Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 1, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Soon, Christian and Hopeful reach the Delectable Mountains, where they are greeted by a group of shepherds. These shepherds are individually named, but they act in unison, like a type of chorus. The shepherds show the two pilgrims the suitably allegorical "wonders" of the area, including a dangerously steep hill called Error and a smoky passageway they describe as the "by-way to hell." For a final wonder, the shepherds bring them to the end of the mountain range and offer them a "Perspective-Glass" (spyglass or telescope) through which they can just barely glimpse the gates of the Celestial City. After some parting words of wisdom from the shepherds, Christian and Hopeful begin the last leg of their pilgrimage.

Analysis

Shepherds and shepherd imagery have a special place in the New Testament, which Bunyan was surely aware. Shepherds are proverbially vigilant, protecting their flocks from predators and other dangers. Early Church iconography prior to the Crusades (an ongoing conflict between Christians and Muslims over territories held holy by both religions) depicted Jesus as a gentle, loving, and youthful shepherd to his flock of faithful devotees. The Twenty-Third Psalm of the Bible, which is perhaps the most well known, uses the rich imagery of safety, refuge, and comfort. Another biblical example of the humility and diligence of a shepherd is that the job of guarding the father's flock of sheep was given to the youngest son, as was the case in the Old Testament, or Book of Genesis, with Jacob, the youngest son of Isaac. It is further recorded in the New Testament that watchful shepherds were among the first summoned to the Nativity of Christ. Given this longstanding association, it's not all that surprising that one of the shepherds' names is Watchful in Bunyan's allegory. Likewise, shepherds and other rustic figures are often perceived as honest, humble, and lacking in guile, qualities summed up by the inclusion of Sincere. Knowledge and Experience can be explained, somewhat more loosely, as emblematic of the qualities that exert a shepherd-like influence on the soul, guiding it away from harm.

Among the specifically biblical reasons for including shepherds in The Pilgrim's Progress, perhaps the most important is their role in the Gospel of Luke. There, a group of shepherds tending their flocks near Bethlehem is described as the first to hear the angels' proclamation of Jesus's birth (Luke 2:8–20). The shepherds depicted in The Pilgrim's Progress recall this important scene in that they are positioned just within sight of the Celestial City. Just as the Gospel shepherds were forerunners of the many Christians who would hear the good news of the Incarnation, the shepherds of Part 1, Chapter 8 are the harbingers of the pilgrims' arrival in heaven.

The spyglass or telescope is a further image of watchfulness, or of being able to see what is approaching from a great distance away. The use of lenses in this way was still something of a novelty in Bunyan's time, as a telescope was used for astronomy as early as 1609.

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