The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Summary and Analysis Part 2: Section 3 - Valley of Humiliation and Gaius' Inn

Summary

Descending from Palace Beautiful into the Valley of Humiliation, Christiana becomes very apprehensive, recalling that it was here that Christian had encountered and been almost killed by that "foul fiend," Apollyon. She is reassured by Great-heart, who says that "here is nothing to hurt us unless we procure it to ourselves." The valley turns out to be as Great-heart said it would be, "as fruitful a place as any the crow flies over."

It now appears that Christian had brought Apollyon upon himself, as it were, because of his slips and derelictions along the Holy Way. He had been too proud, too self-satisfied, and needed a bit of humiliation, which was arranged by the Lord, or rather, by Satan, always willing to oblige in punishing sinners. Mercy, for her part, finds the green and solitary Valley of Humiliation the pleasantest spot she has ever seen: "I love to be in such places where there is no rattling with coaches, nor rumbling with wheels. Methinks here one may without molestation be thinking what he is, whence he came, what he has done, and what the King has called him. Here one may think, and break at heart, and melt in one's spirit, until one's eyes become like the fishpools of Heshbon" (Song of Sol. 7:4).

Passing by a monument erected to commemorate Christian's victory over Apollyon, Great-heart leads his charges into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where they hear "a groaning as of dead men . . . words of lamentation as if spoken by some in extreme Torment . . . a kind of hissing as of serpents, and then, the ground under their feet begins to shake. Out of fright, one of the children gets sick, but Christiana revives him by giving him three of Mr. Skill's magic pills and some of the spirits presented to her by Interpreter.

As the party moves on, Christiana sees something in the road ahead of them, and all are frightened. Great-heart tells them to keep close to him and lets the Fiend approach. When the latter sees that Great-heart is prepared to do battle, he vanishes into thin air, which reminds Christiana of the old saying, "Resist the Devil, and he will fly from you." Great-heart also scares away a lion that comes up behind them, roaring so loudly that the whole valley echoes.

Having passed through a place "of great stinks and loathsome smells," they meet "Maul, a giant," who emerges from a cave to challenge Great-heart, charging him with being a kidnaper who gathers up women and children, carrying "them into a strange country, to the weakening of my master's kingdom." It is his duty to lead sinners from darkness to light, replies Great-heart, "and if this be indeed the ground of thy quarrel, let us fall to it as soon as thou wilt." Great-heart draws his sword, Maul picks up his huge club, and with his first blow knocks Great-heart to his knees. Staggering up, the latter pinks the giant in the arm. After an hour of swinging and sweating, the combatants sit down for a rest, as the women and children stand by sighing and crying.

The battle is soon resumed, being fought somewhat like a modern boxing match. Round One was a draw. In Round Two, having been knocked down with a full blow, the giant asks Great-heart to hold up and allow him to recover. "So Mr. Great-heart fairly lets him get up" Round Two is clearly Great-heart's. After another rest, they go at it again. At the start of Round Three Maul brings his big club down heavily on Great heart's head and all but cracks his skull. Now thoroughly aroused, Great heart charges his adversary in the full heat of his spirit and pierceth him under the fifth rib. As the giant begins to faint, Great heart follows up his blow, and severs the head of the giant from his shoulders." The women and children rejoice, Great heart offers praise to God for his deliverance, and they all sit down to "eat and drink and make merry."

A little farther on, they come to an oak under which is sleeping an old man, whom they recognize as a Pilgrim "by his clothes and his staff and his girdle." Being awakened, he identifies himself as Old Honest. Though from the Town of Stupidity, he has seen the Light, he says, and is now on his way to the Celestial City. After a long conversation about the renown of Christian, the trials of a Mr. Fearing, who "stumbled at every straw," and the vices of Mr. Self-will, Christiana asks Old Honest if he knows of an inn where she and the children may rest themselves, for they are very weary.

Honest guides them to a tavern kept by a "very honorable disciple, one Gains," who has rooms for all of them and goes to tell the cook, Taste-that-which-is-good (not one of Bunyan's happier inspirations in coining names), to prepare a good supper. A cloth is spread on the table and after trenchers, salt, and bread have been brought in, supper is served, and it is a feast of many courses:

First, "a heave-shoulder and a wave-breast . . . to show that they must begin their meal with prayer and praise to God" (Lev. 7:32-34; 10:14-15; Ps. 25:1; Heb. 13:15) then a bottle of wine "red as blood the juice of the true vine that makes glad the heart of God and man. So they drank and were merry (Deut. 32:14 Judg. 9:13 John 15:1); next a dish of milk, well crumbed for the boys and a dish of butter and honey, good for cheering people's hearts and strengthening their judgment and understanding, "our Lord's dish when he was a child"; all of this topped off with apples and a "dish of nuts" (Song of Sol. 6:11). Some at the table remark that nuts spoil tender teeth, especially the teeth of children. This inspires Gains to reply in verse:

Hard texts are nuts (I will not call them cheaters),
Whose shells do keep their kernels from the eaters.
Ope then the shells, and you shall have the meat;
They here are brought for you to crack and eat.

So they sit at the table "very merry," talking and drinking, cracking nuts and cracking riddles, having such a good time that all but the boys stay up all night. Gains' Inn is altogether such a pleasant place that Christiana and her party, on being invited, stay more than a month.

During their stay, Gains informs Christiana to her surprise that her husband, whom she had known as a poor, ragged man, came of most distinguished stock. His ancestors, who "dwelt first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26), included many an ancient saint, prophet, and martyr: Paul and Peter, and Stephen, who "was knocked on the head with stones"; Romanus, "whose flesh was cut in pieces from his bones"; Ignatius, "who was cast to the lions"; Marcus of Arethusa, who "was hanged up in a basket in the sun for the wasps to eat." In view of this, Christian's name and character should never be forgotten. His line should be perpetuated, Gains insists, suggesting to Christiana that Mercy should be induced to marry her oldest son, Matthew, this being "the way to preserve you a posterity on the earth." Mercy is not averse, and Matthew takes her to wife. Then Gains gives his daughter Phoebe in marriage to another of Christian's sons, young James.

Though delighted with all this, Great-heart is restless, wishing to exercise his sword a bit, asking Gains if there is not something he could be doing to clean up the neighborhood. Yes indeed, says Gains, there is a giant named Slay-good, who much annoys Pilgrims along this stretch of the King's highway. Seeking out Slay-good, Great-heart finds him frisking the pockets of a captured Pilgrim named Feeble-mind, intending later "to pick his bones," for the giant is a flesh-eater. After a few preliminaries, Great-heart and Slay-good go at it in a fight that lasts about an hour. Vanquishing Slay-good, Great-heart cuts off the giant's head and returns with it to the inn, bringing along Feeble-mind.

A sickly man, the rescued Pilgrim is feeble both in mind and body, but not in spirit, for he is resolved to get to Heaven even if he has to crawl there. After telling his story, he is invited to join Christiana's party in accord with the will of the Lord "that comfort should be given to the feeble-minded" (1 Thess. 5:14).

Shortly, there is a knock at the inn door, and Gains goes out to find there another Pilgrim, a man on crutches, Mr. Ready-to-halt. He, too, is invited to join Christiana's party, which here acquires four new members: Old Honest, Feeble-mind, Ready-to-halt, and Phoebe, James' bride.

The group is now so large that when it takes to the road again, making for the town of Vanity Fair, it has to walk in column along the narrow way — with Great-heart and Old Honest up front; Christiana and her four boys, Mercy, and Phoebe coming next; and poor Feeble-mind and Ready-to-halt hobbling along behind, doing their best to keep up.

Analysis

The Valley of Humiliation, as will be recalled, proved to be a terror to Christian. It was there he was almost overcome by the fiend Apollyon. Altogether, he found it to be a dark, gloomy, frightening place. It is both interesting and significant that Christiana and her party find it to be so very different. Mercy remarks that it is the pleasantest spot she has ever seen. It is "fat ground," with spreading green meadows "beautified with lilies" (Song of Sol. 2:1; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5), filled with quietly grazing flocks of sheep. There is here no rattling of coaches, nor rumbling of wheels. "Methinks," says Mercy, "here one may without much molestation be thinking what he is, whence he came, what he has done, and to what the King has called him."

The Valley of Humiliation, it appears, is not really a place. It is a state of mind, a quality of heart and spirit. It reflects what one brings to it. Bunyan explains it this way in a song by a shepherd boy: "He that is down needs fear no fall" in the Valley of Humiliation. "He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide." Christian had got into trouble here because he had been too proud of himself. His encounter with Apollyon was the "fruit of those slips" he had made along the way, such as his carelessness in falling asleep on Difficulty Hill and temporarily losing his precious Roll, his passport to Heaven. He should have laid more store by the Lord's favors.

Nor does Christiana's group have too much difficulty in traversing the Valley of the Shadow of Death, though they do meet a giant named Maul, who harms "young Pilgrims with sophistry." The giant, a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church, charges the Pilgrims with being kidnapers. They gather up women and children and carry them "into a strange country," to the weakening of the power of the pope. The Roman Church had long vehemently and often violently opposed Protestant proselytizing. It comes as no surprise to the reader that, in the battle between the two, Great-heart knocks Maul down and takes off his head. To represent that Great-heart's triumph meant the overthrow and end of the Roman Church was merely wishful thinking on Bunyan's part.

The scene at Gains' Inn has several interesting aspects. A newcomer among the Pilgrims, long-winded and argumentative Old Honest from the Town of Stupidity, is one of Bunyan's more engaging characters. In one argument, Great-heart has to take him down a bit, telling him "not to be so hot," that he is among friends, and stop shouting. Another Pilgrim appears, a man on crutches, Mr. Ready-to-halt, who is determined to get to the Celestial City even if he has to go on hands and knees. He is admitted into the inn and into the company of Christiana and her group. All give the crippled man very special attention.

The supper laid by Gains on the day of the Pilgrims' arrival is a rather sumptuous one, with many courses and plenty of wine, "red as blood." The first course consists of a "heave-shoulder and a wave-breast." These refer to the right shoulder and a slice of the breast cut from an animal that a priest is about to offer as a sacrifice to God. The specific reference is to Lev. 7:32, 34; 10:14: "And the right shoulder shall ye give unto the priest for an heave offering of the sacrifices of your peace offerings . . . For the wave breast and the heave shoulder have I taken of the children of Israel from off the sacrifices of their peace offerings . . . And the wave breast and the heave shoulder shall ye eat in a clean place."

The lavish supper ends with the company cracking nuts and cracking riddles, for hard texts are nuts, says Gaius, "brought for you to crack and eat." The riddles, all of them along theological lines, are pretty feeble. Great-heart propounds this to Old Honest:

He that will kill, must first to overcome;
Who live abroad would, first must die at home.

Saying that this is a very hard one to crack, Mr. Honest tries to turn it over to Gaius, who refuses to become involved, saying that the question was not addressed to him. After some thought, Old Honest comes up with an answer, perhaps as good and clear as could be expected:

He first by Grace must conquered be,
That sin would mortify;
And who, that lives, would convince me,
Unto himself must die.

When Gaius informs Christiana, much to her surprise, of her husband's illustrious forebears — St. Peter, St. Paul, St. James, St. Stephen, among others-he remarks that Christian's ancestors "dwelt first at Antioch." This refers to Acts 11:26, which reads: "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch," an ancient city in Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. Paul, Peter, and Barnabas had evangelized there.

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