Mountains of Spices: A Sequel to Pilgrim’s Progress?
Though I vaguely remember hearing about it, I’ve never read “Hinds’ Feet in High Places.” So I started ‘Mountains of Spices’ without any background – of the story or the author. But it quickly became obvious that John Bunyan’s famous work, The Pilgrim’s Progress had heavily influenced Hannah Hurnard. She not only mentions the ‘City of Destruction’, some of her characters even share names with those in Bunyan’s story. Unfortunately, Hurnard doesn’t go far enough in copying Bunyan.
Here like the peaks at sunrise, My mind to thee I raise; Clothe me with glory likewise, Make me to burn with praise, In love’s attire, Of flaming fire.
Whereas Bunyan’s work was a true allegory, Hurnard seems only to skirt it. Yes, her characters are all named for the traits that they embody, i.e. – Superiority, Bitterness, Pride, etc. And she does use the different spices mentioned in the Song of Solomon to give physical form to the fruit of the Spirit. Yes, there are moments when Hurnard goes into full-bore allegorical mode. But there are so many missed opportunities.
This Is Not The Allegory I Was Looking For…
I felt like, had she taken the time, she could have really developed the way these different negative attributes shape ones life. Instead, each character is a caricature of their name but the ‘allegory’ ends there. We see ‘Pride’ acting proudly but we don’t really get to see how that impacts the course of ‘Pride’s’ life. Part of the reason for this deficiency is the way Hurnard structures the book.
To love is to give oneself, to lay down one’s life, to share oneself with others, as the grass gives itself to the cattle, and the water to the thirsty land, and as the sun gives its light and warmth freely to good and bad alike.
The chapters alternate between focusing on ‘Grace and Glory’s’ journey through the nine Mountains of Spices and giving glimpses of life in the little valley town she calls home. This makes the story feel disjointed because there’s very little connection between the two parts. Instead, we read a description of one of the mountains, then we read a short vignette about someone in town dealing with a particular issue and, usually, coming to see how Christ can help them. But just as I felt like Hurnard could have fleshed out the allegorical ideas more, I also feel like she could have connected the two parts of the story more intimately. This would also have helped strengthen the plot and pacing.
So Much Missed Potential…
My main complaint with this book is simply that it feels like it isn’t sure what it’s supposed to be. Is it an allegory? Not quite. Is it a story about Christ transforming a town? Yes…and no. It’s like Hurnard wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do so she just threw everything at the wall, hoping it would stick. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like it does. It’s not bad. It just feels like a hodge-podge.
“Why,” she said to herself with a start of surprise, “just see what the King has done. He has made that which seemed the greatest torment and weakness and despair of my life, the thing I most dreaded and suffered from, into the best thing of all.”
Now, all of this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some truly inspiring moments. Hurnard deals with real, down-to-earth issues that we all experience. She reminds us that following Christ means putting away our attitudes, dying to self, and living a life of faith-filled, loving obedience. She paints Christ as a loving, if sometimes stern, Shepherd who desires all to know and love him.
This book had so much potential. Unfortunately, it never reaches those heights.
It isn’t bad or great. It just is.
If you’d like to read it for yourself, you can order a copy here:
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