wish you could have been there. This past Saturday evening John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress was unveiled in modern Latvian. The number two best-selling book of all time (next to the Bible), Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into more than 200 languages. Originally written in the late 17th century, it is regarded as one of the most significant works of English literature.
The story is an allegory about a man called Christian, who goes on a spiritual journey, and meets many strange people. Christian is an ‘everyman’ character: he represents the reader or any ordinary person. Eventually he gets to the Celestial City. The strange people he meets are characters who represent good and bad things in life.
Bunyan began his work while in the Bedfordshire county jail for holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England. The original title of the book was The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream.
Pilgrim’s Progress was first translated from a German translation into Latvian in 1729. Several other “new” translations have been completed over the years. This new translation, done by Lutheran pastor/journalist, Dzidzis Melkis, is excellent for modern readers.
My role was to find just the right artist who would create illustrations that communicate to a modern readership. My good friend and teacher, Kaspars Zarins, from the Latvian Academy of Art, agreed. He is one of Latvia’s most renowned painters. He created 20 fresh portraits of key characters, capturing the essence of each. His paintings have just been exhibited in Riga and have been highly acclaimed.
A missionary couple from England, Malcolm and Ruth Firth initiated this project. They have worked on it for several years. A Reformed missionary couple from Georgia, Robert and Jeanne Smith, have also helped very much. These folks have been a joy to work with.
Because of the artist’s notoriety, one of the strongest publishing houses in Latvia agreed to publish the book. This house also owns Latvia’s largest newspaper and can easily market and distribute the book. The plan is for the new book and paintings to be featured traveling exhibitions in schools and libraries countrywide.