Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Before leaving the Palace Beautiful, Christian returns to the armory, where he is given a full suit of armor to defend himself against unspecified "assaults." He hears that his neighbor Faithful has been spotted along the highway and wishes to catch up with him. First, however, Christian must navigate the Valley of Humiliation, where he meets a fiend named Apollyon. The demon first tries to get Christian to forsake God and return to the City of Destruction, but, failing to persuade him, he attacks him instead. After a frightful struggle, Christian wounds Apollyon and forces him to retreat.

After the Valley of Humiliation comes the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where Christian encounters a pair of spies who warn him of the many monsters lurking therein. They flee, presumably back through the Valley of Humiliation, but Christian proceeds. The path is narrow, with a steep ditch on one side and a bottomless quagmire on the other. Nonetheless, Christian makes it through, relying on continual prayer to pluck up his courage, even when he hears voices whispering "grievous blasphemies" all around him.

The sun rises, and Christian reaches the end of the valley, alongside which he sees a cave. This, John Bunyan explains, is the home of two giants, Pope and Pagan, who were once quite terrifying and killed many men. Pagan, however, is now dead, and Pope has grown decrepit with age. Thus, Christian emerges unharmed from the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Analysis

Christian is armored like a knight, which invokes references to stories of Christian knights who rode into battle with the Saracens (identified as the Muslims who held the Holy Land of Jesus's time) during the Crusades (late 11th century), and King Arthur's knights of the Round Table, who were set on heroic deeds, one of which was to find the Holy Grail, or the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper. Whether or not Bunyan read these stories for himself or was told them by oral tradition, he certainly realized their dramatic and thrilling potential to attract young men and draw them into a spiritual battle for themselves. Bunyan himself contemplated writing a version of King Arthur and the knights. In any case, his allegory The Holy War (1682) includes this imagery. Even today, evangelistic rhetoric exhorting Baptist youth to go forward as warriors of Christ into missionary work invokes the glamor of knightly battle righteously won against the ignorance of nonbelievers. The Pilgrim's Progress represents this as both an internal and external battle. The two valleys through which Christian must pass are inhabited by monsters, the first of which in the Valley of Humiliation is Apollyon. The name Apollyon (the Hebrew word Abbadon as translated from the Greek) appears in biblical text in Revelations 9:11 and refers to a place of destruction later personified as "the angel of the bottomless pit."

The Valley of the Shadow of Death is a phrase from the Twenty-Third Psalm, one of the most well-known of the Bible and particularly associated with final Christian funeral rites. The contrast between the fear of this valley and the image of Christ as a Good Shepherd who guides his flock to safety is drawn upon throughout Bunyan's story.

The two giants at the valley's end are a great help in understanding the religious and political context in which Bunyan wrote. "Pope" and "Pagan" symbolize the threats of the ancient and recent past, but, tellingly, there is no third giant to represent the threats of the present.

An anti-Catholic streak is evident in The Pilgrim's Progress at various times, but nowhere more than here, where Bunyan gives the name Pope to a senile yet terrible monster. Catholicism was officially repressed in England throughout much of the early modern period, but this repression was relaxed somewhat under Charles II (1630–85), the first monarch of the English Restoration era, likely due to the fact that his queen was Catholic. Hence Bunyan's portrayal of the pope (the supreme leader of the Catholic Church) as a former threat who has lost much of his power to threaten pilgrims but who is not quite dead.

The figure of Pagan, who appears to represent non Judeo-Christian religions as a group, shows that the focus of Bunyan's religious writing is close to home. England in Bunyan's time had extremely few residents who did not at least outwardly profess some variety of Christianity. Of those few, most were Jewish. Worldwide, however, Christianity did not enjoy the dominant position that it had acquired in late 17th-century English society. The idea of "pagan" traditions as a largely defunct opponent to Christianity was accurate only from a European perspective.

In England the main political antagonist of Bunyan's Separatist beliefs was thus not the still-suppressed Catholic Church nor the ancient "pagan" customs of the British Isles. Instead, the force most responsible for marginalizing Separatism and repressing its leaders was the established Church of England, which had resumed its prestigious place in English society when the monarchy was restored. Prior to the Restoration, Separatists had briefly ruled the country, so the official backlash was in a sense predictable. Living through this backlash as a member of a minority religion, Bunyan—ordinarily no stranger to controversy—is shrewd enough not to include a third evil giant called Anglican.

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