In Woody Allen’s story “The Kugelmas Episode,” a bald, hairy, soulless New York Jew, “professor of humanities at City College,” solves his mid-life crisis with the help of a magician named The Great Persky. By entering Persky’s magic cabinet with a copy of Madame Bovary, Sidney Kugelmas is transported into the world of Flaubert’s novel and has a torrid affair with its protagonist, who is desperate for love and hasn’t yet met the dashing Rodolphe. Later, Kugelmas brings Emma Bovary to New York, but finds her exhausting and expensive. Persky returns her to her novel, and tries to send Kugelmas into Portnoy’s Complaint but has a heart-attack and dies in the process, having accidentally sent Kugelmas into Remedial Spanish instead. The story ends with Kugelmas on the run, pursued by a “large and hairy irregular verb.”
John Bunyan, though not without his own sense of humor, was an altogether more serious writer than Woody Allen. Like Sidney Kugelmas, however, Bunyan had the remarkable ability to transport himself into and live inside his favorite book, in his case, the Bible. Bunyan is hardly the first writer to be profoundly influenced by the Bible, nor is he the first to allude to it frequently and intensively in his writing. In English literature alone, writers had been alluding to, paraphrasing, and adapting the Bible from the Anglo-Saxons on. Some of these writers, like Edmund Spenser, may have influenced Bunyan’s own practice. The first book of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is a complex allegory of St. George (stepping in for the biblical Michael) aiding Una (the Church?) in rescuing her parents, King Adam and Queen Eve, from a dragon. We know Bunyan enjoyed Romances, like the popular Bevis of Southampton, so it seems hard to believe he wouldn’t have relished a Romance that was also inherently biblical, and Protestant. Indeed, comparisons of Pilgrim’s Progress to Book 1 of The Faerie Queene date back at least to Samuel Johnson. Yet Bunyan’s manner of biblical allusion goes beyond Spenser’s. Christian’s pilgrimage to the Heavenly City, followed later by that of his wife and children, not only alludes to the Bible at certain points, it seems like a journey through Scripture itself.