The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Book Summary

Part 1

In this section events are reviewed according to principal scenes of action. Place names appear in the order in which major incidents occur.

City of Destruction

The city stands as a symbol of the entire world as it is, with all of its sins, corruptions, and sorrows. No one living there can have any hope of salvation. Convinced that the city is about to be blasted by the wrath of God, Christian flees and sets out alone on a pilgrimage which he hopes will lead him to Mount Zion, to the Celestial City, where he can enjoy eternal life in the happy company of God and the Heavenly Host.

Slough of Despond

A swamp, a bog, a quagmire, the first obstacle in Christian's course. Pilgrims are apt to get mired down here by their doubts and fears. After much difficulty and with some providential help, Christian finally manages to flounder across the treacherous bog and is on his way again.

Village of Morality

Near the village Christian meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who, though not religiously inclined, is a friendly and well-disposed person. He tells Christian that it would be foolish of him to continue his pilgrimage, the end of which could only be hunger, pain, and death. Christian should be a sensible fellow and settle down in the Village of Morality. It would be a good place to raise a family, for living was cheap there and they would have honest, well-behaved people as neighbors — people who lived by the Ten Commandments.

More than a little tempted by this, Christian decides that he should at least have a look at Morality. But along the way he is stopped by his friend Evangelist, who berates him sharply for having listened to anything Mr. Worldly Wiseman might have to say. If Christian is seriously interested in saving his soul, he would be well advised to get back as quickly as possible on the path to the Wicket Gate which Evangelist had pointed out to him before.

Wicket Gate

Arriving almost out of breath, Christian reads the sign on the gate: "Knock and it shall be opened unto you." He knocks a number of times before arousing the gatekeeper, a "grave person" named Good-will, who comes out to ask what Christian wants. After the latter has explained his mission, he is let through the gate, which opens on the Holy Way, a straight and narrow path leading toward the Celestial City. Christian asks if he can now be relieved of the heavy burden — a sack filled with his sins and woes — that he has been carrying on his back for so long. Good-will replies that he cannot help him, but that if all goes well, Christian will be freed of his burden in due course.

Interpreter's House

On Good-will's advice, Christian makes his first stop at the large house of Interpreter, a character symbolizing the Holy Spirit. Interpreter shows his guest a number of "excellent things." These include a portrait of the ideal pastor with the Bible in his hand and a crown of gold on his head; a dusty parlor which is like the human heart before it is cleansed with the Gospel; a sinner in an iron cage, an apostate doomed to suffer the torments of Hell through all eternity; a wall with a fire burning against it. A figure (the Devil himself) is busily throwing water on the fire to put it out. But he would never succeed, Interpreter explains, because the fire represents the divine spirit in the human heart and a figure on the far side of the wall keeps the fire burning brightly by secretly pouring oil on it — "the oil of Christ's Grace."

The Cross

Beyond Interpreter's House, Christian comes to the Cross, which stands on higher ground beside the Holy Way. Below it, at the foot of the gentle slope, is an open sepulcher. When Christian stops by the Cross, the burden on his back suddenly slips from his shoulders, rolls down the slope, and falls into the open sepulcher, to be seen no more. As Christian stands weeping with joy, three Shining Ones (angels) appear. They tell him all his sins are now forgiven, give him bright new raiment to replace his old ragged clothes, and hand him a parchment, "a Roll with a seal upon it." For his edification and instruction, Christian is to read the Roll as he goes along, and when he reaches the Pearly Gates, he is to present it as his credentials a sort of passport to Heaven, as it were.

Difficulty Hill

The Holy Way beyond the Cross is fenced in with a high wall on either side. The walls have been erected to force all aspiring Pilgrims to enter the Holy Way in the proper manner, through the Wicket Gate. As Christian is passing along, two men — Formalist and Hypocrisy — climb over the wall and drop down beside him. Christian finds fault with this and gives the wall-jumpers a lecture on the dangers of trying shortcuts. They have been successfully taking shortcuts all their lives, the intruders reply, and all will go well this time.

Not too pleased with his company, Christian proceeds with Hypocrisy and Formalist to the foot of Difficulty Hill, where three paths join and they must make a choice. One path goes straight ahead up the steep slope of the hill; another goes around the base of the hill to the right; the third, around the hill to the left. Christian argues that the right path is the one leading straight ahead up Difficulty Hill. Not liking the prospect of much exertion, Formalist and Hypocrisy decide to take the easier way on the level paths going around the hill. Both get lost and perish.

Halfway up Difficulty Hill, so steep in places that he has to inch forward on hands and knees, Christian comes to a pleasant arbor provided for the comfort of weary Pilgrims. Sitting down to rest, Christian reaches into his blouse and takes out his precious Roll. While reading it, he drops off to sleep, being awakened when he hears a voice saying sternly: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise."

Jumping up, Christian makes with all speed to the top of the hill, where he meets two Pilgrims coming toward him — Timorous and Mistrust. They have been up ahead, they say, and there are lions there. They are giving up their pilgrimage and returning home, and unsuccessfully try to persuade Christian to come with them. Their report about the lions disturbs Christian, who reaches into his blouse to get his Roll so that he may read it and be comforted. To his consternation, the Roll is not there.

Carefully searching along the way, Christian retraces his steps to the arbor, where, as he recalls, he had been reading the Roll when he allowed himself to doze off in "sinful sleep." Not finding his treasure immediately, he sits down and weeps, considering himself utterly undone by his carelessness in losing "his pass into the Celestial City." When in deepest despair, he chances to see something lying half-covered in the grass. It is his precious Roll, which he tucks away securely in his blouse. Having offered a prayer of thanks "to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay," Christian wearily climbs back to the top of Difficulty Hill. From there he sees a stately building and as it is getting on toward dark, hastens there.

Palace Beautiful

A narrow path leads off the Holy Way to the lodge in front of Palace Beautiful. Starting up the path, Christian sees two lions, stops, and turns around as if to retreat. The porter at the lodge, Watchful, who has been observing him, calls out that there is nothing to be afraid of if one has faith. The lions are chained, one on either side of the path, and anyone with faith can pass safely between them if he keeps carefully to the middle of the path, which Christian does. Arriving at the lodge, he asks if he can get lodging for the night. The porter, Watchful, replies that he will find out from those in charge of Palace Beautiful. Soon, four virgins come out to the lodge, all of them "grave and beautiful damsels": Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity. Satisfied with Christian's answers to their questions, they invite him in, introduce him to the rest of the family, serve him supper, and assign him to a beautiful bedroom — Peace — for the night.

Next morning, the virgins show him the "rarities" of the place: First, the library, filled with ancient documents dating back to the beginning of time; next, the armory, packed with swords, shields, helmets, breastplates, and other things sufficient to equip all servants of the Lord, even if they were as numerous as the stars in the sky. Leading their guest to the roof of the palace, the virgins point to mountains in the distance — the Delectable Mountains, which lie on the way to the Celestial City. Before allowing Christian to depart, the virgins give him arms and armor to protect himself during the next stretch of his journey, which they warn will be dangerous.

Valley of Humiliation

Here Christian is attacked and almost overcome by a "foul fiend" named Apollyon — a hideous monster with scales like a fish, wings like a dragon, mouth like a lion, and feet like a bear; flames and smoke belch out of a hole in his belly. Christian, after a painful struggle, wounds the fiend with his sword and drives him off.

Valley of the Shadow of Death

This is a wilderness, a land of deserts and pits, inhabited only by yowling hobgoblins and other dreadful creatures. The path here is very narrow, edged on one side by a deep, water-filled ditch in which many have drowned; on the other side, by a treacherous bog. Walking carefully, Christian goes on and soon finds himself close to the open mouth of Hell, the Burning Pit, out of which comes a cloud of noxious fumes, long fingers of fire, showers of sparks, and hideous noises. With flames flickering all around and smoke almost choking him, Christian manages to get through by use of "All-prayer."

Nearing the end of the valley, he hears a shout raised by someone up ahead: "Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear none ill, for Thou art with me." As only a Pilgrim could have raised that cry, Christian hastens forward to see who it might be. To his surprise and delight he finds that it is an old friend, Faithful, one of his neighbors in the City of Destruction.

Vanity Fair

Happily journeying together, exchanging stories about their adventures and misadventures, the two Pilgrims come to the town of Vanity Fair, through which they must pass. Interested only in commerce and money-making, the town holds a year-round fair at which all kinds of things are bought and sold — "houses, lands, trades, titles, . . . lusts, pleasures, . . . bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not." Christian and Faithful infuriate the merchandisers by turning up their noses at the wares offered them, saying that they would buy nothing but the Truth. Their presence and their attitude cause a hubbub in the town, which leads the authorities to jail them for disturbing the peace. The prisoners conduct themselves so well that they win the sympathy of many townspeople, producing more strife and commotion in the streets, and the prisoners are held responsible for this, too, though they have done nothing.

It is decided to indict them on the charge of disrupting trade, creating dissension, and treating with contempt the customs and laws laid down for the town by its prince, old Beelzebub himself. Brought to trial first, Faithful is convicted and sentenced to be executed in the manner prescribed by the presiding judge, Lord Hate-good. The hapless Faithful is scourged, brutally beaten, lanced with knives, stoned, and then burned to ashes at the stake. Thus, he becomes another of the Christian martyrs assured of enjoying eternal bliss up on high.

Doubting Castle and Giant Despair

In a manner only vaguely explained, Christian gets free and goes on his way — but not alone, for he has been joined by Hopeful, a native of Vanity Fair who is fleeing in search of better things. After a few minor adventures, the two reach a sparkling stream, the River of the Water of Life, which meanders through beautiful meadows bright with flowers. For a time the Holy Way follows the river bank but then veers off into rougher ground which is hard on the sore tired feet of the travelers. Wishing there were an easier way, they plod along until they come to another meadow behind a high fence. Having climbed the fence to have a look, Christian persuades Hopeful that they should move over into By-path Meadow, where there is a soft grassy path paralleling theirs.

Moving along, they catch up with Vain-confidence, who says that he is bound for the Celestial City and knows the way perfectly. Night comes on, but he continues to push ahead briskly, with Christian and Hopeful following. Suddenly, the latter hear a frightened cry and a loud thud. Vain-confidence has been dashed to pieces by falling into a deep pit dug by the owner of the meadow. Christian and Hopeful retreat, but as they can see nothing in the dark, they decide to lie down in the meadow to pass the night.

Next morning, they are surprised and seized by the prince of By-path Meadow, a giant named Despair. Charging them with malicious trespassing, he hauls them to his stronghold, Doubting Castle, and throws them into a deep dark dungeon, where they lie for days without food or drink. At length, Giant Despair appears, beats them almost senseless, and advises them to take their own lives so that he will not have to come back to finish them off himself. When all seems hopeless, Christian suddenly brightens up, "as one half amazed," and exclaims: "What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a key in my bosom called Promise which will (I am persuaded) open any lock in Doubting Castle."

Finding that the magic key works, the prisoners are soon out in the open and running as fast as they can to get back onto the Holy Way, where they erect a sign warning other Pilgrims against being tempted by the apparent ease of traveling by way of By-path Meadow.

Delectable Mountains

Christian and Hopeful next come to the Delectable Mountains, where they find gardens, orchards, vineyards, and fountains of water. Four shepherds — Experience, Knowledge, Watchful, and Sincere — come to greet them, telling them that the mountains are the Lord's, as are the flocks of sheep grazing there. Having been escorted around the mountains and shown the sights there, the two Pilgrims on the eve of their departure receive from the shepherds a paper instructing them on what to do and what to avoid on the journey ahead. For one thing, they should not lie down and sleep in the Enchanted Ground, for that would be fatal.

Country of Beulah

This is a happy land where the sun shines day and night, flowers bloom continuously, and the sweet and pleasant air is filled with bird-song. There is no lack of grain and wine. Christian and Hopeful stop to rest and enjoy themselves here, pleased that the Celestial City is now within sight, which leads them to assume that the way there is now clear.

Dark River

Proceeding, they are amazed when they come to the Dark River, a wide, swift-flowing stream. They look around for a bridge or boat on which to cross. A Shining One appears and tells them that they must make their way across as best they can, that fording the river is a test of faith, that those with faith have nothing to fear. Wading into the river, Hopeful finds firm footing, but Christian does not He is soon floundering in water over his head, fearing that he will be drowned, that he will never see "the land that flows with milk and honey." Hopeful helps Christian by holding his head above water, and the two finally achieve the crossing.

Celestial City

On the far side of the river, two Shining Ones are waiting for the Pilgrims and take them by the arm to assist them in climbing the steep slope to the Celestial City, which stands on a "mighty hill . . . higher than the clouds." Coming to the gate of the city, built all of precious stones, Christian and Hopeful present their credentials, which are taken to the King (God). He orders the gate to be opened, and the two weary but elated Pilgrims go in, to find that the streets are paved with gold and that along them walk many men with crowns on their heads and golden harps in their hands.

Part 2

Christian's wife, Christiana, misses her husband, and, hearing how well he is doing in Heaven, regrets that she did not go with him when he set out on his pilgrimage, as she had been urged and invited to do. She makes up her mind to follow him after receiving from a visitor a note from the Lord, written "in letters of gold," inviting her to come to the Celestial City. Though her neighbors try to dissuade her, citing the great dangers of such a journey, Christiana sets out from the City of Destructions with her children — four sons — and is joined by Mercy, a comely young woman of the town.

Passing through the Slough of Despond with much less difficulty than Christian encountered, the Pilgrim party comes to the Wicket Gate, the entrance to the Holy Way, the straight and narrow path leading to Mount Zion. Christiana and the children are immediately admitted by the gatekeeper, but Mercy is left outside. Thinking herself abandoned, Mercy swoons. On Christiana's plea, the gatekeeper comes out, helps Mercy to her feet, and leads the party to a pleasant summer parlor, where the Lord soon appears to assure Mercy that she is welcome as a Pilgrim.

Leaving the Wicket Gate, the party is still within sight of it when the women are accosted by two villainous men who try first to seduce them and then to rape them, which results in a "very great scuffle," with the women crying "Murder! murder!" Hearing this, one of those at the Wicket Gate come running to the rescue and chases away the villains, who escape by leaping over a wall into Satan's garden.

Coming to Interpreter's House, the party is well entertained there and shown the sights, including some that had not been shown to Christian. On the eve of the departure, Interpreter assigns Great-heart, a stout and well-armed Christian soldier, to be their conductor for the rest of the way. Surmounting difficulty Hill with its many steep ascents, the party approaches the land leading to Palace Beautiful. Here are two chained lions, as Christian had found. But now there is also a giant, one Grim, or Bloody-man, who emerges from a cave and blocks the way. Great-hear advances, whacks off his head, and leads the party into Palace Beautiful, which is filled with songs of joy. Christiana and her group like it so well here that , upon being invited, they stay a month, enjoying much feasting and godly discourse with the palace virgins.

During their stay, Mercy is courted by a Mr. Brisk, but he soon jilts her upon discovering that the clothes she is always so busily making are not for sale, not to make money, but to be given away to the poor. Obviously, she would not make a thrifty, prudent housewife. But Mercy will not long remain a maiden, for she is soon "given" in marriage to Christiana's oldest son, Mathew.

Descending from Palace Beautiful into the Valley of Humiliation, where Christian had been attacked and almost killed by the monster Apollyon, Christiana and her party meet with no trouble there, nor much in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, though Great-heart has to drive away some devils and a lion there, and has to slay another giant, one Maul, and take off his head. Going on, the party comes upon an old man asleep under a tree. Recognizing him as a Pilgrim by his clothes, staff, and girdle, they awaken him. He proves to be Old Honest from the Town of Stupidity, on his way to the Celestral City. Joining the party, he directs them to a tavern kept by Gaius, a "very honorable disciple."

The stay of Gaius' Inn, lasting a month or more, is very pleasant. Gaius informs Christiana of her husband's illustrious ancestry. His forebears, it appears, were St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Stephen, and many another ancient prophet, saint, and martyr, including St. Marcus of Arethusa, who "was hanged up in a basket in the sun for the wasps to eat." It is at Gaius' Inn that Mercy is "given" in marriage to Christiana's oldest son, Mathew, and Gaius gives his daughter Phoebe to another son, James.

Here, too, Great-heart gets himself another giant, one Slay-good. He finds the giant rifling the pockets of a captured Pilgrim named Feeble-mind, intending later to eat him. Great-heart takes off the giant's head as another trophy and rescues Feeble-mind, who joins Christiana's party. Another Pilgrim joins her party — Mr. Right-to-halt, who is so crippled that he has to hobble along on crutches.

Coming to the town of Vanity Fair, where Christiana and Faithful had been so harshly treated, Faithful having been burned at the stake there. Great-heart leads the party to the house of a friend, Mnason, a native of the island of Cyprus. There are more marriages here, with Mnason giving daughters to Christiana's two unwedded sons, and Great-heart goes after another monster, a beast having a dragon's body topped with "seven heads and ten horns." Great-heart does not succeed in taking off the monster's seven heads, but so injures him that everybody expects him to die of his wounds.

When Christiana's party comes to By-path Meadow and Doubting Castle, where Christian and Hopeful had been so pummeled by Giant Despair, Great-heart suggests that it might be a good idea if they took time off to kill the giant and demolish his castle. They do this, taking a week to tear down the castle, bringing back two captured Pilgrims they found in the dungeon — Mr. Despondency and his daughter Much-afraid. These two join the party, which now numbers sixteen, having become so large that it has to walk in column along the straight and narrow path.

The Celestial Mountains are much the same as they were when Christian and Hopeful visited, except that the shepherds have built a palace there, which seems rather incongruous. In any case, there is a palace, so Bunyan tells us, and in its dining room a looking glass that Mercy covets, saying that if it is denied her, she may have a miscarriage. The shepherds happily present her with the marvelous mirror, which held one way, shows "the Prince of Pilgrims himself . . . the very Crown of Thorns upon his head, . . . the holes in his hands, in his feet, and his side."

Leaving the Delectable Mountains, the Pilgrims come upon a man standing in the road with drawn sword and his face all bloody — Valiant-for-truth, who has just routed three villains who attacked him. Valiant-for-truth joins the party as it proceeds into the Enchanted Ground, where no Pilgrim should rest and sleep if he hopes ever to wake again. Here they find a man kneeling in the roadway, his hands upstretched toward Heaven, praying mightily to God to rescue him from the clutches of a Madam Bubble, who has been persistently trying to seduce him.

The prayerful man, Stand-fast, joins the party as it goes on into the Land of Beulah, where "the sun shineth day and night" and flowers bloom in profusion the year round. Beulah Land, as presented in this part of the book, is sort of a receiving station for those Heaven-bound. Here Pilgrims wait until they are personally summoned to come up to the Celestial City. In her party, Christiana is the first to be summoned, then the others in order, and all wade through the Dark River, the River of Death, and are whisked up to the Celestial Gate in chariots driven by angels all but Christian's four sons and their pregnant brides who are left behind to propagate "for the increase of the Church in that place they were for a time."

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