The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Summary and Analysis Part 2: Section 5 - Delectable Mountains and over the River

Summary

Arriving at the Delectable Mountains, Christiana and her party are welcomed by the shepherds as warmly as Christian and Hopeful had been. The shepherds show special concern about the weaker in the company — Mr. Feeble-mind, Mr. Ready-to-halt, Mr. Despondency and his daughter Much-afraid. These are singled out by name and invited to be the first to enter the palace on the mountains.

Next morning, the leading shepherds, Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere, take the Pilgrims to see the sights, not only those shown to Christian, but others: Mount Marvel, from which they perceive in the distance a man who tumbles "the hills about with words . . . set there to teach Pilgrims how to believe down, or tumble out of their ways, what difficulties they shall meet with, by Faith" (Mark 11:23-24); Mount Innocent, where they see "a man clothed all in white" (Mr. Godly-man) and two men, Prejudice and Ill-will, continuously casting dirt on him, but the dirt does not stick and his raiment remains shining because of the "innocency of his life"; Mount Charity, where a man sits with a bundle of cloth before him, cutting out coats and garments for the poor, yet his bundle of cloth never grows less. "He that watereth shall be watered himself. And the cake that the widow gave to the Prophet did not cause that she had ever the less in her barrel." Mercy, "being a young and breeding woman," sees something in the palace that she longs to have, but is ashamed to ask for it. It is a looking glass in the dining room. She has her mind so set on having it, she tells her mother-in-law Christiana, "that if I have it not, I think I shall miscarry." Perhaps the shepherds would be willing to sell it. Christiana says that she will see what can be done about it.

"Now the glass was one of a thousand. It would present a man one way, with his own features exactly, and turn it but another way and it would show one the very face and similitude of the Prince of Pilgrims himself . . . the very Crown of Thorns upon his head . . . the holes in his hands, in his feet, and his side." The shepherds are very pleased to present Mercy with the wonderful glass, and bestow gifts on Christiana and the other women — bracelets and necklaces, "earrings for their ears, and jewels on their foreheads."

When Christian and Hopeful were leaving the Delectable Mountains, the shepherds gave them written instructions on what to do and what to avoid on the rest of their journey. By forgetting to read these "cautions," Christian and Hopeful had stumbled into serious troubles. There is no need for the shepherds to give Christiana's party any cautions, for it is led by Great-heart, who, having frequently passed this way, knows all about it.

Proceeding, they soon come to a man standing in the road with his sword drawn and his face all bloody. When questioned, the man replies that his name is Valiant-for-truth, a Pilgrim from Dark-land, bound for the Celestial City, adding that he has just been attacked by three men, Wild-head, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatic, who tried to prevent his going forward. After a fierce three-hour battle, he had routed them. Asking to see his sword, Great-heart examines it and exclaims: "Ha, it is a right Jerusalem blade" (Isa. 2:3).

"It is so," Valiant-for-truth agrees. "Let a man have one of these blades, with a hand to wield it and skill to use it, and he may venture upon an angel with it . . . Its edges will never blunt. It will cut flesh and bones and soul and spirit and all" (Eph. 6:12-17; Heb. 4:12).

Valiant-for-truth joins the party and as they go along, relates his story. Great-heart is happy to have him in the company, for they are about to enter dangerous territory, the Enchanted Ground. With swords drawn, Great-heart walks in front, Valiant-for-truth behind "lest per-adventure some fiend or dragon or giant or thief should fall upon their rear." Encouraged by Great-heart, they make "pretty good shift to wag along" even though mist and darkness descend upon them. There is much "grunting and puffing and sighing" as they plod along. "While one tumbleth over a bush, another sticks fast in the dirt; and the children, some of them lost their shoes in the mire." Coming to a pleasant arbor furnished with benches and couches, the weary Pilgrims are tempted to stop, but Great-heart warns them against this place, called Slothful's Friend, set up to entice Pilgrims to sit down and fall into a deep sleep from which they would never awaken.

Leading the procession in the dark, Great-heart comes to a place where he is uncertain which way to go. Having "struck a light (for he never goes out without his tinder-box)," he draws from his pocket a "book, or map, which bids him be careful in this place to turn to the right-hand way." It is well that he checked the map. Otherwise, the party would have taken another path leading to a pit, "none knows how deep, full of nothing but mud, there made on purpose to destroy the Pilgrims." As the party emerges from the Enchanted Ground, the wind comes up, dispelling the fog and mist, and they see ahead, making "a solemn noise," a man on his knees, with hands and eyes lifted up, "and speaking, as they thought to one that was above." He turns out to be Stand-fast, "a right good Pilgrim," and an old friend of Honest. They exchange stories about their adventures.

The most interesting of Stand-fast's concerned his meeting with a woman in the Enchanted Ground.

Madam Bubble by name, she is a "tall comely dame, something of a swarthy complexion," is dressed attractively, and talks smoothly, ending every sentence with a smile. She carries a great purse at her side, filled with money, and often reaches into it to finger her gold and silver coins. In certain places and to certain persons, she scatters her gold like dust. She loves feasting and "to be sought after, spoken well of, and to lie in the bosoms of men. She is never weary of commending her commodities."

Seeing Stand-fast struggling along, Madam Bubble greets him, talks with him, and soon offers him "three things, to wit, her body, her purse, and her bed . . . 'I am the Mistress of the World, and men are made happy by me.'" Though "a-weary and sleepy . . . and as poor as a howlet [owlet]," Stand-fast repulses her advances once, twice, many times, but still she follows him with inducements and enticements. Becoming angry, Stand-fast takes to his heels, falls on his knees, raises up his hands, lifts up his eyes, and prays to God to rescue him from this "witch."

All agree that she is a witch, a "bold and impudent slut [who] will talk with any man," and that Stand-fast did well to stand fast, which leads Great-heart to a bit of sermonizing: "Whoever doth lay his head down in her lap has as good lay it down upon that block over which the axe doth hang; and whoever lay their eyes upon her beauty are counted as the enemies of God [James 4:4; 1 John 2:15] . . . 'Twas she that set Absalom against his father, and Jeroboam against his master. 'Twas she that persuaded Judas to sell his Lord, and that prevailed with Demas to forsake the godly Pilgrim's life . . . She makes variance betwixt rulers and subjects, betwixt parents and children, 'twixt neighbor and neighbor, 'twixt a man and his wife, 'twixt a man and himself, 'twixt the flesh and the heart." With this, the Pilgrims begin to sing:

What danger is the Pilgrim in,
How many are his foes,
How many ways there are to sin,
No living mortal knows.
Some of the ditch shy are,
yet can Lie tumbling in the mire;
Some, though they shun the frying-pan,
Do leap into the fire.

Stand-fast joins Christiana's party, and now they are sixteen as they come into the Land of Beulah, "where the sun shineth night and day," as it did in Christian's time. Resting here a while, they are invited to help themselves to the luscious fruits and all else growing in the Lord's orchards, gardens, and vineyards. Among other things, they gather "camphire, with spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all its trees of frankincense, myrrh, and aloes, with all chief spices." With these, they "perfume" the chambers in the guest house where they are staying, and also use them to anoint their bodies against the time when they will be called to cross the Dark River. Altogether, Beulah Land is, quite literally, a divine spot, though there is so much ringing of bells, sounding of trumpets, and singing of angels that the Pilgrims can get no sleep. But they do not mind this, for they feel as fresh at all times as if they had not missed a wink of sleep.

One day there is a report in town that a messenger has arrived from the Celestial City bringing a note to Christiana, who hastily opens the message and reads: "Hail, good woman, I bring thee tidings that the Master calleth for thee and expecteth that thou shouldest stand in his presence, in clothes of immortality, within this ten days."

As Christiana prepares to depart, she speaks to all in the company, wishing them well, being escorted by them and everybody in town to the Dark River, the far bank of which is crowded with horses and chariots filled with Shining Ones. Wading into the stream, Christiana waves farewell to her friends and is soon whisked away in a chariot to the Celestial Gate. The next to be summoned is Ready-to-halt, who throws away his crutches as he enters the river and cries out: "Welcome, life." Then follows Mr. Feeble-mind, who bequeathes his mind to Mr. Valiant with the request that he bury it in a dunghill, for it is of no use to anybody. Then, in turn, everybody is summoned to come over except Christiana's four sons and their young brides. These are temporarily left behind to propagate "for the increase of the Church in that place where they were for a time."

With this, the story ends. The author-dreamer does not give us the slightest glimpse of anything beyond the Celestial Gate-not even the picture offered in Part I of Christian and Hopeful joining the angels parading the gold-paved streets in the jewel-encrusted city, strumming their golden harps and singing.

Analysis

Nothing much exciting happens on the Celestial Mountains, but two things are of note. First, it appears that a palace had been built on the mountains since Christian's visit; he and Hopeful had been entertained in tents, which would seem to be more in the shepherdic tradition and manner of life. Second, Mercy covets a marvelous mirror in the palace, saying that she must have it if she is to avoid having a miscarriage. It is legendary that pregnant women have strange desires. Not wishing to have on their hands a miscarried Mercy, the shepherds happily present her with the looking glass which, held one way, shows the features of the person looking into it but, held another way, shows the image of Christ with a crown of thorns on his head and holes in his hands, feet, and side. The glass, "one of a thousand," is the Bible, which prevents Mercy's miscarriage.

The "book, or map," that Great-heart uses in guiding Christiana's party safely across the dangerous Enchanted Ground is another symbol of the Bible, and keeps the Pilgrims from taking a wrong turn in the dark and falling into a deep pit which would have trapped them all.

Stand-fast's account of his meeting with Madam Bubble in the Enchanted Ground and his headlong flight from her is graphic and entertaining in its details. Madam Bubble with her physical charms and great purse filled with gold which she scatters like dust to her favorites is Bunyan's personification of all that is alluring but ephemeral in the world, things that burst like a soap bubble. The Madam is so intent on seducing Stand-fast that he escapes, not by standing fast, but running away and falling on his knees in desperately pleading with God to rescue him from the "witch . . . a bold and impudent slut," such a one as had seduced Absalom, Jeroboam, and Judas in ancient days. The song the Pilgrims sing to celebrate Stand-fast's rescue is one of Bunyan's better jingles.

Beulah Land, in this second part of the book, differs somewhat from the way Christian and Hopeful saw it. It now appears to be a sort of receiving station for those Heaven bound. While enjoying the delicacies from the Lord's orchards, gardens, and vineyards, Pilgrims wait here until each is personally summoned to advance to the Celestial Gate. Christiana is the first to be summoned and told to be ready within ten days. Mr. Ready-to-halt is the next to be called, then Mr. Feeble-mind, followed by Mr. Despondency and his daughter Much-afraid, and then by Old Honest.

The order here is symbolic: the handicapped should be helped first. In the end, all but Christiana's four sons and their wives go over the Dark River and are whisked up to the Pearly Gates. But the author offers us no glimpse into the heavenly Jerusalem the Pilgrims had struggled so hard to attain. He does not even show us Christian and Christiana embracing. Excusing himself for this, Bunyan concludes his book with this paragraph: "Shall it be my lot to go that way again, I may give . . . an account of what I here am silent about . . ."

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