The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 5 - Valley of Humiliation and Valley of the Shadow of Death

Summary

Just beyond Palace Beautiful lies the Valley of Humiliation. Christian has scarcely entered it when he sees coming toward him a "foul fiend" named Apollyon — a hideous monster with scales like a fish, wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, mouth like a lion; fire and smoke pour out of a hole in his belly. The monster asks Christian: "Whence come you, and whither are you bound?"

When Christian replies that he is coming from the City of Destruction and bound for the City of Zion, Apollyon points out that he is the prince and god of the City of Destruction and all surrounding territory, that Christian is therefore one of his subjects and owes him obedience, that he should obey his command and turn around and go home. Christian refuses, announcing his intention of continuing "in the King's highway, the way of holiness." With that, Apollyon blocks the path and lets fly at Christian with a flaming dart, which Christian deflects with his shield. But then comes a shower of flaming darts, "thick as hail," inflicting many wounds. Christian's sword is useless to him, for Apollyon stays out of reach as he moves around hurling his darts.

The fight goes on for above half a day." Toward the end, growing weaker and weaker from loss of blood, Christian has to give way a step or two, at which the monster rushes at him, knocks the sword from his hand, and throws him down, pinning his shoulders to the ground. Thinking each breath will be his last, Christian reaches out a hand, fortunately finds his sword within reach, and plunges it into his tormentor. Apollyon jumps up and staggers back, with Christian after him, hoping to bury his sword in his heart. But the monster escapes by taking to his dragon wings and flying off, threatening to be back again to deal with Christian.

Thanking God for his deliverance by placing his fallen sword within reach, Christian sits down wearily and "there came to him a hand with some of the leaves of the Tree of Life." He applies the leaves to his many wounds, which are "healed immediately." Having eaten the bread and drunk of the bottle given him at Palace Beautiful, he feels sufficiently refreshed to resume his journey, keeping his sword unsheathed in case of another attack, but none comes in this valley.

Christian now enters the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a fearsome place, "a wilderness, a land of deserts and pits, a land of drought and of the shadow of death, a land that no man (but a Christian) passeth through, and where no man dwelt," as the Prophet Jeremiah described it (Jer. 2:6). The path in the valley is very narrow, with a deep, water-filled ditch on one side in which many ("the blind leading the blind") have drowned, and on the other side a great bog, "a very dangerous quag," in which others have perished. In addition, it is quite dark, so that Christian has to walk very slowly and cautiously, often not knowing where his next step will carry him.

Halfway through the valley, he comes to the mouth of Hell, which is spewing forth sparks, flames, and great clouds of smoke. As his sword is of no use to him here, Christian puts it away and takes out another potent weapon, All-prayer (Eph. 6:18), a sort of blanket prayer that covers all kinds of exigencies. Protected by this, Christian goes on a great while, with long fingers of flame reaching after him. Then he hears demons moving all around him, but he cannot see them because of the smoke. He again considers turning back, but rejects the idea. There might be more danger in going back than going forward.

Suddenly, coming from up front, a voice rings out: "Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me" (Ps. 23:4). As that cry could have been raised only by a Pilgrim, Christian is "exceeding happy" and hastens forward to see who it is.

Analysis

The foul fiend Apollyon who attacks Christian in the Valley of Humiliation is the Destroyer, the quintessence of evil — "The angel of the bottomless pit whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon" (Rev. 9:11). The name also occurs in St. Bevis of Southampton, a chivalric romance that was one of Bunyan's favorites.

For the physical characteristics of his giant monster, Bunyan used his imagination but also drew on descriptions of other monsters as given in the Bible and such works as The Seven Champions of Christendom, published about a century before and which Bunyan had often read. In the story of St. George and the dragon in that book, the dragon is, like Apollyon, covered with scales, has wings, and breathes fire. Bunyan also drew on the Seven Champions for another scene. When St. George is wounded, he is quickly restored by the leaves of a miraculous tree; so are Christian's wounds healed immediately when he applies to them some leaves from the Tree of Life given to him by a mysterious hand.

Some critics have adjudged the Apollyon incident to be a gem of artistic creation. However that may be, this can be said: It is a passage almost free of lengthy theological discourse and expatiation.

Among the hazards Christian meets in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the deep, water-filled ditch bordering one side of the narrow path is error in belief, into which the blind lead the blind. The quagmire on the other side is carnal sin, in which so many get mired down. Thanks to the magic of All-prayer, Christian gets safely through the valley and hastens to see who it was that raised the cry he heard in the distance.

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